English as we speak it in Ireland/XII
A VARIETY OF PHRASES.
Among fireside amusements propounding riddles was very general sixty or seventy years ago. This is a custom that has existed in Ireland from very early times, as the reader may see by looking at my 'Old Celtic Romances,' pp. 69, 186, 187, where he will find some characteristic ancient Irish ones. And we know that it was common among other ancient nations. I have a number of our modern Irish riddles, many in my memory, and some supplied to me from Wexford by Mr. Patrick J. MacCall of Dublin, who knows Wexford well. Some are easy enough: but there are others that might defy the Witch of Endor to answer them. They hardly come within my scope, but I will give a few examples.
A steel grey with a flaxen tail and a brass boy driving. Answer: needle and thread; thimble.
- Little Jennie Whiteface has a red nose,
- The longer she lives the shorter she grows.
Answer: a lighted candle.
- A man without eyes
- Went out to view the skies,
- He saw a tree with apples on:
- He took no apples,
- He ate no apples,
- And still he left no apples on.
Answer: a one-eyed man: the tree had two apples: he took one.
Long legs, crooked thighs, little head, no eyes. Answer: a tongs.
Ink-ank under a bank ten drawing four. Answer: a girl milking a cow.
- Four-and-twenty white bulls tied in a stall:
- In comes a red bull and over licks them all.
Answer: teeth and tongue.
These are perhaps not very hard, though not quite so easy as the Sphinx's riddle to the Thebans, which Œdipus answered to his immortal renown. But I should like to see Œdipus try his hand at the following. Samson's riddle about the bees is hard enough, but ours beats it hollow. Though Solomon solved all the puzzles propounded to him by the Queen of Sheba, I think this would put him to the pin of his collar. I learned it in Limerick two generations ago; and I have got a Wexford version from Mr. MacCall. Observe the delightful inconsequence of riddle and answer.
- Riddle me, riddle me right:
- What did I see last night?
- The wind blew,
- The cock crew,
- The bells of heaven
- Struck eleven.
- 'Tis time for my poor sowl to go to heaven.
Answer: the fox burying his mother under a holly tree.
To a person who begins his dinner without saying grace: 'You begin your meal like a fox': for a fox never says grace. A fox once ran off with a cock—neck in mouth—to make a meal of him. Just as he was about to fall to, the cock said—'Won't you thank God?' So the fox opened his mouth to say grace, and the cock escaped and flew up into a tree. On which the fox swore he'd never more say grace or any other prayer. (From Clare: Healy.)
In depreciation of a person's honour: 'Your honour and goat's wool would make good stockings': i.e. your honour is as far from true honour as goat's hair is from wool.
'For the life of me' I can't see why you vex yourself for so small a matter.
Of a pair of well-matched bad men:—'They might lick thumbs.' Also 'A pity to spoil two houses with them.' (Moran: Carlow.)
A person is said to be 'belled through the parish' when some discreditable report concerning him has gone about in the neighbourhood. The allusion is to a bellman announcing something to the public. (Moran: Carlow.)
A person addresses some abusive and offensive words to another, who replies 'Talk away: your tongue is no scandal.' The meaning is, 'You are so well known for the foulness of your tongue that no one will pay any attention to you when you are speaking evil of another.' (Moran: Carlow.)
'Come and have a drink,' said the dragoon. 'I don't take anything; thank you all the same,' replied Billy Heffernan. (Knocknagow.) Very general everywhere in Ireland.
Regarding a person in consumption:—
- March will sarch [search],
- April will try,
- May will see
- Whether you'll live or die.
- (MacCall: Wexford.)
When a man inherits some failing from his parents, 'He didn't catch it in the wind'—'It wasn't off the wind he took it.' (Moran: Carlow.)
When a man declines to talk with or discuss matters with another, he says 'I owe you no discourse'—used in a more or less offensive sense—and heard all through Ireland.
When a person shows himself very cute and clever another says to him 'Who let you out?'—an ironical expression of fun: as much as to say that he must have been confined in an asylum as a confirmed fool. (Moran: Carlow.)
When a person for any reason feels elated, he says 'I wouldn't call the king my uncle.' ('Knocknagow'; but heard everywhere in Ireland.)
When a person who is kind enough while he is with you grows careless about you once he goes away:—'Out of sight out of mind.'
