Gaeltacht Minnesota

Sean Mac Mathúna Story

This page will be available temporarily, during the first part of 2010, to help us with the story we are working on, "Accelerated Curriculum", from his short-story collection Banana, published in 1999. You will find:

  • Vocab Hints : tips about tricky vocabulary for the currently assigned excerpt.
  • Summaries: English summaries of past assignments, so you can keep up if you miss a week.




Back to Will's Class Page | The Assignment | Vocab Hints | Summaries | Handouts |

Note: finished the story on Feb 8, final summary below

The Assignment

This is a straightforward translation effort, for the most part. It is just a piece of literature I stumbled across, over break, that I enjoyed. But because it is basically a fairy tale story, written ten years ago, it seemed like a nice connection to the fairy tales I handed out before break.

I'll hand out the story in parts, it naturally breaks into some nice "cliffhanger" sections. Naturally, it would be great if you can keep up, but if you can't, please use the summaries I'll post here and leapfrog to the next section.

You'll need a little imagination, and your big dictionary, to figure out some of the non-standard, Munster dialect structures and vocabulary. E-mail me with questions, if you can't find something!

P.S. -- what you're getting as handouts was scanned and processed, so typos may still lurk among them.

Vocab Hints Munster Verbs | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

For vocabulary, I'll just indicate paragraph number, for each specific handout, and you should find things easily.

CHECK the "last updated" line every now and then. If someone sends in a question, or I discover something interesting in mid-week, I may update the postings here, so you may (no guarantee) find additional help appears as the week progresses.

Munster Verb Ending Review

Here's a quick hint for the most common endings, note that slender vs. broad is very important.

1st singular chuireas cheannaíos 1st singular cuirfead ceannód (eod)
2nd singular chuiris cheannaís 2nd singular cuirfir ceannóir (eoir)
3rd plural chuireadar cheannaíodar 3rd plural cuirfid ceannóid (eoid)

Part 1 (handed out on Jan 4, "Intro & Part I")

Last updated: Thursday night, 01/07/10 (reformatted 01/11)

General note, several paragraphs: sometimes go/gur is used to mean "until," rather than one of those "that" things. This happens several times toward the bottom of this first page of the story. I'll have a handout on that for Jan 11.

  • gan de chuileachta = cuideachta
  • ná fuil = nach bhfuil. This is a common Munster form
  • canathaobh: contracted from cad ina thaobh, which is just an expression in the nature of "Why", also "What about it?"
  • airiú = arú, another exclamation, sort of "Ah!" or "Aw . . ."
  • ar bhord an tslé' = short for sléibhe, which is the genitive of sliabh
  • ná a bhfuil . . . this use of a may not be familiar, but it means things like "all that", "however much", and so on
  • so: in Munster, sin and seo come out as san and so, similarly ansan, anso for ansin, anseo
  • ambaist (or ambaiste), another exclamation: Indeed! Really?
  • ó chianaibh: cianaibh is a dative, which only certain words have any more. The dative is the object of a preposition, the basic form of this word is cian, and in this set expression with ó it means "a while ago".
  • ní foláir: generally means "it's necessary", but when it is tacked on to the ends of statements, or kind of parenthetically, think of it more as "must have", in the sense of "that's what must have happened"
  • tá deireadh leis an laochas: this phrase will pop up again in the story. Laoch is a hero, or warrier, and laochas can mean heroism. But in this story, I think it probably means bravado, boasting, putting on the brave front that really isn't true. Tadhg is rather proud and contemptuos of the people he bumps into who express concern about his loneliness, etc., but his confident demeanor collapses when he finds himself in unknown territory.
  • bhonnaibh: bonnaibh = boinn, plural of bonn
  • beann: the form you see here is a plural genitive, and in this context it means "peaks," which you may not find in the dictionary
  • ná feadair sé: feadair is a defective verb, meaning it only has certain persons and uses, it doesn't have a complete conjugation. It is always negative, and generally means "it isn't known". I would expect nach bhfeadair, perhaps, but this ná usage would be consistent with Munster patterns.
  • dhein sé = rinne sé. dein is the Munster form of déan, and it is regular in that dialect, so no unusual past form is needed.
  • mná uaisle: you might be tempted to translate this as "noble women," but in this context -- when Tadhg has mysterious ended up in a completely unfamiliar area on his way home -- you can be fairly certain that this is a bunch of fairy women, usually with one of them being sort of a queen. When applied to a place, uasal often means an enchanted spot where the fairies are active.

