Sneachta Cásca: Easter Snow (The Song, not the Weather Forecast) Posted by róislín on Feb 11, 2010 in Irish Language
A final thought on snow and Ireland would be the title of the traditional tune “Easter Snow” (Sneachta Cásca), as played by uilleann piper Séamus Ennis (1919-1982), amongst many others. It was one of Ennis’s favorite tunes and he used it as the name of his house. Christy Moore used the tune title as the name of a song he composed as a memorial to Ennis. With its poignant lyrics (“Oh the Easter snow, it has faded away, It was so rare and beautiful, And it melted back into the clay”), the song symbolizes the piper himself. It’s available on “The Christy Moore Collection, 1981-91” (http://www.christymoore.com/discography.php).
“Sneachta Cásca” is actually a sort of bilingual “mondegreen” (a misinterpretation, particularly in folksongs or poetry). The term “Easter Snow” is believed to come from a place name “Díseart (or Íseart) Nuadhain” [DEESH-art (or: EESH-art) NOO-in], meaning “desert or retreat of (St.) Nuadh.” There’s no logical reason I can think of for the variant “Íseart,” but letters have amazing ways of being dropped, added, or transmogrified as words go from Irish to English and back again.
Apparently the place name, near Boyle and Carrick-on-Shannon, sounded like “Ester Snow,” to English speakers, and that became the English version of the name. This was later interpreted as “Easter Snow” and then translated back into Irish, becoming “Sneachta Cásca.”
If “mondegreen” is a newish word for you, it was coined ca. 1954 but didn’t make it into major English dictionaries until a few years ago. Since it is based on mishearing an unfamiliar phrase in a Scottish ballad (“Lady Mondegreen” mistakenly heard for “laid him on the green”), the term can’t really be translated into Irish, or any other language. Hmm, looking at that line in isolation, I’d better add the context: “They hae slain the Earl o’ Murray (Moray), and laid him on the green.” Anyway, the term first appeared in Sylvia Wright’s 1954 article in Harper’s, available for a small fee at http://www.harpers.org/archive/1954/11/page/0048 if you’re interested.
However convoluted the origin of the phrase “Sneachta Cásca,” Christy Moore’s use of the term is an eloquent and fitting tribute to Séamus Ennis, “an fear ceoil.” Hopefully by Easter time this year, we will have no further reason to be talking about snow!
Nóta: Cásca, of Easter. This is the possessive form of “An Cháisc” [un khawshk] (the) Easter. It is used for many other phrases as well, such as “Coinín Cásca,” (Easter bunny), Domhnach Cásca (Easter Sunday), and Tine Chásca (Paschal Fire), where it is lenited, becoming “Chásca” with an “h” and pronounced with the guttural (throaty) “ch” also found in German “Buch” and Welsh “bach.” SGF — Róislín