To go with your finger in your mouth is to go on a fool's errand, to go without exactly knowing why you are going—without knowing particulars.
When a person singing a song has to stop up because he forgets the next verse, he says (mostly in joke) 'there's a hole in the ballad'—throwing the blame on the old ballad sheet on which the words were imperfect on account of a big hole.
Searching for some small article where it is hard to find it among a lot of other things is 'looking for a needle in a bundle of straw.'
When a mistake or any circumstance that entails loss or trouble is irreparable—'there's no help for spilt milk.'
Seventy or eighty years ago the accomplishments of an Irishman should be:
- To smoke his dudheen,
- To drink his cruiskeen,
- To flourish his alpeen,
- To wallop a spalpeen.
- (MacCall: Wexford.)
It is reported about that Tom Fox stole Dick Finn's sheep: but he didn't. Driven to desperation by the false report, Tom now really steals one, and says:—'As I have the name of it, I may as well have the gain of it.'
A person is told of some extraordinary occurrence and exclaims—'Well such a thing as that was never before heard of since Adam was a boy.' This last expression is very general.
The Chairman of the Banbridge Board of Guardians lately asked a tramp what was his occupation: to which the fellow—cancelling his impudence by his drollery—replied:—'I'm a hailstone maker out of work owing to the want of snow.'
My partner in any business has acted against my advice and has persisted, notwithstanding my repeated friendly remonstrances, till at last he brings failure and discredit. Yet when the trial comes I stand black for him; i.e. I act loyally towards him—I defend him: I take my share of the blame, and never give the least hint that the failure is all his doing. Standing black often heard.
'He's not all there,' i.e. he is a little daft, a little cracked, weak-minded, foolish, has a slight touch of insanity: 'there's a slate off,' 'he has a bee in his bonnet' (Scotch): 'he wants a square' (this last Old English).
A man gets into an angry fit and you take no trouble to pacify him:—'Let him cool in the skin he heated in.' (Moran: Carlow.)
A person asks me for money: I give him all I have, which is less than he asked for:—'That is all [the corn] there's threshed.' (Moran: Carlow.)
A man with a very thin face 'could kiss a goat between the horns.' (Moran: Carlow.)
'Never put a tooth on it': an invitation to speak out plainly, whatever the consequences.
A woman giving evidence at Drumcondra Petty Sessions last year says 'I was born and reared in Finglas, and there isn't one—man or woman—that dare say black was the white of my eye': that is, no one could allege any wrong-doing against her. Heard everywhere in Ireland.
A man who is going backwards or down the hill in circumstances is said to be 'going after his back.' The sense is obvious. (Moran: Wexford.)
'Come day go day God send Sunday,' applied to an easy-going idle good-for-nothing person, who never looks to the future.
When a person is asked about something of which for some reason he does not wish to speak, he says 'Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies.' (General.)
A man who is of opinion that his friend has bought a cow too dear says 'You bought every hair in her tail.'
To a person everlastingly talking:—'Give your tongue a holiday.'
He always visits us of a Saturday. Halliwell says this is common in several English dialects. (Rev. Wm. Burke.)
Johnny Dunn, a job gardener of Dublin, being asked about his young wife, who was living apart from him:—'Oh she's just doing nothing, but walking about town with a mug of consequence on her.'
'I'm blue-moulded for want of a beating,' says a fellow who pretends to be anxious for a fight, but can find no one to fight with him.
- A whistling woman and a crowing hen
- Will make a man wealthy but deer knows when.
- (Moran: Carlow.)
The people have an almost superstitious dislike for both: they are considered unlucky.
'I'll make him scratch where he doesn't itch': meaning I'll punish him sorely in some way. (Moran: Carlow.)
When flinging an abusive epithet at a person, 'you' is often put in twice, first as an opening tip, and last as a finishing home blow:—'What else could I expect from your like, you unnatural vagabone, you!'
'I'm afraid he turns up his little finger too often'; i.e.—he is given to drink: alluding to the position of the hand when a person is taking a glass.
- My neighbour Jack Donovan asked me one day,
- How many strawberries grew in the say;
- I made him an answer as well as I could,
- As many red herrings as grew in the wood.
