Light to the Countryside - 5th Nov. 1949


Light To The Countryside: Text Version

5th November 1949


Last week I stopped short, mid-way through my list of prize-winners in recent local history competition. Here are the remainder of the winners -– P. J. Lundon, Cullen, Tipperary; Catherine P. Giltenane, Farm Lodge, Adare (pupil in Convent of Mercy, Adare); M. O'Leary, Castlefarm, Hospital; Michael John Fitzgerald, Galtee House, 26 Ranelagh Gdns., Barnes, London, S.W. 13; Kathleen Rose, The Gardens, Adare.

Book prizes go to all above, and consolation book prizes, to the following – John K. Murphy, Doonakeena Nth., Templeglantine; Sean O Scannlain, No. 5 Cork Board of Fishery Conservators, 53 South Mall, Cork; Sean O Culbane, Morgans, Borrigone; Anna O Kelly, Moore Street, Kilrush; "Ide," Killeedy; Siobhan Corrigan 48 O'Connell Street, Limerick; Thomas O. C. Leahy, Tiermore, Kilmallock; M.J.M., Newcastle (if he sends name and address); Timothy Costello, Ballyclough, Askeaton; Maureen Quaid, Graigue, Adare; John Ryan, Patrickswell. Please note that the names given here are not listed in order of merit.


Rural electrification has now reached our part of the world. The poles are standing in the fields, and it is hoped that the houses will be lighted before Christmas. The advent of such a modern amenity has had a mixed reception. A great many are overjoyed at the prospect, and, already, are deriving pleasure at the mere thought of fingering a switch and filling kitchen, parlour or bedroom with the long-desired, brilliant light. No more will they have to grope their way into hen houses and cow houses at night, with match and spluttering candle. A move of the magic switch and night is turned into day! Bit by bit they plan to fill the house and farmyard with electrical gadgets that will make rural life so much easier. At night they will be able to listen-in to their wireless without fearing that the battery will fail. In short, it seems to those who look at it in this way, that the coming of the clean white light is the realisation of a dream, and that only a fool would not avail himself of it.


The other point of view is that it is too costly, and not worth getting in. Added to this view, in many cases, is the reluctance of the countryman to change his present way of living. "Yerra, sure," he says, "a lamp and a candle did us always, and they'll do us for the rest of the time. Let them that'll come after us get it in if they want to." That is his way of looking at it. In ten years time I wonder will he still look at it in the same way?


For a long time I have made a vain search for a book called "Rambles In The South Of Ireland." It was written in the last century by, I think, an English lady. I can give precious little information about it, except that it contains Crofton Croker's poem: "When First I Saw Kilmallock's Walls." I want to check up on a piece of information in that book, and if any reader could lend it to me for a day or two I'd be very grateful.


Inniu la saoirse Eaglaise – La na Naomh. Bhios ag obair an la ar fad istigh sa chathair; ach ni raibh aoinne des na comharsain a d'fhag me ag baile ar maidin ag obair, mar coinnigheann muintir na tuaithe la saoire eaglaise mar is coir. Ta a lan d'oidhreacht na nGall i seilbh cathracha na hEireann fos, agus is maigh is mithid doibh e do chaitheamh uatha.

Fuaireas litir le deanai o "Fanaire o Luimnigh." Do leigh se "Bean na dTri mBo" sa cholun so tamall o shoin, is do chuir se an sceal so i gcuimhne do.

Bhi meithiol ag feirmcoir la, ag bualadh coirce. Glaodhadh chun dinneir ortha. Cuireadh fear san doras, a dtreoru, na feirmeoiri sa pharlus, agus na sglabhaithe sa chistin (an biadh ceannan ceudna acu ins gach ait).

Thainig fear. Bhi se d'a dheoin fein ag dul sa chistin. Do labhair an doirseoir leis, agus dubhairt: "Is feidir leat-sa dul isteach sa pharlus: sure your uncle has a jennet"!


An Irish teacher, well versed in the language, told me lately that he learned his Irish at the age of 27, from Father O'Growney's little books of "Simple Lessons." This is the 50th anniversary of the death in exile of Eoghan O'Growney; and would it not be interesting to learn in this year, when we recall his memory, how many Irish speakers in Limerick owe it to this patriotic priest that they can speak the language of their country. I would be glad to hear from such people.


