Thursday 22 August 2013

Mouth of the Ford of the Buttermilk

22 August 1922:  the day The Big Feller Michael Collins bought it.  He has achieved mythic status in all sections of Ireland except in Fianna Fail where they probably still disparage him as Lloyd George's Poodle or That Low Bowsie from Cork

If you find it incredible that people are still voting the way their (great) grandfathers fought in the civil war you'll be amazed at the work of  Kevin Byrne and Eoin O'Malley.  Kevin Byrne has featured in The Blob before as interesting-smart, so his political stuff makes good copy. Surnames have been used in Ireland for longer than almost anywhere else - alone in Europe they haven't been adopted even now in Iceland!  Surnames identify your tribe almost as well as having  "Sable on a fesse ermine between three cinquefoils argent two mullets of the field." on your shield. Byrne & O'Malley looked at the surnames of everyone who has been elected to the Irish Parliament and binned them according to their party political affiliations.  They found that their are statistically significant differences in name frequency in the two main political parties. That suggests that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are bickering now in the Dáil with words as their ancestors bludgeoned each other with battle-axes. More socio-genetico-politico research here.

[Note for my Russian readers: the Irish fought an internecine civil war at about the same time as Reds and Whites were slaughtering each other in your country. Collins had negotiated a treaty with British P.M. David Lloyd George that gained a measure of independence for part of Ireland. That was repugnant to some other republicans because they wanted Four Green Fields as well as the plough, moon and stars . . .  now]

"The Big Fellow" is resonant of the antient heroes of Ireland like Cú Chulainn and Finn MacCool about whom Flann O'Brien wrote "Finn Mac Cool was a legendary hero of old Ireland. Though not mentally robust, he was a man of superb physique and development. Each of his thighs was as thick as a horse's belly, narrowing to a calf as thick as the belly of a foal. Three fifties of fosterlings could engage with handball against the wideness of his backside, which was large enough to halt the march of men through a mountain-pass".  Woot!  So it is great to hear from Frank O'Connor, who wrote a biography called The Big Fellow, that the name was originally applied with contemptuous irony because people thought Collins was too big for his boots.  This is a bit like almost every artistic school you can think of - Les Fauves, impressionists, cubism - whose members wore with pride and defiance the snitty label applied to them by bloodless self-regarding Parisian critics.

Meanwhile back in 1922, a convoy of vehicles in which Collins was traveling was ambushed and he was shot dead at the age of 31. Where? Béal na Bláth, Sorry, Where? Try Béal na mBláth, Béal na Blá, Bealnablath or Bealnabla - the Irish are notoriously lax in spelinge their place names even on official road signs which can be amusingly inconsistent.  Last week on The Blob it was unclear whether Kill was originally Cill/chapel or Coill/hazelwood.  Here it is a similar problem to ascertain whether the original toponym meant "Mouth of the Blossoms", "Mouth of the Ford of Buttermilk" or "Mouth of the Lawn".  Nobody is suggesting that it ever meant Town of the Blather.

No really, where was Michael Collins shot?
A. Here: in Glannarouge West
How cool is modern technology to deliver you, on Der Tag, to the very spot.  You can even see the grassy knoll where the ambush was laid.

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