When a person is obliged to utter anything bordering on coarseness, he always adds, by way of a sort of apology, 'saving your presence': or 'with respect to you.'
Small trifling things are expressed by a variety of words:—'Those sausages are not worth a mallamadee': 'I don't care a traneen what he says': 'I don't care two rows of pins.'
To be rid of a person or thing is expressed by 'I got shut of him,' or 'I am done of it.' (Limerick.)
'How did you travel to town?' 'Oh I went on shanks' mare:' i.e. I walked.
'His bread is baked'; i.e. he is doomed to die soon. (See p. 109 bottom.)
Banagher is a village in King's Co. on the Shannon: Ballinasloe is a town in Galway at the other side of the river. When anything very unusual or unexpected occurs, the people say,'Well that bangs Banagher!' or 'that bangs Banagher and Ballinasloe!'
'Have you got a shilling to spare for a friend?' 'Indeed I have not.' 'Ah you must give it to me; it is for your cousin Tom.' 'Oh, that's a horse of another colour.' (So he gives it.)
'Well done mother! says the blacksmith when the tooth was out. This is how it was pulled. He tied one end of a strong string round the tooth, and the other end to the horn of the anvil, and made the old woman keep back her head so as to tighten the string. Asy now mother,' says he. Then taking the flaming horseshoe from the fire with the tongs he suddenly thrust it towards her face. Anyone can finish the story.
If she catches you she'll comb your hair with the creepy stool: i.e. she'll whack and beat you with it. (Ulster.)
They say pigs can see the wind, and that it is red. In very old times the Irish believed that there were twelve different winds with twelve colours. (For these see my 'Smaller Soc. Hist. of Anc. Ireland,' p. 527.) The people also will tell you that a pig will swim till the water cuts its throat.
Ah, I see you want to walk up my sleeve: i.e. you want to deceive me—to take me in. (Kerry.)
An expression often heard in the South:—Such and such a thing will happen now and then if you were to put your eyes on sticks; i.e. however watchful you may be. 'Well, if I was to put my eyes upon sticks, Misther Mann, I never would know your sister again.' (Gerald Griffin.)
He is down in the mouth, i.e. he is in low spirits. I suppose this is from the dropping down of the corners of the mouth.
To scold a person—to reprimand him—to give him a good 'setting down'—to give him 'all sorts'—to give him 'the rough side of your tongue.'
Anything that cheers you up 'takes the cockles off your heart': 'Here drink this [glass of punch, wine, &c.] and 'twill take the cockles off your heart.' 'It raises the very cockles o' my heart to see you.' ('Collegians.') Twould rise the cockles av your heart to hear her singing the Coolin.' ('Knocknagow.') Probably the origin is this:—Cares and troubles clog the heart as cockles clog a ship.
Instead of 'No blame to you' or 'Small blame to you,' the people often say, Tis a stepmother would blame you.'
'Cut your stick, now,' 'cut away'; both mean go away: the idea being that you want a walking stick and that it is time for you to cut it.
'I hear William is out of his situation.' 'Yes indeed, that is true.' 'And how is he living?' 'I don't know; I suppose he's living on the fat of his guts': meaning he is living on whatever he has saved. But it is sometimes used in the direct sense. Poor old Hill, while his shop prospered, had an immense paunch, but he became poor and had to live on poor food and little of it, so that the belly got flat; and the people used to say—he's living now on the fat of his guts, poor old fellow.
Tom Hogan is managing his farm in a way likely to bring him to poverty, and Phil Lahy says to him—'Tom, you'll scratch a beggarman's back yet': meaning that Tom will himself be the beggarman. ('Knocknagow.') Common all over Munster.
The people have a gentle laudable habit of mixing up sacred names and pious phrases with their ordinary conversation, in a purely reverential spirit. This is one of the many peculiarities of Anglo-Irish speech derived from the Irish language: for pious expressions pervaded Irish to its very heart, of which the people lost a large part when they ceased to speak the language. Yet it continues very prevalent among our English-speaking people; and nearly all the expressions they use are direct translations from Irish.
'I hear there is a mad dog running about the town.' 'Oh do you tell me so—the Lord between us and harm!' or 'the Lord preserve us!' both very common exclamations in case of danger.
