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President Obama’s visit to one of his ancestral homelands, Moneygall, Co. Offaly, Ireland, provides us with an ideal segue from 4th-declension nouns (discussed in our most recent blogs) to international news events. And this is one angle of his trip that I think has been overlooked by the majority, perhaps all, of the media. At least Google assures me, “Your search – obama “muine gall” declension – did not match any documents.”
“Muine” is a 4th-declension noun. It may look like its fellow 4th-declension noun, “duine,” but don’t let that mislead you into thinking that the two words follow exactly the same pattern:
“Muine” is generally considered feminine in modern Irish (“generally?” Féach an nóta thíos) and its plural, as you might have noted above, is “muineacha.” And by the way, in Irish, it has nothing to do with “money,” even though it’s been anglicized that way because of the sound [MWIN-yuh]. It means a “thicket” or a “scrub” (area covered with shrubs).
“Duine” (person) in contrast, is masculine, and its plural is “daoine,” somewhat irregular but not irregular enough to technically be considered “neamhrialta” (that is to say, outside the declension system).
So let’s look at some contrasting forms:
an mhuine [un WIN-yuh], the thicket, with lenition (m changing to mh) because the noun is feminine. Sampla: Cá bhfuil an mhuine? Where’s the thicket?
an duine [un DIN-yuh], the person, with no lenition because the noun is masculine, and also because “d” resists lenition after “n.” But that is riail do bhlag eile (a rule for another blog). Sampla: Cé hé an duine sin? Who’s that person?
How about examples sa tuiseal ginideach? And remember, one nice thing about the fourth declension – there’s no separate ending for these forms. Well, for the “tuiseal ginideach” of “duine,” examples abound (anam an duine, saol an duine, in aois duine, srl.). But I have to admit, I don’t often discuss the properties or features of thickets, which would require the genitive case. It’s always possible to drum up examples, though, especially if we use more place names.
For starters, Páirc na Muine (angl. Parknamoney), which is i gContae an Chláir. Other place names in Clare with “na Muine” include “Gob na Muine” (Moneypoint) and “Rinn na Muine.” Further afield we also find “Cúil na Muine” (Coolnamoney), i gContae Thiobraid Árann, and at least two places called “Cúil Mhuine,” one anglicized as “Coolmoney,” i gContae Chill Mhantáin, and the other as “Collooney,” i gContae Shligigh. Somehow I prefer the “coolmoney” interpretation, at least on a bilingual level!
More generically, we could have a phrase like “scáth na muine” (the shade of the thicket).
One point you might notice here is that the lenition you so carefully learned, for saying “an mhuine” (the thicket), as the subject of a sentence (Cá bhfuil an mhuine?), gets canceled here. In the genitive case, we simply have “muine” again, preceded by “na,” meaning “(of) the,” for feminine singular nouns.
If we’re using the genitive case but without “na” (the), we’re even further on our way back to “cearnóg a haon,” as it were. For the indefinite forms, breathnaigh an t-iontas, we simply have “muine” once again. As an example, I’ll just note in passing that the phrase “meirdreach muine” dates back to early Medieval Irish, and means a “bush-strumpet.” Enough said on that topic, sílim.
Another phrase or two, for “in the thicket” or “in a thicket”:
For “muine” following “sa,” the phrase is “sa mhuine” [suh WIN-yuh]:
Och, a luin, is buidhe dhuit, cáit [cén áit] sa mhuine atá do nead?, which is a slightly modernized version of a question addressed to a blackbird in an Old Irish poem. “Luin” here is the direct-address form of “lon,” usually translated as “blackbird,” though it could also be an “ouzel.”
And, for an example of “i muine” (in a thicket), if I may make so bold as to translate a line of the work of WWI soldier-poet Wilfred Owen:
“Féach! Reithe agus a adharca in achrann i muine. Ofráil Reithe an Uabhair ina ionad [in ionad Íosác],” from Owen’s “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young,” concerning Abraham, Isaac, and all the victims of the “Great War.” Tragically, Owen became one of those victims, dying at age 25 on November 4, 1918, a week before Armistice, at the Battle of the Sambre.