Part II (handed out January 11)

Last updated: Jan 15, Friday night, probably the last update

  • dhein sé = rinne sé. dein is the Munster form of déan, and it is regular in that dialect, so no unusual past form is needed.
  • ná fuil = nach bhfuil. This is a common Munster form
  • réal = coin (sixpence, usually), he's saying that storytellers are worthless
  • croch suas: may look odd, but it's a common way of saying "Sing/Play a tune!"
  • ní aithneoinnse veidhlín thar súiste: aithneoninnse thar is the unit you need to decipher. Think about: what tense is that?
  • ní ba mheasa. Measa, of course, is the comparative of both dona and olc, and means "worse/worst". Níos measa, then would be "worst." But since this sentence is in the past tense, and níos is a combinations of ní + is, we use the past of the copula to get ní + ba.
  • leic = leac
  • cúis gháire ó Dhia chugainn: basically, "That's a good one!"
  • saoilíodh: this verb is seen in this tense most of the time, which is . . . ?
  • ná raibh: is used in place of nach throughout, common in Munster
  • tógadh Tadhg dá bhonnaibh: this time it is the crowd that lifts him, but this sentences is nearly identical to what the wind did to him in the first part. you can think of bonnaibh as an irregular plural, and dá bhonnaibh = de + a + lenition + boinn
  • rugadh chun siúil: think about: why is siúil spelled that way?
  • riascaibh: like bonnaibh, a variant plural, riasca is the standard
  • Cad a chífeadh = Cad a fheicfeadh (conditional). This chi form is used for future and conditional stems in Munster and in Ulster, but not in Connaught.
  • ach an muintir an bóthar aníos chuige: an bóthar is the start of an expression, not connected to an muintir
  • comhrainn: more common forms are comhra and, the one that will help you the most, cónra
  • stadadar = stad siad. this -dar form for the third person plural past is not only common in Munster, it is frequently heard in Connaught.
  • chos a tharrac = tharraingt
  • ar a dhrom. I have no reason why this wouldn't be droim, so I assume this is a typo in the original.
  • thairis anonn: in this sense, anonn might be "to the other side", that is, tied around in his front
  • Ach bhí na baill bheatha ceangailte aige. Don't get confused, nothing in this sentence refers to what is on Tadhg's back, it is all about Tadhg himself.
  • Dein é seo a chur . . . He could have just written, Cuir é seo . . ., but it isn't unusual to use dein (déan) with another verb to make something happen.
  • Bhí fuar aige: uses of fuar like this generally mean his attempts were useless, to no avail
  • seo libh: again, the use of le to imply movement, "off we go south to . . ."
  • a chríochnóir: see the verb endings above
  • déistean = déistin
  • insí: could be either inis (island) or inse (grassy place, meadow), I would lean toward the latter
  • múscail as sin: usually "awaken", in this situation more of "give that up", "knock it off"
  • ag léimrigh: léim or léimeadh are more common verbal nouns for léim, to jump or leap. There is also a separate noun for the act of jumping, léimneach or léimreach.
  • clathacha = claíocha (claí)
  • Note that "Sin deireadh le laochas" pops up again, another nice repeated element
  • nuair a bhaineadar amach Cillín . . . we talked about bain amach in class. "When they reached Cillïn . . ."
  • ar na fallaí = ballaí
  • Dhera a dhuine na n-ae is na n-arann ba bheag nár léim Tadhg as a chorp: I'll confess that I'm still wrestling with this syntax. ae refers to the liver (livers, actually, in the plural, but it is used that way commonly) and arann to feeling, sensibility. This use of the genitive plural of ae, X na n-ae, often indicates close friendship, dearest relations, strongest desire, and the like. In these expressions, ae is sometimes interpreted as the heart, friend of my innermost heart, and so on. I suspect that this is very much like when an author addresses "dear reader", as these genitives are connected to the person hearing the story, not Tadhg: "Indeed, dearest of persons, person of heart and feeling (perception), Tadhg almost . . ."