Sudden news is brought about something serious happening to a neighbour, and the people say:—'Oh, God bless the hearers,' or 'God bless the mark.' This last is however generally used in derision. John Cox, a notorious schemer and miser, 'has put down his name for £20 for a charity—God bless the mark!' an intimation that the £20 will never be heard of again.
When a person goes away for ever or dies, the friends and people say 'God be with him,' a very beautiful expression, as it is the concentration of human affection and regret, and also a prayer. It is merely the translation of the Irish Dia leis, which has forms for all the three persons and two genders:—'with her,' 'with you, 'with them,' &c.
Under any discouraging or distressing circumstances, the expressions 'God help me' and 'God help us' are continually in the mouths of the people. They are merely translations of go bh-fóireadh Día orruinn, &c. Similarly, expressions of pity for another such as 'That poor woman is in great trouble, God help her,' are translations.
In Dublin, Roman Catholics when passing a Catholic church (or 'chapel') remove the hat or cap for a moment as a mark of respect, and usually utter a short aspiration or prayer under breath. This custom is I think spreading.
When one expresses his intention to do anything even moderately important, he always adds 'please God.' Even in our English speech this is of old standing. During the Irish wars of Elizabeth, it was told to an Irish chief that one of the English captains had stated he would take such and such a castle, when the chief retorted, 'Oh yes, but did he say please God': as much as to say, 'yes if God pleases, but not otherwise.'
'This sickness kept me from Mass for a long time; but with the help of God, I'll venture next Sunday.' 'Yes, poor Kitty is in great danger, but with the help of God she will pull through.'
'I am afraid that poor Nellie will die after that accident.' 'Oh, God forbid,' is the response.
People have a pleasing habit of applying the word blessèd [2-syll.] to many natural objects, to days, nights, &c. 'Well, you have teased me terribly the whole of this blessèd day—you young vagabone.'
- 'Were it not that full of sorrow from my people forth I go,
- By the blessèd sun 'tis royally I'd sing thy praise Mayo.'
- Translation of Irish Song on 'The County Mayo.'
A mother says to her mischievous child, 'Oh blessèd hour, what am I to do with you at all at all!'
- 'Oh we're in a precious plight
- By your means this blessèd night.'
- (Repeal Song of 1843.)
'God help me this blessèd night.' ('Mun Carberry and the Pooka' by Robert Dwyer Joyce.)
A man is on the verge of ruin, or in some other great trouble, and the neighbours will say, 'the Lord will open a gap for him': meaning God will find some means of extricating him. Father Higgins, who sent me this, truly remarks:—'This is a fine expressive phrase showing the poetical temperament of our people, and their religious spirit too.'
When anything happens very much out of the common:—'Glory be to God, isn't that wonderful.'
At the mention of the name of a person that is dead, the Roman Catholic people invariably utter the little prayer 'God rest his soul' or 'the Lord have mercy on him.'
The people thank God for everything, whatever it may be His will to send, good or bad. 'Isn't this a beautiful day, Mike.' Tis indeed, thank God.' 'This is a terrible wet day, William, and very bad for the crops.' 'It is indeed Tom, thanks be to God for all: He knows best.'
As might be expected where expressions of this kind are so constantly in the people's mouths, it happens occasionally that they come in rather awkwardly. Little Kitty, running in from the dairy with the eyes starting out of her head, says to her mother who is talking to a neighbour in the kitchen: 'Oh, mother, mother, I saw a terrible thing in the cream.' 'Ah, never mind, child,' says the mother, suspecting the truth and anxious to hush it up, 'it's nothing but the grace of God.' 'Oh but mother, sure the grace of God hasn't a long tail.'
The following story was current when I was a child, long before Charles Kickham wrote 'Knocknagow,' in which he tells the story too: but I will give it in his words. A station is held at Maurice Kearney's, where the family and servants and the neighbours go to Confession and receive Holy Communion: among the rest Barney Broderick the stable boy. After all was over, Father MacMahon's driver provokes and insults Barney, who is kept back, and keeps himself back with difficulty from falling on him and 'knocking his two eyes into one' and afterwards 'breaking every tooth in his head.' 'Damn well the blagard knows,' exclaims Barney, 'that I'm in a state of grace to-day. But'—he continued, shaking his fist at the fellow—'but, please God I won't be in a state of grace always.'
