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Quips and Cranks of the Ancient Irish, by Lucille Needham

Quips and Cranks of the Ancient Irish, by Lucille Needham

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"The Ancient Irish were as sensitive to absurdity as to melting pathos."
"The Ancient Irish were as sensitive to absurdity as to melting pathos."

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Published by: Malkin on Oct 08, 2013
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10/03/2014

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Quips and Cranks of the Ancient IrishAuthor(s): Lucile NeedhamSource:
The Sewanee Review,
Vol. 24, No. 3 (Jul., 1916), pp. 313-330Published by:
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Accessed: 08/10/2013 07:13
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QUIPSANDCRANKSOFTHEANCIENTIRISH
"ThreeaccomplishmentsofIreland,"saiththeYellowBook
ofLecan,1?"awittystav?,atuneonaharp,shavingaface."
Whichbeing interpreted,issimplytosaythat theIrishareexceedingdexterousinmind andsoul andbody.The anticlimaxyourelishinproportiontoyourstrainofCelticblood;"thirdly"isjustabit of Irishbanter,thewayitwouldsetaneatfinishtothetriad. You have hereawhimsicalsummaryofIrish traitswhichisinitselfanillustration.Awittystaveandatuneon aharparethetwodexterities of that exuberant andprolificthing,the Irishtemperament,?athing"unchainableasthedim tide.""Threerequisitesofaharper,"pursuestheYellowBook,?"a tunetomakeyoucry,atune tomakeyoulaugh,atunetoputyoutosleep."2SinceMacphersonandYeatsandSyngehavemodernizedthesweetestand saddestcullingsfromAncientIrishlore,wearewonttosensethose old folkas"titanicallymelancholy,"mysticandghostly-melodious.Allthe oldentunesseemtunestomakeyou cry,harp-echoesfromaworld ofwanderingDeirdres,tragicNaisis,lostEtains. WilliamCarleton3saysofhisnativetonguethatit has "the finestandmostcopiousvocabularyin theworldfor theexpressionof eithersorrow orlove."But undertheglamorousgraymist that Yeats andSyngehavecastovertheprimitivestories,wefindthat multitudinousvocabularyspilledasplentifullyinimprecationsandpunsandquirksandsatires,asinkeenings.TheAncientIrishwere assensitivetoabsurdityastomelting pathos.Theworldtheysketchedin theirold volumes ofthequainttitles isnotmerelyaweirdandmagicland,butamaterialcountryofthoroughlyanddelightfullyhumanpeople.There isanabundance of"tunes
to makeyoulaugh,"?1Avellumofthefourteenthcentury,compiledfrom mucholdertraditionalproverbs,editedand translatedbyKunoMeyer,To?dLectureSeries,Vol.13,"TriadsofIreland,"p.11.5Tbid.,p.17.^TraitsandStoriesoftheIrish,Vol.1,Int.
ZI
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314TheSewaneeReview
"MusicfoamingupoutofthehouseLike wineoutof thecup."4
Alongsidethe folk ofenchanted livesandtragicdeathsarepurelyhumancomedycharacters.QueenMedb ofConnaught,forexample,?"passionateMaev,"inYeats,"withalong,paleface,"?inthe Book of theDunCowisschemingMedb,andmeddlingMedb,andsometimes Medbtheshrew. Sheissungtoajollytunebyher rivalprovincemen,theUlsterites.ThereisblunderingFergusof thehearty loyalty,anexiledUlsterman,Falstafflanlysimpleandthe butt ofpractical jokes;andBricriuthePoison-tongued,who forhistoosharpwitsgotfromFergusblowsabout theheadthat"werealastinghurttohim."5Thereishumorpaintedwithacamel's-hairbrush,and humor laidonwithabroadandlavishhand,?alittletoobroad, sometimes,forourprudishmoderntastes.Ifyoulookforwit andhumoramongstthe AncientIrishsagas,youwill find?
"Quipsandcranksandwantonwiles,Nodsandbecks and wreathedsmiles,"?
andeye-twinkles,andIrishshrugs,andchuckles,andguffaws.Thestock of AncientIrishliteratureistrulyvast;scholarswill delve foryearsbeforetheymakeoverthe last ofitintomoderntongues.But,atthat,thewrittencompositionsformhardlyaskeletonof theenormousbulk ofIrishimaginativecreation.The Ancient Irishwrotedownnomoreoftheirtalesandsongs,inproportion,thanyouorIwouldjotonthebackofacalling-cardforanafter-dinnerspeech;andtheirexpatiationsonagivenoutline,I venturetosay,would doubleortrebleours.Theywereapeopleofexceedingfertilefancy,gloriouslyuntrammeledbythe"despotismoffact,"giftedbeyondnaturewithwhatsomedeemadangerous gift, improvisation.AlfredNuttsays,"In life he[theCelt]hasneglectedfact;in arthetranscendsfact ThedistinguishingnoteofCelticartisfancy."TheIrishtemperamentisarollickingunharnessedriver of
*Yeats,Deirdre,inWorks,Vol.2,p.137.5"AdventuresofNera,"anintroductorytaletothegreatUlstercycle,TheCattle-raidofCualnge,editedandtranslatedbyKunoMeyer,RevueCeltique,Vol.10,p.227.
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