Irishly having tea

Passing through the pleasingly named town of Gort on my way to the Burren recently, I popped in to a second-hand bookshop and picked up a couple of Brian Moore books I hadn’t read: Catholics and The Doctor’s Wife. Everything I’ve read by Moore has been time well spent, yet most people I ask have not read him, and many have not heard of him.

brian-moore-catholics-books-cover-penguinCatholics (1972) is more novella than novel, around 80 pages long in my Penguin paperback edition. Work won’t allow a single-sitting read today, so I’m taking bites from it on my breaks. The title is straightforwardly descriptive: a young American priest is sent from Rome to a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, where old and new Catholicism square up against each another.

The young priest, Kinsella, has just landed on the island – the first time it hosted a helicopter – and meets with the presiding Abbot in a large parlour. Sitting on rough furniture carved by the local monks, with Atlantic light streaming in through a 13th-century window, they enact a ritual within rituals:

Kinsella smiled and carefully handed back the seal. The Abbot shut it in the tin box. ‘Cup of tea?’

‘Oh, no thanks.’

Irishly, the Abbot appraised this and, Irishly, decided the denial was mere politeness. ‘Ah, you will!’ the Abbot said. He called downstairs. ‘Brother Martin?’


‘Bring us a cup of tea, will you?’

‘Two teas,’ Martin’s voice rumbled from below.

That response Ah, you will!, and variations like Ah, go on and Sure you might as well and Would you not have a drop are so Irish that they have passed into parody – thanks in part to Mrs Doyle of Father Ted fame:

(Father Jack makes liberal use of the Irish minced oath feck in that clip; I wrote about its use and origins here.)

Also of interest in the excerpt above is the unusual adverb Irishly, which does a lot of work in Moore’s narrative commentary. It doesn’t appear in many dictionaries; Merriam-Webster defines it as ‘in a manner characteristic of the Irish’, while the OED extends this to encompass one salient aspect of Irishness:

In a manner characteristic or reminiscent of Ireland or the Irish. Also occas.: in a seemingly contradictory fashion.

Declining a cup of tea when really you’d like one (you may even ‘murder a cup’) certainly qualifies as Irishly contradictory – as does Mrs Doyle’s marvellous deployment of You won’t have a cup as another way of insisting on a cup.


15 Responses to Irishly having tea

  1. astraya says:

    Does Fr Kinsella ever think or behave Americanly?

    The -sh/-ch nationalities seem to work better here: Irishly, Englishly, Britishly, Scottishly, Frenchly, Dutchly v Germanly, Italianly, Canadianly, Australianly, Japanesely. Or it just might be that the -sh/-ch nationalities all have one or two syllables and the -sh/-ch isn’t a morpheme in its own right. Therefore, Germanly is the one on the second list which goes closest to working.

    • Stan Carey says:

      Not as obviously as the priests behave Irishly; he’s more a foil for their personal conflicts than a strong character in his own right. I think Germanly (and Russianly, etc.) works as well as Irishly & co., for reasons of stress and syllabicity. Italianly and Australianly are a little awkward because -lian doesn’t take -ly smoothly.

  2. A movie was made of Catholics, starring Martin Sheen: It made a big impression on me as a young man.

  3. John Cowan says:

    The phrase “to put it Irishly” is associated with verbal contradictions, so-called “Irish bulls”. Here are a few examples found by googling:

    “The seaside — to put it Irishly — has come between us and the country.” (1891)

    “[…] a half-tradesman, superficially cultured, wholly Philistine, bright, practical, good-tempered, eminently humane, and (to put it Irishly) superior to his equals […]” (1893)

    “Was it the 240th performance of The Beauty of Bath which we saw last week, or—to put it Irishly—a second first production ?” (1907)

    “However, be that as it may, the pleasantest moments to myself during the performance of Caesar and Cleopatra were — to put it Irishly, which Mr. Shaw should not mind — the waits while the performance was suspended.” (1907)

    “Therefore, a pantomime that is to stay at all must — to put it Irishly — not be a pantomime as we used to understand it.” (1907)

    “”There is a part of the public as seen from the circulation desk, which — to put it Irishly — we never see at all. ” (1916)

    “Padway found him distressingly pious; when he ate with the other bankers he did not eat at all, to put it Irishly, for fear of transgressing one of the innumerable rules of his sect.” (1939)

    “But how does he know that (to put it Irishly) his ‘dying’ proved fatal […]?” (1998)

    Only one instance did not fit this mold:

    “To put it Irishly, I thought he [a horse] wasn’t an awful looking yoke” (2009), where the Irishness is in vocabulary, not in logic.

  4. JB says:

    Nothing like those priesteens:

  5. JB says:

    Islands off the west coast of Ireland? Priests, repression and unleashed passions? Read Liam O’Flaherty’s novels!

  6. wisewebwoman says:

    You might be interested in the movie made of Catholics starring Martin Sheen and filmed on my beloved island Sherkin off West Cork. Great book too.
    Read the Good Doctor last year and loved it.
    And Father Ted. A rich post indeed Stan.


    • Stan Carey says:

      Definitely, yes, WWW. I didn’t know it was filmed on Sherkin. I’ll watch it sometime once the novel has faded from memory. In the meantime I look forward to reading The Good Doctor – and the many other unread Moores awaiting their turn.

  7. […] means the word in the main standard sense. But I was primed to read the word Irishly because the narrator is a child, and bold in Irish English usually refers to misbehaving children […]

  8. […] Moore, last seen on this blog Irishly having tea, uses a couple of interesting dialect words in his 1958 novel The Feast of Lupercal. One of them, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: