[Triple Spiral]

Irish Phrases...

...that drive me NUTS!

Given that I (try to) maintain what was one of the earliest pages on the web about things Irish and Celtic (I started it in 1993 when NCSA Mosaic was the browser), I get quite a bit of feedback from people interested in such things via email. As many of these are from well-meaning Irish Americans, I decided that instead of gritting my teeth when I see certain phrases used in this email, I'd write this page instead.

You may or may not agree with the opinions here; that's fine. It may even elecit the odd giggle or two; that's even better. However, if you are motivated to write to me, with clarifications, corrections, or the like, just remember that what I really need are references to original sources.

So, without further ado, here are a list of phrases, their meaning, and my comments thereon. I've tried hard to make this informative and positive. Eventually, I may even have a feedback or query form, but for now, these few entries will have to do.

"Erin Go Bragh"

I vaguely remember seeing some debate about the origins of this phrase on the GAELIC-L mailing list about this, but haven't checked back there in a (long) while. Anyway, the word Erin is the anglicisation of the Irish word Éireann which translates literally to "Of Ireland"; the actual word in Irish for just plain "Ireland" is Éire so as a fellow emigrant pointed out to me, the phrase should use it instead (thanks, Tim). Whether this refers to the Island or the Country is a political point that is probably not worth pursuing.

The remainder of the phrase is more of a challenge. There is no "Bragh" in the Irish language so it's somewhat difficult to figure out from what original Irish word this came. Among the possibilities are:

I've received a few comments about this section over the years, and perhaps the most interesting to date was from Tom Hickey 'down under', who told me (back in June 1999):

I came across a mention of the phrase 'Erin Go Bragh' in the 'Fremantle Mission' by Sean O Luing. This book tells the story of the rescue of six Fenian prisoners from Fremantle Gaol, Australia in 1876. The phrase is appended to a letter dated May 20th 1871, written by one of the prisoners, Martin Hogan to a Peter Curran in New York. This letter was reprinted in the Gaelic American on 16 July 1904.

I have also seen reproductions of a flag supposedly used by the United Irishmen which consisted of a green background with an irish harp between two figures in gold, with the words Erin go Bragh underneath.

I have never come across the saying in any other circumstances though.

Thanks, Tom, and sorry for not putting this up sooner. I was reminded when my daily web stats report showed hits on this page going through the roof (as it usually does around March 17!) so I figured I'd try to add some new content to what is otherwise a getting-a-bit-stale page. You can see the flag Tom mentions on The Green Flag, part of Bratacha na hÉireann (Flags of Ireland as Béarla), a resource published by Vincent Morley in Ireland.

More recently (the Ides of March 2006), I received a comment from "Jen" who pointed out that the term "Braugh" (her spelling) is in fact Scottish, and "go braugh" means the day of Judgement (or essentially, forever). I haven't checked this out further but it sounds interesting and plausible.

"Tiocfaidh Ár Lá"

This slogan translates as "our day will come" and was used (in Ireland and the U.K. at least) almost exclusively by supporters of what was then the outlawed provisional I. R. A., and to a lesser extent by those in the Sinn Féin political party (which, when I was living in Ireland in the 1970s, got about 2% or less of the vote in the Republic of Ireland, and 10-15% of the vote in Northern Ireland; source: The Irish Emigrant newsletter; yes, I know things have changed but this is the way things were back then).

The phrase is likely to make the hackles rise on almost anyone who hails from Ireland, and lived there through the 1970 or 1980's, with very few exceptions. I believe it's even falling out of favour with the younger citizens who vote in support of Sinn Féin. I strongly recommend you don't use it. (Think about it: if both sides have laid down their arms, and we're all now committed to a peaceful, non-violent way forward, hasn't the day already arrived?)

