Thursday, 8 January 2015

Specimens of North Kildare Irish

The baronies of Kildare, 1900. Kill and Laraghbryan are in the baronies of Salt South and Salt North respectively; Cut Bush is in Offaly East. Click to zoom. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Irish in North Kildare

Whilst this blog focuses on Irish dialects once spoken in Greater Dublin, dialects of adjacent areas will also be discussed where relevant.

North Kildare is especially interesting for this blog as we have two tiny (and tantalising) snippets of the dialect spoken there, originating in Kill (An Chill; just east of Sallins and Naas, near the Kildare-Dublin county border) and Laraghbryan (Láithreach Briúin; a parish directly next to the current site of Maynooth University, the former Maynooth College) in the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries respectively. We also have a piece of Irish from Cut Bush (An Tom Gearrtha, near Ballysax and a kilometre south of the Curragh), in mid-Kildare.

The Irish of Kill

Kill is particularly close - about 5km - to locations in South Dublin where local Irish was known to have persisted at least into the early nineteenth century. It is thus tempting for us to wonder how similar the Irish of Kill might have been to the dialect used in Brittas and Glenasmole (and nearby areas of Wicklow). 

Donn Piatt, in his self-published pamphlet Gaelic Dialects of Leinster (1933, p. 7) records, without specifying the date of collection:
Kill (Cill) where some recent Irish is claimed to have existed - a little village near the Glenasmole end [sic] of the Dublin hills, but in Co. Kildare. Tá mé gul awailí was given me as a Kill version of Tá mí [sic] ag dul abhaile.
It is unfortunate, and a little curious, that Piatt only succeeded in getting a single isolated sentence of what remained of the Irish of Kill.

The late Dáithí Ó hÓgáin, in his masterpiece on the Irish of old Leinster Labhrann Laighnigh (Coiscéim, 2011, p. 71) transliterates Piatt's Kill sentence as Tá mé ag go'il abhailí.


Maynooth Castle, 1885. Situated in what is now the grounds of Maynooth College, it is only a few hundred metres from Laraghbryan. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Irish of Laraghbryan

Laraghbryan and the barony of Salt North are a different case altogether. Brian Ó Cúiv, professor of Celtic Studies at University College Dublin and the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, relates in his Irish Dialects and Irish-Speaking Districts (1951) that 232 Irish speakers were recorded in North Salt in the 1851 census - fully 45.1 per cent of all Irish speakers recorded in all of Co. Kildare that year! However, Ó Cúiv issues the important clarification:
[...] in the barony of North Salt there were 232 Irish speakers of whom 227 were male. These, no doubt, were to be found in Maynooth College which is situated in that barony. The remarkable fact is that at most only 45% of the students and staff of the College can have registered themselves as Irish speakers.
That is to say, the Irish speakers recorded in the area were most probably from all over Ireland (with dialects to match), and thus not evidence of any residual Irish speaking community in Salt North.

Nevertheless, it should be mentioned here that only a generation earlier (1820) in Balraheen parish (Ikeathy and Oughterany barony) - scarcely 7km south of Laraghbryan - there were sufficient numbers of native Irish speakers to justify Irish-language books being supplied to a teacher by the (predominantly Anglican) Irish Bible Society (de Brún, Éigse 19: 322), intended primarily to teach through the medium of Irish 'as a means for obtaining an accurate knowledge of English'.

North Kildare Irish as highwaymen's cant?

Yet we have what may be a tiny piece of earlier evidence of the actual Irish dialect spoken in Salt North - specifically from the area near what later became Maynooth College - from a highly unusual source: a 1744 Old Bailey trial of Irish highwaymen found guilty, sentenced to death and ultimately executed by hanging on 5 October that year for a robbery in England, the relevant excerpt of which I quote here in full:
THE next Day, about 3 or 4 in the Afternoon, Christopher, Patrick, and Mackavoy, went out together, (Ryley not yet having bought his Fire-Arms, staid behind) they all three went to Hackney Marsh, intending to bath themselves in the River, 'till they thought it was time for the Gentry to be coming from Ruckholt House; finding the Water cold, they soon left it, and went to Temple-Mills, drank some Beer, and Drams, then came over the Bridge, walk'd up and down Hackney River 'till near dark, and then they thought 'twas Time to begin their Work; accordingly they disguis'd themselves, Mackavoy turn'd his Coat inside outwards, and they all three put on Woollen Caps, and Handkerchiefs, went to the Foot of the Bridge, to see if there was any Watch; found the Coast clear, came back, saw two Men, who suspecting what they were, ran away: They heard a Coach coming from Hackney, which prov'd to be Mr. Alderman Heathcote's; Patrick stept forward, to see if there was any Danger from Attendants, it being the first Coach they ever stopt; found there was none, then gave the Word ‡, and went up to the Coachman, and presenting his Pistol, said D - n you, Stop, or I'll blow your Brains out! and the Coachman stopt. Mackavoy went to the Coach Door, put in his Pistol, and demanded the Alderman's Money and Watch; the Alderman said, Take away your Pistol, and I'll give you what I have: and he gave him his Gold Watch, with a Gold Chain, and two Seals, set in Gold, two Guineas and a half, and some Silver, his Mourning Sword and Belt; they also made him come out of his Coach, and took his Hat, and his Stock and Stock-Buckle; the Alderman desired they would return his Stock and Buckle; but they refused, and Christopher would have taken his Coat and Tye Wig, but Patrick prevented him; at which, Christopher was afterwards very angry, because he design'd them for Ryley's wear, (to whom he gave the Alderman's Sword and Belt, being determined to equip him like a Gentleman.)
... ...
‡ They had different Words between themselves, which were generally Irish; the Word Patrick now made use of, as near as it can be pronounced, was, Cornahasea, the meaning of which is, make 'em Stand.
'Cornahasea' is apparently Cuir 'na sheasa' é < Cuir ina sheasamh é, and represents the genuine Irish dialect of Laraghbryan (where the Mackavoys were from), in the period 1700-1750. Significantly, this short sentence fits what we expect, phonologically and morphologically, of the Irish of this part of Leinster.

(I am very grateful to a correspondent - who wishes to remain anonymous - for bringing this extraordinary source to my attention and encouraging me to place it on the blog.)


The plain of Kildare: the Curragh. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Irish of Cut Bush

Lastly, Piatt leaves us the following snippet from Cut Bush, just south of the Curragh (Gaelic Dialects of Leinster, p. 7):
An old man born in 1844 near the Curragh gave me a snatch of the Irish song "Is truagh gan Peata an Mhaoir agam" mixed with English, and said he heard it in his youth. He said "Cut Bush" Currach, was called Cearna (sic) in his youth.
Unfortunately as this is an excerpt from a song, it need not be representative of the Irish of the local area; and in any case it betrays no extraordinary features.


1 comment:

  1. Is deas an méid sin féin againn. Tugann siad spléachadh beag ar an teanga a labhraítí san áit thoir am fadó. Tá cásanna ann de mhionghaeltachtaí a mhair thar thréimhsí gairide nár breacadh síos ríamh sna mórleabhair taifid, ach ba dhreamantaí a tháinig isteach ó áiteachaí eile iadsan a choinnigh suas an teanga tamall ina measc féin. Neart taighde fós le déanamh.

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