05 July 2010


My dad's first cousin lives in Sligo, Ireland. He was a wonderful host when we visited that country, hauling us around, introducing us everywhere, giving us insight and opinion on all things Irish. When he talked about someone he didn't like, he invariably referred to them as a "bleedin' gobshite." Of course I though it was the most marvelous insult ever. The Irish version of the Queen's English is full of peculiarities and lovely bits, and I can't get enough of it. Pronouns are particularly fun. You hear the reflexive a lot: "Is it just yourself today?" Or the use of the personal for the possessive: "I reached for me drink." Another of my favorites is "your man" or "your man there," used to refer to some other person. In formal study, the dialect is called Hiberno-English, from the old Latin name of Ireland, Hibernia. There's enough unusual syntax, curious idioms, and colorful vocabulary there to keep WordMan™ happy for the rest of his days. Alas, like all things old, Hiberno-English is dying out. The younger generations have become more and more Americanised (as the Irish would spell it) and the country more global and multi-cultural. TV, the internet, mobiles (Irish for cell phones), and a flood of euros will do that.

Fortunately, there's Irish novelist Ken Bruen and his fictional creation PI Jack Taylor. Jack is "old school" Galway, a keeper of the Celtic flame, and he rails (mostly futilely) against the creeping modernization of his beloved country. We are always meeting old Galwegians who still use the old expressions and follow the old traditions. Cross is the latest I've read--having come across Priest last year--and Sanctuary awaits me on the shelf. The hard-boiled Taylor is rude, rough, lonely, and cynical, like a good noir protagonist ought to be. Despite the fact that the rather straightforward stories are premised on some shockingly savage violence, they are surprisingly funny, and even tender in spots, as our battered hero muses on his life and his many misdeeds. No matter how bad it gets, Jack Taylor manages to gain some measure of redemption and self-respect, at least enough to carry on. And all the while he's a treasure chest of Irish thought, history, and language. I don't know if Mr. Bruen set out to be a guardian of Irish culture, but through the voice of his angry PI, he is, and he manages to do it without pedantry or whingeing.

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