Up to now, in this account of the vanished Gaeltacht of Limerick, we have, as it were, called witnesses from among contemporary writers to testify that up to about 100 years ago Irish was the every-day language of the County. Wakefield, Fitzgerald, O'Donovan, Le Fanu, Joyce and O'Grady, have all told us a little of the Irish-speaking Limerick that they saw in their lifetime. From these accounts we now turn to a description of the kind of Irish spoken in Gaelic Limerick. As to-day we find different accents among English speakers in the County, so was it among the Gaelic speakers of the past; the pronunciation of some of their Irish words varied slightly from place to place, giving to their speech a pleasing diversity.


The local pronunciation of place-names and of Irish words and phrases that are still current, often helps us in determining just what kind of Irish was spoken in our townland, or parish or barony. The Irish spoken in North-West Limerick, along by the Shannon, resembled closely the Irish that one may still hear to-day around Carrigaholt or Kilbaha in Clare. This is only what we would expect, seeing that there was much contact, much crossing and re-crossing, between one bank of the Shannon and the other, through the centuries. For a close approximisation to the Irish that sounded, not so long ago, in South-West Limerick, one need only visit the Coolea Gaeltacht in West Cork.


The Irish formerly spoken over the greater part of East Limerick was the musical dialect of the Decies, which still sounds sweetly in the homes round Rinn O gCuanach in Waterford. In January, 1946, Eamon de Valera stated at a public meeting in Waterford City that he had had enquiries made as to the Irish spoken around Bruree, where his youth was spent, and found it was the Irish of the Decies. Some of us may not have heard of the Limerick Decies, but all of us, I am sure, have heard of Deisi Mumhan, as the Waterford Decies are known; for there is situated the justly famous college of Ring, with Seamus O hEochadha -– An Fear Mor –- a West Limerick man, as Headmaster.


The territory of the Deisi, an ancient tribe, who originally came from Meath, extended from Waterford almost to Limerick City. The Irish spoken in this territory was very musical: Aodh de Blacam, author of "Gaelic Literature Surveyed" considers it the most musical of the Irish dialects. For those unacquainted (alas!) with Irish it might be of interest to give a few examples of the Decies pronunciation of certain words. Cill-a church -– is pronounced "Kile" in the Decies and "Keel" elsewhere; Binn-sweet (of sound) -– is pronounced "Bine" in the Decies and "Been" in most other places; Rinnce –- a dance –- is "Roynka" in the Decies and "reenka" elsewhere. Even to this day not a few of the Irish words that still survive in English conversation in East Limerick have that peculiar Decies ring.


Part of the Decies incorporated in Limerick came to be known as Deisi Beg, and comprised portions of Small County and adjoining baronies. Canon Begley makes Deisi Beg co-extensive with the parishes of Bruff, Ballingaddy, Uregare and Effin. The parish of Athneasy, east of Kilmallock, is called by the Four Masters, Beal Atha na nDeiseach – the Mouth of the Ford of the Decies; and John O'Donovan, writing in 1840, says that the Morning Star River, which flows through Small County to join the Maigue, was at that time called by the local Irish speakers – Abba na nDeiseach, the River of the Decies. I might mention here that the old name for this river was An Samhair, later changed to Camhaoir, which means dawn or daybreak: hence the modern appellation -– Morning Star.


On the Morning Star lies Bruff, called in Irish, Brugh na nDeise -– the Residence of the Deisi. Just outside Bruff is a celebrated fairy lios, known to all the countryside as the Binn-Lisin; and even today, among English speakers the "binn" gets its distinctive Decies pronunciation. It was of this famous lios that the Gaelic stonemason poet of Bruff, Brian O'Flaherty, wrote:

"La meidhreach da ndeagh-sa liom fein

Ar Bhinn-lisin aerach an Bhrogha."

Clarence Mangan made a fine translation of this poem; as did also James Goggan, a schoolmaster, and one of the Joyces of Camas. Frank Roche, of Elton, the well-known collector of Irish music, still happily with us, took the latter translation and re-translated it into his own skilful Irish. According to "The Roll of the House of Lacy," the beautiful air of the "Binn-Lisin" was once the anthem of the great deLacys, they, who like so many of their , became "more Irish than the Irish themselves."


It was the deLacys who laid out those beautiful gardens on the banks of the Morning Star at Bruff, and planted in them the trees on which the feathered songsters of the wood sang so sweetly that we yet speak of the sheltered lios by the water's edge as the Binn-lisin aerach an Bhrogha – the sweet airy lios of Bruff.

The Gaeltacht has receded far from the Limerick Decies to-day, south-east to the fringe of Dungarvan Bay, west across half of Limerick, and across Kerry, to the wild Atlantic outposts of the Dingle peninsula. So has East Limerick lost the music of its Gaelic speech.

(to be continued)


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