When a person is smooth-tongued, meek-looking, over civil, and deceitful, he is plauzy [plausible], 'as mild as ever on stirabout smiled.' 'Oh she is sly enough; she looks as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.' (Charles Macklin—an Irish writer—in The Man of the World.) This last expression of Macklin's is heard everywhere here.
A person is in some sore fix, or there is trouble before him: 'I wouldn't like to be in his shoes just now.'
A person falls in for some piece of good fortune:—'Oh you're made up, John: you're a med man; you're on the pig's back now.'
In a house where the wife is master—the husband henpecked:—'the grey mare is the better horse.' (General.)
He got the father of a beating; i.e. a great beating.
'How did poor Jack get that mark on his face?' 'Oh he fell over his shadow': meaning he fell while he was drunk.
A good dancer 'handles his feet well.' (MacCall: Wexford.)
A pensioner, a loafer, or anyone that has nothing to do but walk about, is an inspector of public buildings.
Those who leave Ireland commonly become all the more attached to it: they get to love the old sod all the more intensely. A poor old woman was dying in Liverpool, and Father O'Neill came and administered the last sacraments. He noticed that she still hesitated as if she wished to say something more; and after some encouragement she at length said:—'Well, father, I only wanted to ask you, will my soul pass through Ireland on its journey?' ('Knocknagow.') According to a religious legend in 'The Second Vision of Adamnan' the soul, on parting from the body, visits four places before setting out for its final destination:—the place of birth, the place of death, the place of baptism, and the place of burial. So this poor old woman got her wish.
'Well, I don't like to say anything bad about you; and as for the other side, the less I praise you the less I lie.' (North.)
There is a touch of heredity in this:—'You're nothing but a schemer like your seven generations before you.' (Kildare.)
'Oh you need not be afraid: I'll call only very seldom henceforward.' Reply:—'The seldomer the welcomer.'
'Never dread the winter till the snow is on the blanket': i.e. as long as you have a roof over your head. An allusion to the misery of those poor people—numerous enough in the evil days of past times—who were evicted from house and home. (P. Reilly: Kildare.)
Of a lucky man:—'That man's ducks are laying.'
When a baby is born, the previous baby's 'nose is out of joint.' Said also of a young man who is supplanted by another in courtship.
A man who supplants another in any pursuit or design is said to 'come inside him.'
A person is speaking bitterly or uncharitably of one who is dead; and another says reprovingly—'let the dead rest.'
When it is proposed to give a person something he doesn't need or something much too good for him, you oppose or refuse it by saying:—'Cock him up with it—how much he wants it!—I'll do no such thing.' Two gentlemen staying for a night in a small hotel in a remote country town ordered toast for breakfast, which it seems was very unusual there. They sat down to breakfast, but there was no sign of the toast. 'What about the toast?' asks one. Whereupon the impudent waiter replies—'Ah, then cock yez up with toast: how bad yez are for it.'
A very general form of expression to point to a person's identity in a very vague way is seen in the following example:—'From whom did you buy that horse, James?' Reply:—'From a man of the Burkes living over there in Ballinvreena': i.e. a man named Burke. Mr. Seumas MacManus has adopted this idiom in the name of one of his books:—'A Lad of the O'Friels.'
'I never saw the froth of your pot or the bead of your naggin': i.e. you have never entertained me. Bead, the string of little bubbles that rise when you shake whiskey in a bottle. (Kildare.)
Of a man likely to die: 'he'll soon be a load for four': i.e. the four coffin-bearers. (Reilly: Kildare.)
When a person attempts to correct you when you are not in error:—'Don't take me up till I fall.'
When you make a good attempt:—'If I didn't knock it down, I staggered it.'
'Love daddy, love mammy, love yourself best.' Said of a very selfish person.
An odd expression:—'You are making such noise that I can't hear my ears.' (Derry; and also Limerick.)
Plato to a young man who asked his advice about getting married:—'If you don't get married you'll be sorry: and if you do you'll be sorry.'
Our Irish cynic is more bitter:—
- If a man doesn't marry he'll rue it sore:
- And if he gets married he'll rue it more.
The children were great pets with their grandmother: 'She wouldn't let anyone look crooked at them': i.e. she wouldn't permit the least unkindness.
