Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Flann O'Brien's Sea-Cat

Miss Templeton invited me back into the Come Back Horslips GB fray; they all began discussing cats after I had posted on, well, a Horslips-meets-academia dutifully posted "what I did on my summer vacation" last week. Yesterday, coincidentally, I thought about of all things Myles na gCopaleen/Flann O'Brien's An Beal Bocht/The Poor Mouth, and its illustration of the terrible Sea-Cat that terrorizes the Gaelic Redoubt. It bugged me no end that I could not see in the outline/silhouette of the island any feline shape. This long-standing gripe exacerbated by my Glor na Gael poster back from Glencolmcille now up at the office staring back at me the past few days, "Dathanna na gContaenta," or the "colors of the counties" in their GAA finery. Only Kilkenny gets not a human fan bedecked in two bright shades, but a black cat! Diligent hunting, no less than Pangur Ban after the mice, mightily revealed none of my Sea-Cat haunting images extant on the whole of the Net. I wish I could scan it in for your edification, but in the meantime, a Google Book Search revealed Fintan O'Toole in the title essay in his "The Lie of the Land" had solved this puzzle.

"It is an outline map of Ireland on its side, the four great peninsulas of the west coast as legs, Ulster the head, Wexford the tail." (6) Of course, this terrible Sea-Cat that threatens the doughty natives is none other than Ireland herself. Too terrible to be spoken of, it can only be drawn, the lie of the lay of the land.

Corkadoragha itself, with its inversions in Myles' English-language columns, always intrigued me as a learner of Irish. I mean to delve further into this bilingual wordplay. I've been saying that for twenty-five years!

On my ride to the train in Belfast a few days ago, the genial, erudite, and half-unintelligible (it being Beal Feirste if not Bocht) cabbie Des and I chatted about in this order Foster Brooks, Spike Milligan, and Flann O'Brien! I recommended to him the Keats & Chapman episodes, those awful build-ups to horribly upended puns. For now, a passage from At Swim-Two-Birds that made me and my wife laugh out loud, which is all too rare considering my usual reading material.

Death by fire, you know, by God it’s no joke.

They tell me drowning is worse, Lamont said.

Do you know what it is, said Furriskey, you can drown me three times before you roast me. Yes, by God and six. Put your finger in a basin of water. What do you feel? Next to nothing. But put your finger in the fire!

Meanwhile, some Flann O'Brien sites. "The Poor Mouth" I found first! (Image credit interruption: no gonzo Ralph Steadman pictorial either extant except this Beckettish French version! Note double billing cover credit prominence.) At the Hellshaw URL, "No Bicycle" as a detour from the blog "Blather" has all too-brief passages from Yer Man Himself and a hipsters' post-"Lost" episode tie-in. "Jams O'Donnell" at his blog "The Poor Mouth" links not only to the N-BP but two short essays, one from Necessary Prose on "Gaelically Gaelic" by Eric Mader-Lin & "Flann O'Brien: A Post-modernist When It Was Neither Profitable Nor Popular" by Robert Looby (thanks for the At-Swim citation I lifted) via the Scriptorium site-- which in pomo fashion links to other scribes of whom techno-literati latterati are enamored. These bloggers probably have all seen at least once "Lost," but I never have.

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