Six letters to Risteárd Pléimeann

Castlelyons, Co. Cork
8th October 1917

Dear Fr. Richard

You remember that question you asked me about , i.e. would do.

Tadhg and Donnchadh were talking about people who work terribly hard to make money and have no comfort in it. Sea, said one of the speakers, agus ná fanann an t-airgead ann i bhfad or something to that effect.

I am not sure whether I explained the fully. Old speakers translate it. Here is how they put it into English:

T. “See how that fellow is killing himself making money”.

D. “Yes and that the money does not stay long with him after all his trouble.”

In that remark D. is only continuing T’s thought. Both are of one mind about the “killing himself” and about the “does not stay long”.

If the second speaker thought he was introducing a new thought he would say agus ní fhanann &c.

Do chara go dílis

Peadar Ua Laoghaire

Castlelyons, Co. Cork
22. October. 1917

My dear Fr. Richard.

In line 116, Guaire,

1.) an bhrí is certainly a misprint for an brí.

2.) mian is a “desire”, simply. Dúil is a stronger desire than mian. Dúil mhallaithe is an intense desire. Buile is a mad desire. Tá buile thobac air = “He is mad for a smoke”.

3.) Curiously enough nuair a bheifí does not offend my ear. But I could not bear nuair a bhuailfí. My ear insists on nuair a buailfí. If you happen to meet it again let me know where you see it and I may be able to tell the cause of the instinct.

That is a nice short sweet word of yours in the Leader, and it is perfectly true. I have always liked Waterford Irish. It has a ringing nasal music which I admire. But I hate the invented rubbish. Many thanks!

Do chara

Peadar Ua Laoghaire

Caisleán Ua Liatháin Cae. Chorcaí.
Oct. 17. 1919

A Athair ghil.
Is mór is oth liom aon ní bheith ar shláinte do mháthar. Tá súil agam nách fada go mbeidh sé curtha dhi aici le cúnamh Dé.

I dtaobh ceiste. Tá críochnaitheacht (finality) sa bhfocal san “go mbeidh”. Ní foláir an tAifreann a bheith críochnaithe sara mbeidh mo chion dá thoradh agam. Ní foláir an chríochnaitheacht chéanna san onóir is dual bheith tabhartha agam duitse. Níl bac ort, más maith leat é, an chríochnaitheacht a bhaint as an dá thaobh den chainnt, mar seo, féach: “I dtreó go mbeidh mo chion de thoradh an aifrinn dá fháil agamsa agus an onoir is dual agam á thabhairt duitse”. Slacht ar an gcainnt is ea an chríochnaitheacht a bheith sa dá thaobh nú an neamhchríochnaitheacht a bheith sa dá thaobh. Ach neamhshlacht ar an gcainnt is ea an chríochnaitheacht a bheith i dtaobh di agus an neamhchríochnaitheacht a bheith sa taobh eile dhi. Nách dó’ leat gur fíor san. Ní féidir lion cuímhneamh ar fhocal is feárr mar Ghaelainn ar “finality” ná “críochnaitheacht”.

Tá mo shláinte ag dul i bhfeabhas in aghaidh an lae baochas le Dia. Táim ag brath air nách fada go mbeidh mé ábalta ar thamall maith do chaitheamh im shuí ag scríbhneóireacht. Ansan ní bheidh an críochnú i bhfad ag teacht. Thugas punann mhaith mhór pápéir liom ó thig “Chook” i nDún Laeire. Um an dtaca na mbeidh an phunann san ídithe agam is dó’ liom go mbeidh an leabhar críochnaithe agam.

Do chara agus t’oide


Caisleán Ua Liatháin
Cae. Chorcaí. 12. X. 1917

A Athair Risteárd a chara

I have just read those bits which you sent me this morning. Every word you said in your opening address is true.

As regards “Waterford Irish” I did not condemn it. On the contrary. I have always admired it. I condemned “compulsory rubbish” and compulsory vileness. Waterford Irish is not rubbish, but Dr. Sheehan’s Irish is rubbish.

I don’t intend to answer that attack. In fact it is not my habit to strike a second blow. My principle is buail an gadhar agus éirigh as = “strike the dog and have done with the matter”.

I suppose Miss O’Reilly has told you about the Bishops’ approval of the Society of St. Jerome and of their having appointed yourself as one of its organizers.