'Can he read a Latin book?' 'Read one! why, he can write Latin books, let alone reading them.' Let alone in this sense very common all over Ireland.
A person offers to do you some kindness, and you accept it jokingly with 'Sweet is your hand in a pitcher of honey.' (Crofton Croker.)
When a man falls into error, not very serious or criminal—gets drunk accidentally for instance—the people will say, by way of extenuation:—Tis a good man's case.'
You may be sure Tim will be at the fair to-morrow, dead or alive or a-horseback.
'You never spoke but you said something': said to a person who makes a silly remark or gives foolish advice. (Kinahan).
'He will never comb a grey hair': said of a young person who looks unhealthy and is likely to die early.
Two persons had an angry dispute; and one word borrowed another till at last they came to blows. Heard everywhere in Ireland.
The robin and the wren are God's cock and hen.
'I'll take the book and no thanks to you,' i.e. I'll take it in spite of you, whether you like or no, against your will—'I'll take it in spite of your teeth'—'in spite of your nose': all very common.
A person arrives barely in time for his purpose or to fulfil his engagement:—'You have just saved your distance.'
To put a person off the walk means to kill him, to remove him in some way. (Meath.)
A man has had a long fit of illness, and the wife, telling about it, says:—'For six weeks coal nor candle never went out.' (Antrim.)
'To cure a person's hiccup' means to make him submit, to bring him to his senses, to make him acknowledge his error, by some decided course of action. A shopkeeper goes to a customer for payment of a debt, and gets no satisfaction, but, on the contrary, impudence. 'Oh well, I'll send you an attorney's letter to-morrow, and may be that will cure your hiccup.' The origin of this expression is the general belief through Ireland that a troublesome fit of hiccup may be cured by suddenly making some very startling and alarming announcement to the person—an announcement in which he is deeply concerned: such as that the stacks in the haggard are on fire—that three of his cows have just been drowned, &c. Fiachra MacBrady, a schoolmaster and poet, of Stradone in Cavan (1712), wrote a humorous description of his travels through Ireland of which the translation has this verse:—
- 'I drank till quite mellow, then like a brave fellow,
- Began for to bellow and shouted for more;
- But my host held his stick up, which soon cured my hiccup,
- As no cash I could pick up to pay off the score.'
The host was the publican, and the stick that he held up was the tally stick on which were marked in nicks all the drinks poor MacBrady had taken—a usual way of keeping accounts in old times. The sight of the score brought him to his senses at once—cured his hiccup.
A verse of which the following is a type is very often found in our Anglo-Irish songs:—
- 'The flowers in those valleys no more shall spring,
- The blackbirds and thrushes no more shall sing,
- The sea shall dry up and no water shall be,
- At the hour I'll prove false to sweet graw-mochree.'
So in Scotland:—'I will luve thee still, my dear, till a' the seas gang dry.' (Burns.)
A warning sometimes given to a messenger:—'Now don't forget it like Billy and the pepper': This is the story of Billy and the pepper. A gander got killed accidentally; and as the family hardly ever tasted meat, there was to be a great treat that day. To top the grandeur they sent little Billy to town for a pennyworth of pepper. But Billy forgot the name, and only remembered that it was something hot; so he asked the shopman for a penn'orth of hot-thing. The man couldn't make head or tail of the hot-thing, so he questioned Billy. Is it mustard? No. Is it ginger? No. Is it pepper? Oh that's just it—gandher's pepper.
A man has done me some intentional injury, and I say to him, using a very common phrase:—'Oh, well, wait; I'll pay you off for that': meaning 'I'll punish you for it—I'll have satisfaction.'
Dry for thirsty is an old English usage; for in Middleton's Plays it is found used in this sense. (Lowell.) It is almost universal in Ireland, where of course it survives from old English. There is an old Irish air and song called 'I think it no treason to drink when I'm dry': and in another old Folk Song we find this couplet:
- 'There was an old soldier riding by,
- He called for a quart because he was dry.'
Instances of the odd perversion of sense by misplacing some little clause are common in all countries: and I will give here just one that came under my own observation. A young friend, a boy, had remained away an unusually long time without visiting us; and on being asked the reason he replied:—'I could not come, sir; I got a bite in the leg of dog'—an example which I think is unique.