How about the plural, “muineacha” (thickets, etc.)? Again, not a typical topic of conversation, at least not for me, i mo shaol fobhailteach. But when daily discourse or mionchaint choitianta fails to provide samplaí, we can always resort to <éifeacht fuaime: glór buabhaill nó tormáil druma, déanfaidh ceachtar acu gnó> … seanfhocail! Conveniently for discussing thickets, we find:
Amach as na muineacha is isteach sna driseacha.
More or less equivalent to “Out of the frying pan into the fire,” but literally, “Out of the thickets and into the ___________.” (Can you fill in the blank? Freagra thíos)
And this plural form brings us a bit closer to another place name, quite well-known, based on “muine.” “Contae Mhuineacháin” (Co. Monaghan) is translated in various ways, mostly revolving around “muine,” either as “land of the thickets or brakes,” or “the thicket/brake of the field,” amongst other possibilities.
Other place names with “muine”? There are quite a few, such as the Ballymoney in Co. Wexford, which is Baile Muine in Irish. This Ballymoney has a different origin (“muine”) from the Ballymoney in Co. Antrim, which comes from “Baile Monaidh” (townland of the peatland). Just because two places in Ireland may have the same anglicized name doesn’t mean the Irish originals are the same! We also have Muine an Mheá (Monivea, Co. Galway) and Muine Bheag, (Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow). With the latter, the English version is completely different from the Irish, as sometimes happens.
As for the “gall” of “Moneygall,” it can either mean “a foreigner” or “of foreigners.” The word is also found in the place name “Dún na nGall,” which many of you may recognize (aistriúchán thíos). So the generally accepted translation of “Muine Gall” is “foreigners’ thicket.”
Who were the foreigners that were connected to this Co. Offaly thicket? We may never know. “Gall” can also refer to Danes, Normans, Anglo-Normans, and the English, so presumably one of those groups. Maybe someday I’ll ask one of Moneygall’s 300 or so inhabitants. But I’m not sure how quickly that will happen. Ideally, a Moneygall resident might be on this list and fill us in? Duine ar bith de mhuintir Mhuine Gall anseo?
Small though it may be, Moneygall, will certainly have a “cleite ina sciathán” after Obama’s visit. But, as for the opportunity the word “muine” provides for practicing Irish 4th-declension nouns, somehow I doubt that was part of the original clár oibre (agenda, lit. work-program). Slán go Fáilí, ó Róislín.
Gluais: breathnaigh an t-iontas, hey-presto; buidhe, old spelling of “buí,” thanks, gratitude; cleite ina sciathán, lit. a feather in its wing, considered equivalent to “a feather in its cap;” fobhailteach, suburban; in achrann, entangled; nead, nest; reithe, ram; mionchaint, small talk; uabhar, (pride, arrogance), which leads us back to Owen’s English original, “Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns, a Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.” “Slán go Fáilí” is a one-off adaptation of “Slán go fóill” for this blog, and could be interpreted as “Goodbye until we meet in Offaly.” An lucht ríphointeáilte maidir le gramadach will notice that I said “could be.”
Freagra: driseacha [DRISH-ukh-uh], plural of “dris” ([drish], thorn, bramble, brier, cantankerous person).
Aistriúchán: Dún na nGall, the fortress of the foreigners, angl. “Donegal.”
Nóta faoi inscne an fhocail “muine”:
“Generally considered feminine?” Well, that happens sometimes with Irish nouns. The same word may have different genders, as we recently discussed, usually depending on dialect or sometimes on the time period involved. Historically, at least, “muine” was sometimes considered masculine, resulting in such place names as “Ardán an Mhuine Riabhaigh” (Monerea Terrace, Cork) and Baile an Mhuine, which, depending on whether you mean the Galway “Baile an Mhuine” or the Wexford “Baile an Mhuine,” got anglicized as “Ballywinna” or “Ballinvunnia” respectively. Nice examples of the [v] and [w] pronunciations of the same letters (mh), but that’s definitely ábhar blag eile. In all of these, the genitive case form “mhuine” tells us that this noun is considered masculine in this area or was when these place names evolved.