Part III (handed out January 25)

Last updated: Jan 25, Monday

  • a Thaidhg Uí Chatháin: the vocative, and the genitive, of Tadgh Ó Catháin
  • an bhfuileann, and táid = an bhfuil, tá siad. Munster dialect handles various forms of "tá" differently
  • trian de ar iarraidh: a third of him missing
  • an gáire a dheineadar: the "dhein" part is typical Munster, which treats déan (dein) as a regular verb, with dhein instead of rinne in the past. The -dar ending is a common past form corresponding to "siad", and it is found in Connaught as well as munster.
  • téir = an alternative imperative form of téigh
  • As go brách leo: the "as leo" part is basically, "off with them", or "off they went." with "go brách" in there, it suggests "no turning back". They tore off as if they would never come back.
  • Ní foláir: this pops up a couple of times in the story, and basically is like saying " . . . , must have" at the end of a statement
  • nuair a bhain sé Cillín Tiarna amach: bain amach is a unit you want to know, used for "reaching" or "arriving at" a place.
  • mantanna: gaps, often in the teeth -- a mantach is a gap-toothed person -- but could be gaps anywhere, in this case, in their bodies
  • ag feitheamh = ag fanacht. there is a suggestion that they were expecting visitors, watching for them.
  • Think about: why is it ina lobhar in the previous paragraph, roimh lohbair in this one, and an lobhar in the next?
  • Ní robhuíoch: not too, very pleased. For emphasis, the adjective comes in front, followed by a relative clause.
  • thuas: in general pay attention to the direction/location adverbs in this passage
  • bailithe léi: more or less, "off with it"
  • i gceann cúpla seachtain: i gceann is followed by a genitive, BUT in this case cúpla (which would be cupla in Connaught unless it referred to twins) intervenes. So, i gceann seachtaine, but i gceann cúpla seachtain.
  • tarna = dara
  • Éist do bhéal: an odd idiom that means, "Shut up!"
  • Is lobhar anois tú : thú would be more common in this usage in Connaught.
  • srónach = sróna
  • An lobhar mé dáirire? Good example of a copula question.
  • ach dá crochfá . . .os cionn na huaighe bheadh leat. There's a use of tá with le that means you are successful, that you have won, in a sense. So this whole sentence suggests that if he would play a tune, he would escape, he would succeed in not being a leper.
  • aga: a period of time. He didn't get time to refuse . . .
  • amahil is gur leo an áit: as if they owned the place. is le . . . is the common way to express ownership.
  • An tiúin a chroch sé ná . . .: that is really the copula in disguise, if you will, it is used when we need the copula form of "to be", but the first part of the sentence is a whole phrase, not a simple noun or pronoun.
  • cois an ghé: cois = cos, and "goosefoot" is a plant. I don't know whether any of our singers can tell us more about this tune?
  • b'éigean dóibh: they had to, it was necessary for them to (the corpses, that is). éigean, which a base meaning of violence or force, is also used in the phrase ar éigean, hardly or barely.
  • mar gur sheoladar . . . seol means to sail, and is used to launch things, but we also use it more generally to send thing (like mail and e-mail), to guide. So they sort of guided/shoved him into place.
  • As go brách leis: first, it is always nice, in storytelling, when a phrase pops up again in a story. This time it indicates that "off we went" dancing as if he would never stop.
  • smúit is often smoke, but more "dust" in this case
  • go dtí gur scaoil sé ag croitheadh na gcos iad go léir: I confess that sorting out this one in detail is a little challenging. Scaoil is to release, and also to loosen, unfurl, relax, etc. I believe he is saying that Tadhg leapt into the dancing vigorously, his shoes kicking up dust until he had everyone (the corpses) tapping their toes, basically.
  • bhí chomh tógtha sin leis féin: he was was so taken with himself
  • An léifeá smut d'aifreann: in Irish, we generally "read" the mass, not "say" it. smut is a stump, thus a small portion of something larger.
  • Ní raibh léamh aige gan trácht ar an Laidin: He didn't know how to read, much less in Latin (we "have" abilities like reading, swimming, etc.)
  • bhí fuar aige diúltú: it was useless to refuse
  • agus é ag gearradh leis: gearradh is "cutting", but it is also used for making the sign of the cross -- obviously the motion is much like cutting yourself into quarters. Basically, he was making his way through the Mass, with all the rituals
  • Dhera eist, a dhuine! a "dear reader" sort of thing