At one point, the phrase may have been commonly used by the newly arrived Irish emigrants in the US, in the last century. At that point in time, the whole island of Ireland was an integral part of the United Kingdom. There was a strong movement for home rule and independence at the time (which ironically originated at least in part from the Ulster Presbyterians), it may be that the phrase stayed with these emigrants and their ancestors, while back in Ireland time was not standing still. Events were occuring, such as the 1916 Easter Rising, the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922 by treaty with the U.K., and ultimately the Republic of Ireland act in 1947, and attitudes, politics, and reality changed. (and then there was the Celtic Tiger phenomenon...) So there may be a potential conflict between 2nd, 3rd and subsequent generation Irish Americans and those Irish people (like me) "off the boat" in what they see in that phrase.

[PEACE NOW!] As I said, if in doubt, don't use it. Instead, why not consider the possibilities that can arise when the peace-supporting majority speaks up and is heard loud and clear.

PostScript: With the Good Friday agreement, and the (somewhat erratic) progress made since then, I am genuinely hopeful and optimistic that we'll soon see the day when the only rivalry between those of a nationalist and unionist persuasion in Northern Ireland (or anywhere on the island or in the UK) will be on a field where grown men dress funny and kick a ball around (or whack it with a wooden stick) :-)

Top O' The Mornin'

Er, well... in all the time I lived in Ireland (read more about my background if you're curious), I never once heard an Irish person utter these words. Mostly what I remember from my days in UCD was Hi, or maybe Hiya or a Howarya! In rural areas, the more polite Hello is common, and in the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking areas), none of the greetings translate to this phrase (they're all rather religious). Here are some secular variants:

If you know of any other greetings as Gaeilge that are secular, let me know. I'd like to get a few more here.

I'm told by Seán Dorins that in Gaeltacht areas in the South, the Irish phrase "Barr na maidine ort" is sometimes used. When translated, this becomes, well, you can guess :-) It is no doubt the origin of the phrase. But I still haven't ever heard it used "as Béarla", mar dhea!

Begosh and Begorrah

A very nice lady who currently hails from New Jersey but is like myself originally from Ireland reminded me of this sad excuse of a phrase. A little Google-digging reveals that the word begorrah may have its origins in the 18th century or earlier; perhaps as a euphemism for "by God". The closest Irish word I can find to it is Goradh which means heat or heating (rinne mé a goradh cois tine translates as "I warmed myself by the fire").

But I'm with Lorraine on this one. It is really, really frustrating to be subject to BeGosh and Begorrah especially around March. Nobody in Ireland uses them except in jest (or bemoaning the treatment they get when in the US). It really does drive us nuts, and we find it more than a little disrespectful, so don't use those phrases. Please! Instead, go read some James Joyce and find a good phrase or two :-)

More to come

I will try to add more phrases as I think of them or find them in my unbelievably extensive archive of emails.

In the meantime, as Bill Nye might say, "Consider The Following":

May the curse of Mary Murphy and her nine blind illegitimate children chase you so far over the hills of Hell that God herself couldn't find you with a Radio Telescope!

This phrase of course is a variant (remember where I work!) passed on to me by a co-worker. No, I don't know this Mary character; she's no relative! Also, Bill would never give a curse like that, he'd just say something like "Consider the Following" or "Science Rules!"). He's cool.

Books by Kim Murphy
These may not be Irish, but at least the author completely agrees with me when it comes to Irish Phrases :-)
(And one of these books does have a reference to "Whiskey in the Jar"; you'll never guess who suggested that to her!)
The Dreaming / Walks Through Mist

The Dreaming / Walks Through Mist introduces Phoebe, an unwitting time traveller from 17th Century James Towne, who lands in 21st Century Richmond, Virginia. Watch for the Powhatan connection.
Whispers from the Grave

Whispers from the Grave is a Civil War ghost story set on a secluded Virginia plantation.
Whispers Through Time

Whispers Through Time takes off where Whispers from the Grave left off, with a real surprise in the form of a time slip.
Promise & Honor

Promise & Honor is a romantic historical novel, set in Virginia during the US Civil War.
Honor & Glory

Honor & Glory is the much anticipated sequel to Promise & Honor.
Glory & Promise

Glory & Promise is the triumphant Conclusion to the Promise & Honor trilogy.

Pat Murphy

(If you're a spammer trying to harvest my e-mail address, The Mary Murphy curse above applies to you!)