Irish Language Blog

More Month-of-May Motifs (i nGaeilge, ar ndóigh) Posted by on Apr 27, 2014 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Is it the “merry month” of May or the “merry, merry month” of May?  Is it “meidhreach” or “sona,” “croíúil” or “súgach?  Or is it as in the traditional Irish phrase, “buí” (Mí Bhuí na Bealtaine)?  We looked at all of those terms in the last blog (nasc thíos) but here’s a quick review:

meidhreach: merry, convivial

sona: happy, sometimes used for “merry,” at least from the American English perspective (Nollaig Shona, US: “Merry Christmas,” Ireland/UK: “Happy Christmas”)

croíúil: merry, hearty

súgach: merry, tipsy

buí: yellow, occasionally “golden,” sometimes “summerlike” or “sunny,” with the implication of “merry” as in “Mí Bhuí na Bealtaine,” (the Merry Month of May) and “Lá Buí Bealtaine” (merry/golden May Day).   The latter phrase was immortalized by the playwright Máiréad Ní Ghráda in her one-act drama of the same name.  Lá Buí Bealtaine opened at the Abbey Theatre (Amharclann na Mainistreach) on November 1st, 1953 and ran for 23 performances.   Interesting, and probably no coincidence, that the play explores one “quarter day” in the Celtic calendar (Lá Bealtaine, May 1st) and opened on another quarter day (an tSamhain, perhaps more familiar through its “eve,” which is “Oíche Shamhna” or “Halloween”).   For more implications of the word “buí,” on the negative side, please see the note below.

And the conclusion so far for the “merry” vs. “merry merry” question?   “Buí” (basically “yellow,” but also “sunny” or “summerlike”) is used for the traditional phrase, “the merry month of May.”  As for making it “merry merry,” I’d say there would be very little precedent for doubling up the “buí.”  “Buí” alone is probably plenty, but if you really want to emphasize the “double merriness,” I’d go with one of the words for “sunny” (grianmhar) or “summery” (samhrata, samhrúil).   Sometimes “gréine” (of sun) and “samhraidh” (of summer) are used as adjectives but they would seem a bit bulky here, piling on the genitive cases.   Maybe we could even tie in to “Aoibhneas na Bealtaine,” for further possibilities, but that phrase is a blog’s worth unto itself, given the popularity of that tune and dance (aka “The Sweets of May”).

At any rate, that should resolve the “merriness” factor, at least until next May.   So what are some of the “móitífeanna eile” associated with “mí na Bealtaine“?  We’ll look at some phrases that have “May” in the Irish or in the English (not always in both)

Banríon na Bealtaine, the May Queen

cuil Bhealtaine or cuileog Bhealtaine, May-fly.  And for the feithideolaithe among you, who might want more specific terminology, we have “cuil Bhealtaine fhásta,” “nimfeach na cuile Bealtaine,” and “larbha na cuile Bealtaine”

crann Bealtaine, maypole (NB: “crann” also means “tree” or “mast;” a smaller pole would usually be a “cuaille” or a “cleith“)

bearnán Bealtaine, marsh marigold (lit. “little gap of May,” as in “bearna,” a gap, and also a place name in Co. Galway, “Bearna” in Irish, formerly “Barna” in English)

lus buí Bealtaine, another name for the marsh marigold

But watch your “lusanna” (plants) because we also have:

lus Bealtaine (no “buí”) or, more specifically, lus Bealtaine mara, which is ‘sea mayweed” (Tripleurospermum maritima)

Farther afield we have “lus úlla bealtaine Himiléach” (Himalayan may-apple).   So that one must be in contrast to the American may-apple, for which I haven’t yet found a specific Irish equivalent.

And a favorite “May Day” expression is “a bheith idir dhá thine Bhealtaine” (to be between two May Day fires, i.e. to be in a dilemma, between a rock and a hard place, the devil and the deep blue sea, or however you care to express it).  Why “dhá thine Bhealtaine” (two May Day fires)?  Anyone care to write in the answer?  An freagra i mblag éigin eile.

sceach gheal, May-bush or May-tree, whitethorn, hawthorn (lit. “bright,” or “fair” or “white” bush/tree, not “May” as such)

bláth na sceiche gile, May-blossom (lit. the flower of the “bright bush/tree”, once again not “May” as such).  Sometime I’ll compare this more thoroughly with the “mayflower,” as understood in the US, which is apparently completely different.  Makes you wonder, what did the Pilgrims mean with that term, given that they sailed to the New World in a ship of that name?  Did they encounter the North American “mayflower” plant?  Bhuel, ábhar blag eile!

Then there’s the American term “maypop,” (edible fruit of the passionflower) but that appears to have no connection to the month of May.  The “may” part is supposed to be from the Algonquian “mara.”

As for your “maybes,” “mayhaps,” and “mayhems,” no connection here.  Ábhar blag eile, it may hap (to wax archaic).  At any rate, whether you’re in Ardán Ghort na Bealtaine (i mBaile Átha Cliath) or i mBaile Maoilbhealtaine (i gContae Chorcaí), in Maypole, Wales, or in any of the various places named “Maypole” in England (one in Kent, near a village ironically named “Hoath”–ironic, that is, if you’re used to the Irish “Howth”; one in the Scilly Islands, and one near Birmingham) … I hope you enjoyed the blog and will have some useful vocabulary for the next time you’re discussing the life cycle (saolré) of the May-fly, doing comparative New World/Old World botany (luibheolaíocht), or simply saying what you’ll be doing on a given day in May, hopefully merrily.  SGF — Róislín

Nasc: (24 Aibreán 2014)

Nóta (1) faoin bhfocal “buí”: On the negative side, “buí” can also mean “bad,” “ugly,” or “aggressively dissolute.”  But I’ve rarely encountered that meaning, and there are other words which much more typically mean “bad” (e.g. dona, and the prefix “droch-“) and “ugly” (gránna).  As for “dissolute,”  we could say “ainrianta” (unbridled) or “drúisiúil” (lustful), but again, those are words that don’t come up that much in ordinary conversation, i mo thaithí féin, ar a laghad.  Nor does “dissolute,” i gcomhráite i mBéarla, at least in my conversational circles.  Maybe in book or movie reviews.  “Buí” can also have political implications, which go far beyond the scope of this blog.   As is usual with any language, it’s “comhthéacs, comhthéacs, comhthéacs.”

Nóta (2) faoi Maypole, Kent: To my amazement, I see that the airfield in Maypole, Kent, is for sale, as of the writing of this blog.  Isteach san áireamh: feirm 55 acra, stábla fostaíochta (I suppose that’s what they mean by “livery yard”), agus teach príobháideach.  Má tá suim agat ann, téigh go

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