3.17.2010

from the bindery: The Book of Irish Curses

just in time for st. patrick's day, a book about irish curses made its way into book repair. here are a few of the gems hidden inside it's acidic, brittle mid-20th-century pages. part of the humor in these curses comes because these are translations from the original gaelic, and therefore less poetic:

an exchange that might occur as part of a cursing contest:

Farmer Willis: May your hens take the disorder (the fowl-pest), your cows the crippen (phosphorosis), and your calves the white scour! May yourself go stoneblind so that you will not know your wife from a hay-stack!


To this sally [farmer] Murphy retorted in the following manner and defeated his opponent:

May the seven terriers of hell sit on the spool of your breast and bark in at your soul-case!

~
another exchange in another contest:

"The roasting of the salmon to the very end on you!"
"Six horse-loads of graveyard clay on top of you!"

~
an example of a ritual curse to curse a house

"If one wished to curse a house, one entered it backwards while cleaning a boot! In this case, presumably, the inhabitants of the house would need to be absent when the bearer of malediction was providing such an inviting target to anyone wishing to kick his rear as he entered."

~
informal cursing

"May the Lamb of God stick his hoof through the floor of heaven and kick you up in the arse below in hell!
Of a more rabelaisian kind is the following remark by a taxi-driver who was describing a journey at speed over a stony road: 'The stones were hopping off the car like the curses of Jesus Christ on the windows of a whore-house!"

!!!!!!

~
"There is the old saying addressed to hens who trespassed on the kitchen of a farmer's house: 'Glass legs to ye!', a neat way of expressing the wish that they might break their legs!"

~

"A child be within you, for ever unborn!
Or if be born, may he not be like a Christian!
A pig's snout on him and the mouth of a sheep,
A beak of a duck that could dredge in the sludge!
Lest he be a hangman that would hang the people!

~

"Whoever put me into impotent grief
And took my white tom-cat in secret from me,
May the mice come in waves as his company,
And the rats from the kiln give him the pursuit."

~

General curses

"Destruction to that mule!"
"May the cats eat the women!" (This misogyny was uttered by a beggar who was disappointed in his reception at a house where he sought food. He desires that the cats (household animals) may eat the women. He had been offered food which he considered fitter for a cat than a human being." !!!

"A fox on your fishing-hook!" (Instead of fox, hare or rabbit might also be substituted. This was a Galway curse on a fisherman. . . . Foxes, hares and rabbits were regarded with superstitious dread by the fishermen of the Claddagh.)

"May you be afflicted with the itch and have no nails to scratch with!"

"Confusion on the money!" (curse on a wealthy person)

"The anguished bankruptcy of the year to you!"

May he never have a day's luck!"

"No butter be on your milk, nor on your ducks a web; may your child not walk and your cow be flayed! And may the flame be bigger and wider, which will go through your soul, than the Connemara mountains if they were on fire!" (This extraordinary curse was pronounced by a blind man on a housewife when she had been less than generous with him!)

~

curses which concern illness or death (best for last)

"May you not see the cuckoo nor the corncrake!" (In other words, may you never see another spring!"
"My curse on you and ruin to you, you lying, thieving rascal! Let it not be long till you die, despite the son of God!" 

"The fate of Ned's cock to you!" (This is a reference to a cock who was so vain that he stood admiring himself in the water of a well and fell in and got drowned. This is a curse on a vain person!

"May God weaken you!"

"Choking to you!"

"May a stitch or convulsion strike you!"

"May you be mangled!"

" A poisonous pain in you!"

"Death and smothering on you!"

"Dysentery on you!"

"A death without a priest to him in a town without a clergyman!"

"The death of the kittens to you!" (This, of course, means simply 'drowning', the fate of so many unwanted kittens in Ireland.)

4 comments:

Amanda, Curtis, Ellis, Hugh said...

I no longer have Bing Crosby singing "tu-ra-lu-ra-lu-ra" in my head. Imagine how many petty domestic disputes could be remedied if the couple would adopt Irish accents and fling the most colorful old Irish curses at each other they could muster. Wouldn't the fight just end up in a laugh? I'll have to try it sometime, see if it works.

Sue Rasmussen said...

I love, love these! I wonder what curses would be as peculiar to the northwest or to the mountain west as these are to Ireland.

Nancy said...

and that is why we love the Irish...they have a whole book on the proper way to curse! no four letter pittance of a cursing for them. HA! now I want to see the companion 'Irish Blessings"

Fritz said...

just fantastic.