On the first appearance of the new moon, a number of children linked hands and danced, keeping time to the following verse—
- I see the moon, the moon sees me,
- God bless the moon and God bless me:
- There's grace in the cottage and grace in the hall;
- And the grace of God is over us all.
For the air to which this was sung see my 'Old Irish Folk Music and Songs,' p. 60.
'Do you really mean to drive that horse of William's to pound?' 'Certainly I will.' 'Oh very well; let ye take what you'll get.' Meaning you are likely to pay dear for it—you may take the consequences. (Ulster.)
'If he tries to remove that stone without any help it will take him all his time': it will require his utmost exertions. (Ulster: very common.)
When rain is badly wanted and often threatens but still doesn't come they say:—'It has great hould [hold] of the rain.' On the other hand when there is long continued wet weather:—'It is very fond of the rain.'
When flakes of snow begin to fall:—'They are plucking the geese in Connaught.' 'Formerly in all the congested districts of Ireland [which are more common in Connaught than elsewhere] goose and duck feathers formed one of the largest industries.' (Kinahan.)
Now James you should put down your name for more than 5s.: there's Tom Gallagher, not half so well off as you, put the shame on you by subscribing £1. (Kinahan: pretty general.)
In stories 'a day' is often added on to a period of time, especially to a year. A person is banished out of Ireland for a year and a day.
The battle of Ventry Harbour lasted for a year and a day, when at last the foreigners were defeated.
- There's a colleen fair as May,
- For a year and for a day
- I have sought by ev'ry way
- Her heart to gain.
'Billy MacDaniel,' said the fairy, 'you shall be my servant for seven years and a day.' (Crofton Croker.) Borrowed from the Irish.
The word all is often used by our rustic poets exactly as it is found in English folk-songs. Gay has happily imitated this popular usage in 'Black-eyed Susan':—
- 'All in the Downs the fleet was moored'—
and Scott in 'The Lay of the Last Minstrel':—
- 'All as they left the listed plain.'
Any number of examples might be given from our peasant songs, but these two will be sufficient:—
- 'As I roved out one evening two miles below Pomeroy
- I met a farmer's daughter all on the mountains high.'
- 'How a young lady's heart was won
- All by the loving of a farmer's son.'
(The two lovely airs of these will be found in two of my books: for the first, see 'The Mountains high' in 'Ancient Irish Music'; and for the second see 'Handsome Sally' in 'Old Irish Folk Music and Songs.')
'He saw her on that day, and never laid eyes on her alive afterwards.' (Speech of Irish counsel in murder case: 1909.) A common expression.
A wish for success either in life or in some particular undertaking—purely figurative of course:—'That the road may rise under you.' As the road continually rises under foot there is always an easy down hill in front. (Kerry.)
Regarding some proposal or offer:—'I never said against it'; i.e. I never disapproved of it—declined it—refused it.
Be said by me: i.e. take my advice. (General.)
When a cart-wheel screeches because the axle-tree has not been greased, it is cursing for grease. (Munster.)
When a person wishes to keep out from another—to avoid argument or conflict, he says:—'The child's bargain—let me alone and I'll let you alone.'
When a person goes to law expenses trying to recover a debt which it is very unlikely he will recover, that is 'throwing good money after bad.'
'I'm the second tallest man in Mitchelstown'—or 'I'm the next tallest.' Both mean 'there is just one other man in Mitchelstown taller than me, and I come next to him.'
'Your honour.' Old English: very common as a term of courtesy in the time of Elizabeth, and to be met with everywhere in the State papers and correspondence of that period. Used now all through Ireland by the peasantry when addressing persons very much above them.
The cabman's answer. I am indebted to this cabman for giving me an opportunity of saying something here about myself. It is quite a common thing for people to write to me for information that they could easily find in my books: and this is especially the case in connexion with Irish place-names. I have always made it a point to reply to these communications. But of late they have become embarrassingly numerous, while my time is getting more circumscribed with every year of my long life. Now, this is to give notice to all the world and Garrett Reilly that henceforward I will give these good people the reply that the Dublin cabman gave the lady. 'Please, sir,' said she, 'will you kindly tell me the shortest way to St. Patrick's Cathedral.' He opened the door of his cab with his left hand, and pointing in with the forefinger of his right, answered—'In there ma'am.'