Part IV

Last Updated: Wednesday evening, Feb 3

  • Notice: nice use of direction words
  • i mbéal na maidine: this i mbéal thing usually refers to the "first thing", very start of the day, etc.
  • Cá dtuirlingeodh an diabhal: the "devil" might not be literally, but more emphatic, "where the devil . . .". but Question: what tense is this?
  • De réir a chéile : common phrase, translate it as a unit
  • chomh bródúil le cat a mbeadh póca air: means just what it says, and this is a common expression, a standard "as ___ as" comparison
  • ní hamháin sin: there have been several occurences of amháin in this story, and it has almost never meant "one" (although there is a case of that simple meaning later on this page). Get past thinking of the "one" translation and get comfortable with its other uses, which mostly fall into the category of "except that," "not only that," and so on.
  • crochfad, go mbuailfead: see verb endings, above
  • scriob screab: to tell you the truth, you aren't likely to find these exact words anywhere. Various forms of scríob, with a fada, refer to scraping and scratching, and I suspect that scriob screab is an onomatopoeic use, referring to the "scraping and scratching" of the bow across the violin strings. It sounds great when you read this line aloud, and makes intuitive sense when you hear it, if you don't get too concerned about finding a dictionary translation of it.
  • buíoch: think more "satisfied" than "grateful"
  • marfach: "fatal", but probably more reasonably, "intense"
  • ba dheise: is deise, in the past tense
  • scafaire: a strapping individual. scafaire fir, in this case -- a strapping fellow -- as opposed to scafaire mná, a strapping young woman.
  • suífir: looks funny, but check the verb endings above
  • níor iarr sé aon mhéir leis: first, méir is a form of méar. He didn't ask for any finger(s), in this sense, the crooking of a finger to beckon someone to you. He popped right over there without needing further invitation, if you will.
  • Agus go breá reidh ar an Laidin: Latin is all very well (but . ..)
  • bíodh a fhios agat: you probably don't see this form very often, it is actually an imperative (similar to the "Let's . . ." form in English.) It is a command to know something, so we could translate it, "you must know."
  • gaíre: usually laugh, but sometimes merely a smile
  • an inseoidh: in spite of the punctuation (or lack thereof), this is obviously a question: Tense?
  • tráth is go bhfuil: bascially, "since"
  • nár mhiste . . . you have probably seen this word mostly in the construction, ní miste liom, meaning "I don't mind," "It's all right with me" sorts of things. In this case, there's no subject, but she's saying "maybe it would be all right.
  • inár dteannta: i dteannta is used to mean "along with" so and so. With this possessive, literally, along with each other, together that is, but it kind of suggests together in close proximity.

Summaries Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Part I

Tadhg Ó Catháin is a lad who often goes out to play cards. This one certain night as he was returning home he bumped into a neighbor woman, who said, "Tadhg, what a pity to see you returning to your lonely little house every night with no other company (there) but a sooty old cross."

Smart-alecky Tadhg replied, "What, don't I have a dog?" But shortly he met another woman, who asked if he ever thought about marrying. Again Tadhg was contemptuous, saying he had potatoes, turf, etc., an easy life, he needed nothing more.

Sure enough, he met a third person, an old fellow who thought Tadhg would like to hear the pitter-patter of little feet, and happy little cries, in the morning. Says Tadhg, "The bleating of the sheep on the edge of the mountain is much sweeter to me than all the happy cries in the world," and off he heads home.

But after a little while, it is odd that he hasn't reached home yet, so he stops and looks around. "You're lost," he says to himself, and figures talking to those people must have put him astray, curse them!

