Wednesday, May 13, 2009

... by any other name would smell as sweet

A piece in a recent issue of the Economist set Malcolm a-thinking:
THE choice of name for the capital of present-day Lithuania—Wilno, Vilna, Vilne, Wilda, Vilnia or now Vilnius—shows who you are, or were. In the 20th century alone, it has been occupied or claimed by Germany, Russia, Poland and the Soviet Union, with only brief periods of Lithuanian autonomy.
Now, off-hand, where does that remind us of?

Well, in alphabetical order:
Banba; Britannia Parva; de Ould Sod; Éire; Ériu; Erin; Fóhla; Hibernia; Ierland; Ierna; Ierné; Inis Ealga; Irenlandt; Irlanda; Irland; Irlande; Irlanthia; Irlanti; Irorszag; Irska; Irsko; Ivernia; Iwerddon; Juverna; Northern Ireland; Ogygia; Overnia; Paddyland; Poblacht na hÉireann; Saorstát Éireann; Scotia; Southern Ireland; the Black North; the Emerald Isle; the Four Green Fields; the Four Provinces; the Forty Shades of Green; the Free State; the Irish Free State; the North; the Republic of Ireland; the Six Counties; the South; the Thirty-two Counties; the Twenty-Six Counties ...
... and counting.

Many of those terms should offend someone, somehow, somewhere.

Which is why Malcolm addresses the topic now, and why, in previous posts, he has considered the different threads ("Irish", "Anglo-Irish", not forgetting and any other hyphenations) through previous posts.

Then there are those extraordinary locales. For an obvious example, try "Irishtown". There's one sandwiched between salubrious Sandymount and less-so Ringsend, in south-east Dublin. A town of Irish, in Ireland? Quelle surprise! yet it's there because of the Statutes of Kilkenny, when the English of Dublin had a pogrom and drove the Irish out of town.

There's another one in Mayo: presumably for similar reasons. That Irishtown was the original base for Michael Davitt's Land League; and so highly symbolic in its name.

Derry and Downpatrick (and numerous other towns in the old Plantations) have an "Irish Street", often with an "English Street" or a "Scotch Street" (that one's a direct reverberation from the Ulster Plantation) not far away. Cue Louis Macneice:
I was born in Belfast between the mountain and the gantries
To the hooting of lost sirens and the clang of trams:
Thence to Smoky Carrick in County Antrim
Where the bottle-neck harbour collects the mud which jams

The little boats beneath the Norman castle,
The pier shining with lumps of crystal salt;
The Scotch Quarter was a line of residential houses
But the Irish Quarter was a slum for the blind and halt.
Geddit? And if you didn't, Macneice spikes the message home with a point that comes down to the late twentieth century:
I was the rector's son, born to the Anglican order,
Banned for ever from the candles of the Irish poor;
The Chichesters knelt in marble at the end of a transept
With ruffs about their necks, their portion sure.
Ah, yes: the Chichesters, their portion sure.

Malcolm thinks of them any time he is passing Dunluce Castle. The predictable Malcolmian aside on the Irish origins and history of the Chichesters (who amply illustrate the cultural confusion) must await another posting.

Declan Kiberd invents an alternative history

Kiberd introduced Inventing Ireland, his 1997 post-colonialist history of literary history with a magnificent and rhetorical question:
If God invented whiskey to prevent the Irish from ruling the world, then who invented Ireland?
He instantly discounts the notion that the Irish had anything to do with it; and comes up, mischievously with:
a second answer ... that the English helped to invent Ireland, in much the same way as Germans contributed to the naming and identification of France. Through many centuries, Ireland was pressed into service as a foil to set off English virtues, as a laboratory in which to conduct experiments, and as a fantasy-land in which to meet fairies and monsters.
That is delightfully
paradoxical and provocative ; but let's stick with the etymology for a moment.

Curiously, the Oxford English Dictionary chooses to define "Ireland" only in terms of the Classics Prize at Oxford University. As for "Irish", a quotation from 1250 shows that even then it was an insult-word:
Thu chaterest so doth on Irish preost.
However, in this connection the OED ventures to suggest:
The stem ír- is no doubt from OIr. Ériu Erin (see HIBERNIAN); but the phonological relation is not clear.
When we then refer to HIBERNIAN, we find this:
f. L. Hibernia, a corrupted form of Iverna (Iuuerna, Iuverna, Iuberna) = Gr. , = OCeltic *Iveriu (acc. *Iverionem, abl. *Iverione), whence Ir. Eriu, acc. Eirinn, Erinn Erin, later MIr. nom. and acc. Eri (whence OE. Yra-, Iraland) Ireland.
So that's involved:
  • the Romans. Sure enough, there's "Hibernia" in Caesar's Gallic Wars and in Pliny ... oh, and also in Tacitus on Germania.
If "Hibernia" is a nice confusion from "hibernus" (= Winter), then we also find:
  • the presumably more-correct "Iverna" in the first century AD geographer, Pomponius Mela, and Iuverna in Juvenal.
And that clearly brings in:
  • the Greeks, or at least Strabo, with his Iernē.
Then we really are out in the cold, looking for a hypothetical Phoenecian connection, which may be quite conceivable, since Strabo hailed from what is now Turkey.

Strabo on Ireland

There's a continuing translation of Strabo on the University of Chicago web-site, ripped from the Loeb parallel text edition. Here is Strabo on our topic for today:
Besides some small islands round about Britain, there is also a large island, Ierne, which stretches parallel to Britain on the north, its breadth being greater than its length. Concerning this island I have nothing certain to tell, except that its inhabitants are more savage than the Britons, since they are man-eaters as well as heavy eaters, and since, further, they count it an honourable thing, when their fathers die, to devour them, and openly to have intercourse, not only with the other women, but also with their mothers and sisters; but I am saying this only with the understanding that I have no trustworthy witnesses for it; and yet, as for the matter of man-eating, that is said to be a custom of the Scythians also, and, in cases of necessity forced by sieges, the Celti, the Iberians, and several other peoples are said to have practised it.
The sex-and-violence there suggests that anti-Irish feeling goes way back. And it provides us with the usual problem:

It confuses "Ireland" and "Irish"

Kiberd and his generation of critics and historians are quite correct to see "Ireland" as a "cultural construct" (which is how Professor Willy Malley put it, for the opening essay in the symposium Ireland in Proximity).

Since it is the people, not the geography, who make the curious mixed-identity that is this "construct", perhaps it is time for a break for refreshment, further thought and deep breathing exercises before Malcolm leads into Part Two of this discussion.

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