Today, you can get an idea of how my “creative” process works. On Saturday morning I was going for a run around the university here, NUI Galway. In order to ensure I met my modest distance target, I went down a little-used path, behind the old quadrangle.
I was watching the news yesterday, and there was a story about the stone in the image above, which features the lyrics of the song “Galway Bay” in English, Latin, Irish, and French. It was erected, appropriately enough, in my hometown of Galway last year, overlooking Galway Bay, as part of a poetry trail featuring similar plaques with translations of works by different Irish writers. Funnily, I wasn’t really aware of the content of the plaque until yesterday, even though for most of last year I lived very close to it, and in fact passed it practically every day. I had seen it alright, but in my defence, I was usually cycling, driving, or running, so never really stopped to look at it, and there are many little cultural markers like that around the city, so you do kind of get used to them.
Anyway, the issue with the plaque was with the Irish-language translation. A few months after it was erected, An Coimisinéir Teanga (the Language Commissioner) received a complaint about the quality of the Irish translation, which suggested that it didn’t capture the spirit of the original English-language lyrics. In a report, An Coimisinéir stated that there were approximately 40 errors in the 20 lines of the Irish version. I found this quite shocking, so had a look at the lyrics myself.
It might surprise some people to notice how common the surname English is in Ireland. But there is a logic to it. The surname, in a variety of forms, was actually quite common around different areas of the modern-day United Kingdom, being recorded as far back as the 12th century. With the variety of different tribes and ethnic groups in these islands, and Europe in general, the name English was given to someone to denote that they were of Anglo-Saxon origin, particularly in border regions where lots of mingling would be expected.
The more common surname Walsh has a similar history. This may be less surprising when one considers how it’s still often pronounced in the west of Ireland: Welsh. And of course there’s Scott too!
Another surname with a seemingly similar origin is Ffrench. Yes, there are two f‘s, that’s not a typo. It’s not so common, but is to be found around my hometown of Galway, being the name of one of the 14 historically powerful and wealthy families of the city, who were known as The Tribes of Galway. At first I assumed it simply meant, well, French. Given the extent to which Norman culture influenced Ireland after the invasion of 1169, it wouldn’t be surprising. That influence is still evident in many Irish names. Burke comes from the Irish De Búrca, which in turn comes from the Norman De Burgo. Any name with Fitz is of Norman origin, with the prefix meaning son of. So Fitzgerald, for example means son of Gerald. And yet, while Ffrench is French in origin, it doesn’t actually mean French. It comes from the old Norman Irish name Defraine, which has been anglicised in many forms such as Frayne, Freyne, Freeney, French, and Ffrench. Defraine originally comes from the French word Frêne, meaning place with ash trees.
I love how surnames developed simply as a means to give us information about someone, like what their job was or where they were from. In your country and language, do people have surnames which come from nearby nationalities?
A quick update, 16.45pm: maybe more like two seasons in one day after all. What a difference
a day a few hours makes. And this isn’t the first spot of rain today.
You might not be able to see it, but there’s a light but persistent drizzle falling, and of course I didn’t bring a coat because it was such a beautiful morning. Harrumph!
It doesn’t look like that this morning, sadly. That picture was taken on my way to work a few weeks ago, at the start of a period of good weather that’s just come to an end. This morning is a more typically damp Galway morning, but I won’t complain after such a long period of good weather. I’ve had a slightly earlier start than usual this morning, as I’m currently on the bust to Dublin for work. It’s made me think about journeys, and mornings.
Naturally enough, we tend to associate the morning with beginnings. But it seems we think of them in more specific terms than that. If someone says the word morning, you’re probably more likely to picture something like the image above, rather than the overcast sky, green fields and farm buildings I’m looking at right now. Is that just because we’re more likely to think of something positive than something negative? Continue reading