Finn and His People

In honor of the day:


(from “At Swim-Two-Birds,” by Flann O’Brien)

“… Finn Mac Cool, a hero of old Ireland, came out before me from his shadow, Finn the wide-hammed, the heavy-eyed, Finn that could spend a Lammas morning with girdled girls at far-from-simple chess play. …

“Too great was he for standing. The neck to him was as the bole of a great oak, knotted and seized together with muscle-humps and carbuncles of tangled sinew, the better for good feasting and contending with the bards. The chest to him was wider than the poles of a good chariot, coming now out, now in, and pastured from chin to navel with meadows of black man-hair and meated with layers of fine man-meat the better to hide his bones and fashion the semblance of his twin bubs. The arms to him were like the necks of beasts, ball-swollen with their bunched-up brawnstrings and blood-veins, the better for harping and hunting and contending with the bards. Each thigh to him was to the thickness of a horse’s belly, narrowing to a green-veined calf to the thickness of a foal. Three fifties of fosterlings could engage with handball against the wideness of his backside, which was wide enough to halt the march of warriors through a mountain-pass.”

His People

“… Relate then the attributes that are to Finn’s people. …”

“I will relate, said Finn.

“Till a man has accomplished twelve books of poetry, the same is not taken for want of poetry but is forced away. No man is taken till a black hole is hollowed in the world to the depth of his two oxters and he put into it to gaze from it with his lonely head and nothing to him but his shield and a stick of hazel. Then must nine warriors fly their spears at him, one with the other and together. If he be spear-holed past his shield, or spear-killed, he is not taken for want of shield-skill. No man is taken till he is run by warriors through the woods of Erin with his hair bunched-loose about him for bough-tangle and briar-twitch. Should branches disturb his hair or pull it forth like sheep-wool on a hawthorn, he is not taken but is caught and gashed. Weapon-quivering hand or twig-crackling foot at full run, neither is taken. Neck-high sticks he must pass by vaulting, knee-high sticks by stooping. With the eyelids to him stitched to the fringe of his eye-bags, he must be run by Finn’s people through the bogs and marshes of Erin with two odorous prickle-backed hogs ham-tied and asleep in the seat of his hempen drawers. If he sink beneath a peat-swamp or lose a hog, he is not accepted of Finn’s people. For five days he must sit on the brow of a cold hill with twelve-pointed stag-antlers hidden in his seat, without food or music or chessmen. If he cry out or eat grass-stalks or desist from the constant recital of sweet poetry and melodious Irish, he is not taken but wounded. … One hundred head of cattle he must accommodate with wisdom about his person when walking all Erin, the half about his armpits and the half about his trews, his mouth never halting from the discoursing of sweet poetry. One thousand rams he must sequester about his trunks with no offence to the men or Erin, or he is unknown to Finn. …”

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Kate’s Joke

It’s St. Patrick’s Day. or near enough. Here’s a joke Kate’s been telling (giving credit where she feels it’s due, she heard it on Garrison Keillor’s show):

An Irishman is driving to a meeting. He’s late and can’t find a parking place anywhere. In desperation, he cries, “Lord, if you find me a place to park, I’ll go to church every Sunday and give up drinking whiskey for the rest of my life.”

He turns the corner, and — miracle of miracles — he sees a parking space.

“Never mind, Lord,” the Irishman says, “I just found a spot.”

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Erin Go Blah

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, so given my heritage I guess I’m obligated to say something about it (my surname, common among the fjords of west-central Norway, obscures a maternal lineage that goes back to County Mayo and includes family names like O’Malley, Moran, and Hogan).

So there — that’s my St. Patrick’s Day essay. Not wearing green. Not planning to sup on corned beef and cabbage. Not planning to sing “Danny Boy” (though it is my theme song the other 364 days of the year) or “Four Green Fields.” I might watch “CSI” tonight, though, if there’s time for it after NCAA hoops.

(By the way: I’d love to take credit as original author of the brilliant phrase ‘Erin Go Blah’: but after posting, I checked on Google and found 215 listings for that exact phrase.)