Go n-éirí libh go geal!

Mise do chara

Peadar Ua Laoghaire

Castlelyons Co. Cork
29. November 1917

My dear Fr. Richard

1) “… gheóbhadh sé le sloghadh”. Gheóbhadh is active transitive. I have never been able to understand what scholars mean by “deponent” in Irish. They give ní fheadar = “I don’t know” as an example of “deponent”, but it is totally different from such a Latin expression as loquor. They want to call the “autonomous” form a “deponent”. But the autonomous is an entirely different thing. Gheóbhfí would be autonomous here. But it could not be used here because the agent is expressed here and the autonomous excludes any agent. “ gheóbhfí le slogadh” = “whom (a person) couild find to devour”. There is an express agent here viz. . The autonomous can’t be used where there is a definite agent expressed. I don’t know is that the thing you want.

2.) You have it exactly.

3.) Trí = “through” does not express instrumentality. Le does. Cráifeacht is not, of its own nature, calculated to cause neglect. Neamhfhonn is. And faillí is. Of course a person could say le cráifeacht and trí neamhfhonn and he would be understood, but the “selection of terms” would not be good.

4.) That is a beautiful point! An mhéid = “the bigness” or “the size”, where méid is a definite thing. An méid seo = “this much” or “thus much”, where méid expresses, not “size” in itself, but the amount or degree of magnitude in something. When the word méid is

[Letter incomplete.]

Castlelyons, Co. Cork.
3. December, 1917

My dear Fr. Richard.

[This was written before I read the enclosed letter. I see you had hit on the solution.]

That hint of yours about Is cruinne an tslí chun Dé duit é, has stuck in my mind. Said I to myself “He had some reason for thinking of that shape. What was the reason? What drove him to that form of expression?”

Ah!” said I at last. “I have it. He thought of Is cruínn an tslí chun Dé dhuit é. He saw that that sentence is perfectly good Irish. Then he was wondering why the comparative of cruínn could not be used in the same way.”

Well, it all comes back to the common expression Is breá an lá é. The exact literal English of that expression is “It is (a) fine (thing) the day (it)”. The first “it” in the English is the final é in the Irish. The word breá is a noun and an lá is in apposition, explanatory of the noun breá. Is breá é = “It is a fine (thing)”. Is cruínn é = “It is a sure (thing)”. This is all smooth as long as we have the positive degree of comparison. When we come to the comparative degree there springs up a difficulty. Take the expression Is breátha an lá é. You see how breátha and an lá refuse to go in harness. So our old speakers always found, and so they stuck a de in between breátha and , and they dropped the an. Then the phrase de lá ceased to be in apposition and became a sort of descriptive expression. Is breátha de lá an lá inniu ná an lá inné. This day is finer, taking it as a day, than yesterday.

The trick was through the whole language. Is mór an fear Tadhg. Is mó d’fhear é ná Dómhnall. Is olc an talamh é sin; is measa go mór de thalamh é ná an talamh eile seo = “It is far worse as land than this other land”.

Of course I could say Is breátha an lá inniu ná an lá inné. But then an lá inniu has ceased to be any part of the predicate, explanatory or otherwise. Breátha alone is the predicate. But when I say Is breátha de lá é the information is not breátha but breátha de lá. Is feárr d’adhmad dair ná fuínseóg. Fuínseóg might be better in some ways than dair, but dair is better as timber. If we look closely into the matter we will find that this de is really partitive, like what is called the partitive genitive. If I say is feárr de bhia arán ná misleáin I have in my mind all sorts of food, or, food in general. Then I state that, of that general thing called food, bread is a better particular sort than sweets. The Irish speech is full of this de in that partitive sense. For that matter, even English is full of it. E.g. “this is great trash of bread”. There the “trash” is this particular portion of “bread in general”. Is not that so? (You could not be puzzled in English but I could).

Or take that common expression “That fellow is a rogue of a fool!” i.e. of the class of fools who are rogues he is one (?). “He is a fool” i.e. “He belongs to the class ‘fool’”. Then “He is a rogue of a fool” i.e. He is one of the fool-class who are rogues (?). What do you think of it? Press me with questions about that de until you are satisfied.

Yours sincerely

Peter O’Leary

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