He was on a mountain, one he didn't recognize. The wind blew so hard it nearly tore the coat off his back. The sky cleared to show stars he didn't know . . . where was he? A shiver (of fear) ran through him, and he said to himself that that was what all his bravado had led to.

Just at that moment the wind lifted him off his feet and took him across the peaks, the glens, through streams of fog, into a whirlwind of snow until he landed in the end in a place he didn't know, a silent glen. He saw a light in the distance and made for it.

It was some sort of castle and gay shouts were coming from it. In he went. It wasn't long before he came to a great hall full of fairy women who were having a great party of drinking and feasting . . .

Part II

A voice addresses Tadhg, giving him palpitations of fear. "Come down here," it says, which he does, and then, "Tell us a story, Tadhg!"

He replies, "Oh, that's something I cannot do, I never met a storyteller that had sixpence in his pocket (i.e., that was worth anything)." That silences the crowd and a little fear comes over Tadhg. Then the voice calls out, "Tadhg, raise a tune on the violin for us!"

"Oh, dear," says Tadhg, "you have entirely the wrong man for that, I wouldn't know a violin from a flail." That brings an even worse silence from the crowd. He looked around at them and the fear inside him grew.

But the voice spoke again (a third time, note), "Well, even so, Tadhg, give us a couple of steps on the flagstone."

"Steps, ah, that's a good joke, my two feet have been tied since the day I was born." Tadhg looked around and made out that these answers were not at all welcome. Every eye was going right through him, and he started to pray.

The voice spoke again: "Tadhg Ó Catháin, may long wandering be on you and your heart without grace (relief)." The crowd clapped their hands and Tadhg was lifted from his feet and taken on a journey through the night, past the mountains, past the bogs, past the moors until he landed in a place he did not know.

It was on the side of the road he was, and wet, cold, and scared within an inch of his life. What should he see there but the people (of the area) coming down the road toward him, a funeral, indeed, and they had a coffin. They were all corpses, dead for a month at least. And the smell from them would knock down a horse. They stopped.

"Tadhg Ó Catháin," said the voice, "stand out here on the middle (belly) of the road!" But Tadhg was so afraid that he couldn't drag his feet anywhere. They opened the coffin, and what was inside but another corpse! They took it out. The odor nearly laid Tadhg out and he screamed with wild astonishment.

They lifted this corpse up onto his back. They bound the legs and arms of the corpse around him in front. Tadhg screamed. He screamed a second time. But his vital organs were tied into knots.

"Bury him in the graveyard quickly, he has been a month unburied," the corpses said to him.

"Corpse! A Month! Christ! Help me, in the name of God, help me," Tadhg screamed. And off he went the length of the road trying to throw the corpse off him.

But to no avail, all the while the corpse put his putrid mouth next to Tadhg's ear, "Tadhg Ó Catháin, bury me, bury me soon!" It's hard to tell you the horror that grabbed Tadhg when he heard the voice in his ear.

"We are going south to Cillín na mBoc," said one of the crowd, "and make haste, for if the day brightens on us and your man is on your back still, it is in Hell that you will finish!"

It wasn't disgust but terror that took him south, screaming all the way. The went through bogs and brambles, through glens and meadows, and every time he would stop to catch his breath he would get a kick from the corpse, and, "Stir yourself, beggar (worthless person), look at the day lightening on us!"

That would put him on his best (effort) headed south with him leaping over walls and falling into turf holes and with no other tune from him by "That's what comes of bravado, Tadhg, darling, that's what comes of bravado."

At last when they reached Cillín na mBoc it was the case that the gates were fastened against them by the people of the graveyard, meaning the corpses. Standing on the walls they were, and every one of them shouting, "This is a clean graveyard, you there, no welcome for lepers." Indeed, dearest listener, Tadhg almost jumped out of his own skin when he heard the word.

"Leper! Is that's what's up there (on my back)?"

Part III

"What else, Tadhg Ó Catháin, are you so totally simple, and a third of him missing already?" , with great laughter. "Go north to Cillín Tiarna , they accept lepers there," they said.

