A reader: “Derb—One of favorite rock bands has always been Thin Lizzy.
Despite having an American and Scottish guitarists at the peak of their
in the late 70s, they were regarded as an Irish band because of its front
man/bassist/songwriter, the late Phil Lynott. It was typical of his songs
to have Irish-influenced themes (they even did a version of ‘Whiskey In The
Jar’). One song in particular ‘Black Rose: A Rock Legend’ had the lyric
’Tell me the story of young Cuchulain / How his eyes were dark, his
expression sullen.’ Obviously, it was sung ‘koo-KUL-len’ to make the rhyme
work. Based on that
song alone, I had always assumed that Cuchulain was some mythical/cultural
figure familiar to anyone raised in Ireland and that any controversy over
the pronunciation would have long been settled. Probably a bad assumption
though given the Irish tendency to sustain controversy and grievances across
Well, I just told it the way I recall it happened (23 years ago), and I’m
not really au courant with controversies about ancient Irish phonology.
(Though another of my readers is, and has sent me a paper on precisely that
topic, which I shall study & report on as soon as I have got through some
editorial chores.) I do know, though, that there are dialectical
differences in modern Irish, and that a Donegal speaker will pronounce some
words differently from a Kerry man. So don’t take my “Ku-HOO-lin” as
I am not the least bit surprised that Cuchulain shows up in a pop song,
though. Newly arrived in Ireland in the early 1980s, just at the time the
Irish prime minister Charles Haughey had held some talks with Maragret
Thatcher, thereby scandalizing extremist republicans, I was in a pub in
Tallacht, outside Dublin, with some Irish friends, when a rebel song came on
the juke box. The song had the line (referring to Haughey): “…our Dermot
MacMurrough of ‘81.” Who the heck was Dermot MacMurrough, I asked my
friends. Oh, they said, he was a feller that sold us out to the English.
And when was that? In A.D. 1166.
Long memories, the Irish.