Uboboo
Posted: 24 July 2009 10:07 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I’m revisiting the works of one of my favourite playwrights at present, Henry Fielding. (Had not the Government introduced the censorship of drama, desperate to clamp down on the torrent of ridicule they were being exposed to by people like John Gay and Fielding himself, I have no doubt Fielding would have created far greater dramatic works. As it is, unwilling to have the Lord Chamberlain peering over his shoulder as he wrote, he turned to the novel and became one of our greatest novelists. Incidentally censorship of plays by the Lord Chamberlain continued until the 1960s.)

The play I’m reading at the moment is Eurydice, a farce produced in 1737. (It was damned by the critics, whereupon the irrepressible Fielding instantly followed it up with Eurydice Hiss’d, an even funnier play.)

But to my point. Whilst Orpheus and Eurydice are bickering on the banks of Styx, waiting for Charon to ferry them back to the land of the living *, Charon himself is in conversation with an Irishman who insists that, having died destitute, he cannot pay the ferryman. The Irishman is given the traditional mock Irish accent of the day (did they ever really pronounce initial s as sh when speaking English or is that pure invention?) and it’s one of the words he uses that is puzzling me.

I quote:

Cha You, Mr Maccahone, will you please to pay me my fare.

Mac. Ay, fet, would I with all my shoule, but, honey, I did not die worth a sixpence and that I did leave behind me.

Cha. Sir, if you do not pay me I shall carry you back again.

Mac. To my own country? Arrah do, honey! Uboboo! What a shoy it will be to my relations, that are now singing an anthem called the Irish Howl over me, to see me alive when they know that I am dead.

Cha. If you do not pay your fare, I shall carry you to the other side of the river, where you shall wander on the banks a thousand years.

Mac. Shall I? What, where I did see half a dozen gentlemen walking about? Uboboo! Upon my shoule, the laugh is coming upon my face. **

Uboboo? Is this a corruption of some Gaelic term? (OED knows it not and googling produces only the passage from the play itself.) And what of arrah? (Of course, it’s possible that these words are complete inventions, but there’s usually a grain of the real in mock stage accents.)

BTW the use of honey is interesting there. I’m sure it’s been a term of endearment for ages, although that’s clearly not how it’s used here.

* Eurydice, loth to leave Hell, with its beaux, fine ladies, masquerades, balls, etc, calls out, “Help, I’m drowning!”. Orpheus looks back and it’s game, set and match to Eurydice. Anyway, as Pluto remarks, what husband in his right mind would actually want his wife back again?

** The ‘laugh is coming upon <his> face’ because, as he next reveals, he plans to trick Charon by sending to his friends on Earth for the materials to build a bridge to span the Styx. He will then swim across it to Hades. Irish jokes are very old in England!

An amusing little piece. I highly recommend it, as also its companion piece, Eurydice Hiss’d. But for Fielding the dramatist at his wickedest and most funny do read The Covent Garden Tragedy and The Grub Street Opera.  (Not forgetting the hilarious Tom Thumb.)

[ Edited: 24 July 2009 10:33 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 24 July 2009 11:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I don’t know about “uboboo”, but “arrah” as an Irish expression appears in Robert Gibbings’s books, e.g. “Lovely is the Lee” 1945.

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Posted: 24 July 2009 12:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Arrah is at least 300 years old in English, and presumably considerably older in Irish.  My guess is that “Uboboo” is related to the battle cry “Abú!”; to give an example from Wikipedia:

The O’Neill family motto is the Irish “An lámh dhearg abú”, in English “The Red Hand” — the heraldic symbol of O’Neill and Ulster — followed by Abú, which is a war cry possibly related to buaidh ‘victory’.

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Posted: 24 July 2009 11:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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That’s an excellent suggestion, lh and fits the bill perfectly.

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Posted: 28 July 2009 03:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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My wife is an O’Neill, and my father-in-law always translated ”abú” in the O’Neill motto as “for ever”, that is, ”An lámh dhearg abú” as far as he was concerned meant “The red hand for ever”. However, I see that this book suggests that

Abú has no definite meaning outside of a slogan as it means for ever or hooray for or victory.”

Certainly the senses “hooray” and “victory” both fit Mr Maccahone’s speech, so I’m sure, too, that LH is on target.

Incidentally, I think I spot a Fieldian joke in that name Maccahone - “hone” looks like a phonetic rendering of the Irish word for arse/ass, as in the original name of the group the Pogues, the Pogue Mahones, from the Irish pog ma thon, “kiss my arse”. The “Mac/Mc” part of Irish and Scottish names seems frequently, pre-20th century, to have been pronounced simply as “M’”, as in the character M’Turk (for McTurk) in Kipling’s book Stalky and Co, so Fielding may have meant “Maccahone” to be pronounced “Mahone” - “my arse”.

On the pronunciation of “s” as “sh”, I think today this is seen as something peculiar to the West of Ireland - I recall Paddy Maloney, leader of the Chieftains, and a Dubliner, deliberately mispronouncing “step” as “shtep” in mockery of the “Shligo” (Sligo) accent.

[ Edited: 28 July 2009 04:49 AM by Zythophile ]
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Posted: 28 July 2009 09:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Another possible derivation for “Maccahone” is “Mac Ochone”; “ochone” meaning “woe! alas!” in Irish. The maudlin lugubrious Irishman has been a stock figure of English literature at least since Shakespeare created Captain Macmorris.

As for “uboboo”, it may simply be meant as gibberish. The notion that the Irish language is an unintelligible babble is another stock English idea*, as for example the refrain of the 17th-century song “Lilliburlero” - “Lilliburlero, bullen a la”. Several suggestions have been made as to what this means, but it may simply be intended as a mocking imitation of the sound of Irish.

* It’s only fair to say that the equal and opposite notion existed in Ireland: the Irish word “Beurla", whose primary meaning is “gibberish”, has the secondary meaning “the English language”.

[ Edited: 28 July 2009 12:49 PM by Syntinen Laulu ]
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