Saturday, 27 September 2008


Well, this is all fairly miserable. I'm currently re-writing chapter 3 of my PhD. Since the Jesus Celtic Library has been temporarily dissolved for building works, there is now no Oxford Celtic collection that's open 24 hours. The Celtic Library is a good place to work: it's lockable, and only my colleagues have keys, so I can leave my laptop there safely. And in one small but very high room it contains about 8,000 volumes. Usually, I'd be in there early and leave late. To paraphrase 'Flann O Brian' (aka Myles na gCopaleen, 'Myles of the little horses'), I rise in the nightshift/ to work on the Zeitschrift...*

The other Oxford Celtic collection is that in the bowels of the Taylorian Library. This is about as complete at the Jesus one, but far less easy of access. The Celtic books are on rolling stock with Romance Philology, Yiddish, and Catalan, so if someone is looking for something by Meylekh Ravitsh I have to wait till they're finished to get at the Celtic books again. (Always wise to check before you start turning the wheel that rolls the bookcases - I once nearly crushed an elderly female academic between Galician and Maltese.)

It's also in an airless basement with no windows, and thus frankly rather depressing. (In the picture above, I'm working down below the righthand-most big ground-floor window.) It's also only open between 9am and 4.45pm Monday to Friday, which is immensely frustrating. I'm usually in mid-flow when the caretaker comes round to shut up shop. Today promises to be particularly zesting. I'm currently examining the stories relating to the legendary Munster druid Mug Ruith, 'Servant of the Wheel', which are complex and fairly numerous. I've found an article detailing the relationships between the texts, and giving a convenient edition and translation.

It's in German.

I don't read German.

(*sighs deeply, and reaches for a German dictionary...*)

* * *

* This is part of a delightful poem describing the activity of three great Celtic scholars, Osborne Bergin, D. A. Binchy, and R. I. Best, between the twenties and the forties of the last century. Of the other individuals named in the poem, Zeuss wrote the first comparative grammar of Celtic languages, the Grammatica Celtica; Pokorny follwed it with the version that still holds the field; Kuno Meyer was a famous and stupendously brilliant German scholar of Irish; Marstrander was another superb scholar and lexicographer. 'Milesius' is the Latin version of the Mil Espaine ('Spanish Soldier') who led the Gaels to Ireland.

My song is concernin'
Three sons of great learnin'
Binchy and Bergin and Best.
They worked out that riddle
Old Irish and Middle,
Binchy and Bergin and Best.
They studied far higher
Than ould Kuno Meyer
And fanned up the glimmer
Bequeathed by Zimmer,
Binchy and Bergin and Best.

They rose in their nightshift
To write for the Zeitschrift,
Binchy and Bergin and Best.
They proved they were bosses
At wrastling with glosses,
Binchy and Bergin and Best.
They made good recensions
Of ancient declensions,
And careful redactions
To their three satisfactions,
Binchy and Bergin and Best.

They went for a dander
With Charlie Marstrander,
Binchy and Bergin and Best.
They added their voices
(Though younger) to Zeuss's,
Binchy and Bergin and Best.
Stout chase the three gave
Through the Táin for Queen Maeve
And played "Find the Lady"
With Standish O¹Grady,
Binchy and Bergin and Best.

They sang in the choir
Of the Institute (Higher),
Binchy and Bergin and Best.
And when they saw fit
The former two quit,
Binchy and Bergin and Best.
But the third will remain
To try to regain
At whatever cost
Our paradigms lost,
Binchy and Bergin and Best.

So forte con brio
Three cheers for the trio,
Binchy and Bergin and Best.
These friends of Pokorny
Let's toast in Grand Marni-
er, Binchy and Bergin and Best.
These justly high-rated,
Advanced, educated,
And far from facetious
Three sons of Milesius,
Binchy and Bergin and Best.

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