Off they went north as if there were no turning back, and Tadhg's heart in his mouth. The rumor must have run ahead of them for when they reached Cillín Tiarna all the corpses, every one of them a leper and gaps taken out of them, were waiting for them at the gates.

Welcome lepers," they said. Tadhg was not too pleased.

"This one up on top of me is the leper, I am a whole person," he said.

"Now you are a leper, and your nose will be off in a couple of weeks," they said. Tadhg screamed. He would have let out the second scream except that the leper kicked him in the crotch. "Shut up, you coward, inside with you and put me in the ground."

The people of Cillín Tiarna took Tadhg to a place inside, they lifted up a couple of (flag) stones and slid the corpse down off his back nice and gently into the grave that they had come to. They threw the clay down on him, and then the stones. Tadhg was examining his nose with his fingers.

"Am I really a leper?" he said with a shout.

"Yes", they said, "but if you would play a tune on the violin over the grave you would be all right."

"But," says Tadhg, "I could not . . ." He did not get time to refuse as a violin was put into his hands. His fingers leapt on the strings as if they owned them. The tune he played was, "Virgin Mary, keep a candle by me until I have cut the goosefoot," and it was so good that the dead around him rose to listen. In they end, they had to tear the violin from him as he was getting notions.

"Beat a couple of steps on the gravestone for us now," they said. He didn't have time to oppose the idea as they sent him up on the stones. Off we went dancing as if he would never stop, the shows kicking up dust from the air until he had all of their toes tapping. In the end it took three corpses to stop him, he was so taken with himself.

"Would you read a bit of the mass for us now, Tadhg, so that your man's spirit will not come back to scare you?" they said.

He didn't know how to read, much less in Latin, he couldn't even ring the bell. But it was useless for him to refuse as without further delay the vestments were on him and he was making the sign of the cross and going through the Mass -- and the Latin came in strong floods out of him. (Latin stuff here). Indeed, dear reader, truly the corpses were very proud of him, I have to tell you. But they couldn't stop him. "All of you here on your knees that I may read the blessing of the church over you." He had just started when the wind knocked him down and took him off about over the yew trees and through the air and clouds.

Part IV

The wind blew him east and west, and right into the start of the morning. Where the devil should he land but smack in the center of the hall of the castle, and the feast was still in progress. Gradually a silence fell over them, and every eye looked at him.

"Tadhg Ó Cathaín," said the voice, walk up to us out of there!" He did so. "Do you have a story for us this time around?"

"Indeed I do," said Tadhg, and he as proud as a cat that would have pockets on him, "and not only that but I will play a ocpule of tunes on the scrip-scrape (viol:in) for you, and who knows whether I might beat a hornpipe out on the flagstones. And if you still are not satistified with me, I will read you a bit of the Mass."

A deadly silence fell on the women. "All right,"says Tadhg, "Mass. father Tadhg Ó Catháin at your service, Dominus vobiscum (etc.). Holy Mother Mary, the crowd burst into the air and the women flew out of site in a puff of smoke. All of them except one woman. The nicest of them.

She stayed up by the foot of the fire, a fine red-haired woman that had an angel's little mouth on her -- but devilment in her eyes.

"Tadgh Ó Catháin", says she, "There's no doubt that you are a fine strapping fellow. Will you sit down by the fire?" Which he did, and no need to get a second invitation (crook of the finger), I am telling you. "And Latin is all very well, Tadhg, but we are not so taken with it around here. Those women, that is, and she winked at him.

"I am not one of them myself anyway, Tadhg, you must know, (but) an ordinary person like yourself, " and she smiled (laughed) with Tadhg and the delight of it almost knocked him over.

"Shall I tell my story to you," says he.

'There's no hurry, Tadghaín, darling, with the full night still before us. And since the night is so dark and disagreeable, maybe it would be all right if we spent the night here close beside one another?" Which they did.


  1. Distributed Jan 4: Intro and Part I, the background for the story and the first section for the class to translate.
  2. Jan 11: Part II, as well as the handout on using go/gur for "until", and the indirect relative particle a for "all that", "no matter how much," etc.
  3. Jan 25: Part III.
  4. Feb 3: Part IV (Conclusion)