Irish trivia, anyone?
Sure, and it must be time for some assorted trivia about the Emerald Isle, don’t you think? Since St. Patrick is the topic of the week, here’s a shot of Irish-this-and-that from Dublin to Donnybrook and from Blarney to Boycott!
• Did you know that the word boycott has its origin in Irish history?
The word has become a modern watchword of consumer advocates everywhere, but it started back in 19th century Ireland when peasants rented their land from English landlords. One of the lords had an agent named Captain Boycott, a particularly cruel man who evicted so many people that he and his family were ostracized by everyone and treated as if they didn’t exist. This is how boycott came into the English language.
• Another expression that has an Irish origin is the phrase — by hook or by crook.
This means to do something by whatever way is possible. In 1649, Oliver Cromwell landed in Ireland to suppress a rebellion, with Waterford as his target. On the east shore of the Waterford estuary is Hook Head and on the west shore is Crook, a small village. He vowed to take Waterford “by hook or by crook.”
• The origin of paddy wagon seems to be rather obscure. Mind you, as an advocate of blarney, I can make up an explanation, if you like. How about this —paddy wagon refers to a police van, of course, and may have come from Paddy, the nickname for Patrick and slang for Irishman or policeman. [Sure, and there’s more blarney there than you can shake a shillelagh at!]
• When the fighting Irish got together, there was bound to be a donnybrook. It might surprise you to know that today, Donnybrook is an elegant suburb of Dublin with some of the best hotels and restaurants in Ireland. But in the old days, when Donnybrook was just a village, a fair was held there every year. The fair became notorious for disagreements and fighting — so symbolically, that’s how Donnybrook came to have its present meaning.
• And where does shamrock come from? Well, it’s a tiny weed of the clover family. The reason it’s identified with Ireland and St. Patrick is that when Patrick was explaining the mystery of the Holy Trinity, he would often use the small shamrock weed to show how the three leaves make one plant — just as the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost make up one God.
• The phrase Beyond the Pale comes to us from the Irish, by way of the English. It means that someone is socially unacceptable. The Pale was a ring of fortifications surrounding Dublin in the Middle Ages. It was built as protection for the Anglo-Norman settlers. The rebellious Irish were on the outside and were not socially acceptable to their English occupiers.
They were beyond the Pale.
• Blarney has its origin, logically, with the Blarney Stone. But why does it mean nonsense? As in, “He gave her some blarney about why he was late.” The explanation is that the Blarney Stone, in Blarney Castle, near Cork, is reputed to give skill in flattery and verbal nonsense to those who kiss it.