Monday, March 16, 2009

It's That Day Again !

Sla'inte is ta'inte !
(pron. slawn-chuh iss tawn-chuh)
If you've never heard this quote, you will if you ever celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Ireland. For many years now the Irish have made their way to New York to celebrate because the type of celebrating we make here in the States was so different than what they allowed on their own shores. That's of the past now since they recently voted for an official holiday in Ireland making a St. Patrick's Day to rival our own.

You're probably thinking that I have a wee bit of Irish in me and you would be right- on both sides of my parentage. I think that makes it official.

Something I have never understood- until recently- is how words like hooligan came to be thought of as Irish. The ironic part of this is that it came from an Irish name which was originally O' hUallachain. In English we say Houlihan which eventually morphed into hooligan when a rowdy street gang run by a family of that same name terrorized London during the 1890s. Even a song was circulated in the pubs making that name stick officially for any hoodlum.

The English probably knew how to deal with a slew (sluagh, Gaelic for crowd or army) of hooligans. Just break their pints of ale to smithereens ( from Gaelic, smidirini) and put the kibosh (from Gaelic, cie bais) on their drinking galore. (from Gaelic, gu leor)

Now here's a word you might not expect and it even surprised me! Cairn is an Irish word you don't hear very often and possibly not at all on American shores. A cairn is a pile of stones set up as a landmark, monument or possibly even a grave. St. Patrick is buried along with another saint underneath such an edifice. I wrote very recently about these curiosities on my Castlelady Live Space in January. If you read the entry which was titled "Castlerigg, Stonehenge and other Stone Circles" you'll recall that I mentioned Carnac in Brittany, France.

The similarity of the words did not escape my attention and I'm sure you noticed it, too. What you may not know, however is that Ireland and Brittany do not belong in the same branch of Celts. I can hear you ask, "There's more than one?" yes. The Celts are, in fact, made up of two families. The Irish, Scottish Highlanders and the Manx (Isle of man) are of the Goidelic branch,- the true Gaels. The Welsh, Bretons and Cornish are of the Brythonic branch who spoke the Briton language. You will find variations between the Brythonic languages which make these quite different even amongst their own but what you normally don't see are the words that suddenly appear quite alike- such as cairn and carn- outside their respective branches.

You learn something new everyday !
Happy Saint Patrick's Day everybody !

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