Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Daily Hump: Donnybrook

Sure, the photo looks peaceful enough. But this Dublin suburb was once the source of an annual violent fracas festival that began during the reign of King John and lasted until 1855. The Donnybrook Fair became known more and more for its whiskey-fueled fisticuffs rather than the fiddlers and hawkers which populated the place. I know that it's difficult to imagine a throng of fun-loving Irishmen devolving into a teaming mob of drunkards but for about 15 days every year, beginning on August 26, that's exactly what happened. Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, it was around 1855 when donnybrook first entered the English language to mean a brawl or melee, originally in the form of simile (i.e. "Three days from now the Korean DMZ is going to be blowing up like the Donnybrook Fair"), then later used elliptically.

As Michael Quinion reports:
A passing reference in, of all sober works, Walter Bagehot’s The English Constitution of 1867, gives a flavour: "The only principle recognised...was akin to that recommended to the traditionary Irishman on his visit to Donnybrook Fair, ‘Wherever you see a head, hit it’." The usual weapon was a stick of oak or blackthorn that Irishmen often called a shillelagh (a word which derives from the town of that name in County Wicklow). The legend was that visitors to Donnybrook fair would rather fight than eat.
Thankfully, only 8 short years after the fair was shut down, the Irish found a new outlet for their playful aggressiveness--the New York City Draft Riots.

The great irony in all of this is that today Donnybrook is one of Dublin's most affluent suburbs.


:: posted by David, 8:16 AM


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