Monday, 25 April 2011

The Gaeilge in the Walls

Sorry about the long gap between posts. Blame it on a combination of holidays, coursework and general fannying about. Expect some more substantial posts in the coming months. But anyway, H.P Lovecraft...

 I recently read the excellent Call of Ctulhu and Other Stories, published by Penguin, which contains a fair swathe of Lovecraft's best known stories, including two of my personal favourites: The Colour Out of Space and The Whisperer in Darkness. It also includes The Rats in the Walls, which according to the editor of Weird Tales, who published it in 1924, was the best story the magazine had ever received up to that point. I don't want to give away too much about the story. If you want to read it, it is, like most of Lovecraft's work, now in the public domain, and can be read here. Anyway, go ahead and do that because I can't promise there won't be spoilers. Without giving too much away, the story ends, typically for Lovecraft, with the protagonist reduced to a gibbering wreck. In his madness, and awareness of his horrifying heritage, he says the following:
'Sblood, thou stinkard, I'll learn ye how to gust . . . wolde ye swynke me thilke wys? . . . Magna Mater! Magna Mater! Atys . . . Dia ad aghaidh ad aodann . . . agus bas dunach ort! Dhonas's dholas ort, agus leat-sa! . . . Ungl . . . ungl . . . rrrlh . . . chchch . . . '
Yep, that's Irish in the italics, though with slightly strange variations. The translation is, according to the endnotes:
God against thee and in thy face . . . and may a death of woe be yours . . . Evil and sorrow to thee and thine.
Which sounds about right to me, though níl mo gaeilge sabhair chun a bheith macánta leat. In the context of the story, the falling back through middle english, latin and finally gaelic, represents his character's mind degenerating through the past generations of his family to their earliest ancestors. Interestingly though, Lovecraft did have, and was aware of, some Irish ancestry, through his father's family and, given his interest, even obsession, with genealogy, it is likely that he was interested in this aspect of his heritage.

Anyway, I'm not a Lovecraft expert or anything, but coming across the cúpla focal in The Rats in the Walls reminded me of a conversation in an Irish class way back in secondary school, where our teacher mentioned a Tarzan movie where the native tribes spoke a strange language which he immediately recognised as Irish. I'm curious to know if anyone else has came across Irish being used in any interesting contexts in film, literature or music. If so, I'd be interested in hearing about it.