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The Irish For: If you can’t say anything nice about someone, tar isteach

If you’re going to insult someone, do it properly, writes Darach Ó Séaghdha.

Darach Ó Séaghdha Writer

This is the latest dispatch from our columnist Darach Ó Séaghdha, author of the award-winning and bestselling Motherfoclóir. Every Sunday morning, Darach will be regaling (re-Gaeling?) us with insights on what the Irish language says about Ireland, our society, our past and our present. Enjoy.

THE IRISH FOR laughter is gáire, not to be confused with ga aoire, which means the sting of satire. But could one lead to the other?

Last week we looked at the fashion in Britain for compound insults that laced profanity with tweeness in an attempt to simulate wit. This generated less disagreement than any piece I have written to date, feeding my suspicion that I am not alone in finding this trend tiresome.

If you’re going to insult someone, do it properly.

Ireland has a tradition of maledictory verse dating back centuries to a time when bards were a highly respected class in Gaelic society. Their ability to compose a satire or a curse mocking someone who slighted them was feared and envied.

However, by the seventeenth century, these edgy jokers faced a sharp reversal in fortune, reduced to wandering beggars when their skills were not appreciated by the new management.

Here are some curses or damning observations you might find useful, taken from poems gathered in the collection An Duanaire. Anyone with an interest in the subject should obtain a copy.

‘Is buan in do thóin mo mhallacht’: ’My curse on your buttocks forever’. This is from Achasán An Mharcaigh (the Horserider’s Reproach) a poem where a horseman condemns the horse who cast him into a pile of manure right in front of the young woman he was trying to woo.

‘Binne liom grafainn na muc ná gach guth lingeas ód shróin’: ’The grunting of pigs is sweeter than the noise that starts from your nose’. From a poem in which a wife explains to her husband that his snoring is so bad that she occasionally harbours homicidal feelings towards him.

‘Ní hionmhuin leis an ríbhroc aoibhneas, aiteas, ná spórt’: ’King badger loves not gaiety, sport or pleasure’. A person who thinks they are important but is exactly zero craic could be regarded as a king badger (ríbhroc), which is what Séamus Dall Mac Cuarta thought of the denizens of one particular village in his poem Tithe Corr an Cait.

These next two are from the poem Caoineadh Art Uí Laoghaire (Lament for Art O’Leary).

‘Sciúirse an mhí-áidh’: ’Scourge of bad luck’.

‘Greadadh chugat is díth’: ’Bad cess and ruin to you’

‘Guím sáite go brách thu ‘od loscadh i dtinte’: ’I pray you stay rammed forever in burning fires’. This is just one of a long list of curses fired at James Dawson, a notorious landlord in Tipperary, in the poem Taiscidh, A Clocha (Keep Fast Under Cover, O Stones)

‘Is oidhreacht nár fhaighe d’oidhre-se’: ’May your heir never inherit’. From Mallacht na Baintrí, the Widow’s Curse. The widow in question had a poor opinion of Gerald the Bitter, who was responsible for the death of her husband, her son, her dozen cows and her bull.

‘Meirgíneach bheirbhthe í gan cheol ‘na cab’: ’A rusty little boiling with a musicless mouth’. This is part of an extended description of a servant who refused free food and drink to Daithí Ó Bruadair in his verse Seirbhíseach Seirghthe Íogair Srónach Seasc (The Very Ugly Servant).

These barely scratch the surface but should be enough to get you started. Happy insulting.

Darach’s new book Craic Baby is the follow-up to his acclaimed Motherfoclóir and is out now under the Head of Zeus imprint.

He runs @theirishfor Twitter account and the @motherfocloir podcast.

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About the author:

Darach Ó Séaghdha  / Writer

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