The Irish Name Tripthong Song

Saturday Night Live managed to churn out several skits this season of stage Irish stereotypes that were remarkably without imagination or invention. Even Saoirse Ronan’s self-sacrificing piss taking couldn’t salvage a punchline from the culturally clueless set-ups provided her by Brooklyn-based scriptwriters.

Notably awkward in contrivance: Ronan’s quirky monologue about the perils of having an Irish Gaelic name that nobody outside of Ireland can spell. To help her international audience, Ronan delivers a mnemonic diddy about the troubling unpredictability of Hibernic vowels. (Riffing off a Liza Minnelli number in the process!)



Isn’t she herself lovely? Also I want that dress. Anyway, Ronan’s very gracious with the obviously belaboured explanation; a curse of fame, she probably has to proffer this primary preamble about “Seer-shuh” for every American interview she does.

Aoi — as in Aoife — is more or less the same aoi as in Saoirse: /iː/. Ronan herself offers two regionally distinct Irish pronunciations:  [ˈsˠiːɾʲʃə] and [ˈsˠeːɾʲʃə].

And as for why s is ʃ … well, does Siobhán or Sinéad have time to explain caol le caol agus leathan le leathan to the scansion of a showtune?

But here’s the subtext — why is Saoirse apologising for having an awesome Gaelic first name in the first place? Why feign embarrassment? Saoirse seems like she’s undergoing an ordeal rather than a premier demonstration of her comedic skills. For example, the Wheel of Fortune quip just sounds like another played one-liner that hecklers make about Welsh and Scrabble.


and all of which really makes one wonder ... why is no one stating the obvious?

Saoirse isn’t pronounced according to English spelling patterns, because it’s not an English name.

Saoirse is from another language — one that has its own distinct phonetic system of classification.

Why should anyone with a Celtic name have to offer a justification or explication such as this?  We certainly shouldn’t expect it from someone with the linguistic particulars intrinsic to Hebrew, Korean, or Polish, and so forth. This is quite frankly an infantalising bias against Celtic languages, as inscrutable nonsense, that is consistently applied.

For what other reason should an Irish actress of Ronan’s talents and genius be relegated to sing-song silliness? Perhaps ‘tis laziness on the writers’ part, exploiting this instant gimmick about quirky vowels and weird foreign idioms.

But more than lazy it’s just cheap.

This has been a mad year in Irish politics, from the 8th Appeal to a hard-border post-Brexit. The possibilities for sinister and scathing satire of the political stripe were endless. Additionally, Ronan mentions that Saoirse means ‘freedom’ — my elderly rescue kitty is named Saoirse. What isn’t referenced, but of interest, is that Saoirse is not traditional by any means, and only gained popularity in the 1980s onward because of its direct Irish Republican sympathies.

We don’t get any of this though. Because Saoirse’s Irish, the Paddy gal, her screen time has to be spent making fun of this nonsensical Hobbity tongue-twister that is her nation’s language. We never get to hear her talking Gaelic, not even a blessing for the referenced St Patrick’s festivities. ‘Some would say too Irish’, she remarks in abashment. But who says? What’s too much? Over a million speakers — having survived every imperial onslaught against its existence? See here for an excellent discussion by my comrades at An Sionnach Fionn.

A language not even given the dignity of a quick mention of its own name, Gaeilge?

Truly hilarious amirite?

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