The Corner

Re: Cuchulain

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

countless generations.”

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.


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