22 March 2009

Why the Poor Mouth?

Siting at the computer for any length of time is very uncomfortable so I am not overly keen to put together anything but short posts at present. Not being in the mood even for a short post I thought I would repost a couple of posts from over two years ago which explain why I call the blog the Poor Mouth and why I call myself Jams O Donnell:

The header above the title of this blog comes from a Gaelic expression An Beal Bocht or the poor mouth. To put on "poor mouth" means that you are exaggerating the direness of your situation in order to gain time or favour from creditors. It can also simply mean grumbling.

But why choose such an expression? I did so because I love the expression but also as a tribute to one of my favourite authors the late, great Irish novelist/humorist/civil servant, Flann O Brien. (Aka Brian O Nolan, aka Myles na gCopaleen).

Flann O'Brien

The Poor Mouth was originally published as An Beal Bocht in 1941, the only one of his novels to be written in Gaelic. It only appeared in English translation for the first time in 1973 – seven years after his death. I would have called the blog An Beal Bocht but someone had beaten me to that name


The Poor Mouth is set in the fictional village of Corkadoragha, a place which knows suffering an poverty in spades, It is a place were the torrential rains are more torrential, the squalor more squalid, the hopelessness more utterly hopeless than they are anywhere else in Ireland.

It is the story of Bonaparte O'Coonassa who, like the other characters spends the bulk of his time lamenting the fate of the Gaels whose lot it is to live a hard, miserable life. But it is certainly not a miserable book. It is very readable and very, very funny!

The Dalkey Archive Press edition of the Poor Mouth

It is a wonderful tale in which you learn about being a child of the ashes, Ambrose a pig the size of a house, Sitric O Sanassa (the excellence of his poverty was without comparison in all of Ireland) and the awful Sea Cat a harbinger of misfortune that looks uncannily like the island of Ireland. You also discover the origin of the name Jams O’ Donnell and why when an Irish person says calls you sir they could be insulting you!

O’Brien actually wrote the Poor Mouth as a parody of Irish literature such as Tom├ís O’Criomhthainn, whose work dwelt very much on the hardship of Gaelic life. In addition it was intended as a swipe at the patronising attitude of “Irish Irelanders” towards rural Gaelic speakers –as evidenced in one glorious scene where Gaelic enthusiasts mistake the grunting of a pig for melodious Irish simply because they cannot understand it! Needless to say it caused a storm when it was published.

Even if you have never heard of Tomas O Criomhtnainn and couldn’t care less about the attitude urban Gaelic enthusiasts towards the residents of the Gaeltacht, the Poor Mouth is a wonderful read. I would stongly recommend you find a copy of the book as its likes will certainly never be there again!

Further Reading

Gaelically Gaelic by Eric Mader-Lin (From Necessary Prose)

Flann O’Brien: A Postmodernist When It Was Neither Profitable Nor Popular by Robert Looby (At the Scriptorium website)

The No Bicycle Page

8 comments:

Crushed said...

I can still remember years ago getting the bus connection from Birmingham to Dublin via the Holyhead Dun laoghaire route.

I remember two Bulin lads in the seat just behind when we were at Holhydead commenting on the Welsh language signs and I recall one saying 'It's probably like the Gaelic. When a tourist asks you what it means you tell him 'Hill of the Green Fountain', but really you hav' na clue!'

I guess it's slightly different, because of the political significance of Gaelic. Of course to speakers it was their language, pure and simple, but in 1941 it had acquired real significance as a kind symbol of a certain strand of Irish Nationalism. Which to some degree I guess still applies. But certainly in those daus it was very much a political football.

jams o donnell said...

Oh yes Gaelic was of course tied up with Irish nationalism and tus with politics. THere was a grouping called the Irish Irelanders that wanted Irenad to be a fuly Celtic speaking nation.. my grandparents couldn't speak the language and my parents only learnt it at school but neve used it outside.

Politics aside O@Brien was taking a wobnderful dig at the sentimentality and the glorification of hardship

Claudia said...

Can't wait till tomorrow to get 'The Poor Mouth' and 'The Third Policeman'.So much fun discovering a new writer.Thanks for all the links.

jams o donnell said...

You won't be sorry Claudia. Read The Third Policeman over and over again. It will never be the same twice!

kellie said...

Over ten years of Irish classes and I came away with little more than caca milis and uachtar reoite. And I've probably spelled those wrong.

Here's a painting of Flann O'Brien you might like, by my late friend Brian O'Toole. More on this page.

G'luck with the limb.

jams o donnell said...

More Gaelic than I have Kellie! I love the painting It's wonderful as are the Joyce and Becketts!

I love his comic work. Very good. THanks for sharing!

Mojo said...

Well thanks for clearin that up for me. I'd never have guessed, and I had rather wondered.

jams o donnell said...

His works are well worth exploring too Mojo