Some comments upon the Irish military oath

The Irish military oath for officers of the permanent defence force has the following wording:

Mionnaímse/Dearbhaímse [name], go solamanta go mbead dílis d’Éirinn agus tairiseach don Bhunreacht agus, faid a bhead im oifigeach de na Buan-Óglaigh, go gcomhlíonfad gach ordú dleathach a bhéarfas m’oifigigh uachtaracha dhom agus nach gceanglód le haon eagraíocht nó cumann polaitíochta ná le haon chumann rúnda ar bith ná nach mbead im chomhalta den chéanna ná nach dtaobhód leis an gcéanna.

In English, the same oath is as follows:

I [name] do solemnly swear/declare that I will be faithful to Ireland and
loyal to the Constitution and that while I am an officer of the Permanent Defence
Force I will obey all lawful orders issued to me by my superior officers and will not
join or be a member of or subscribe to any political organisation or society or any
secret society whatsoever.

(Source: Defence Act 1954, section 43, sixth schedule.)

The Irish text is not bad as it is, but personally I take issue with certain aspects of it:

  • The form solamanta. “Solemn” is in today’s Irish sollúnta, and I think I have only met solamanta in this particular text (although I guess it is also mentioned as an alternative form in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary).
  • The use of such forms as bead “I will be”, ceanglód “I will join”, comhlíonfad “I will keep/obey/observe”, taobhód “I will side (with)”. Personally, I would prefer beidh mé, ceanglóidh mé, comhlíonfaidh mé, taobhóidh mé. The synthetic form of the first person singular future tense feels a little too Munster these days.
  • The word tairiseach. I have only met it as a noun, in the sense of a mathematical or physical constant. Well, of course it does exist as an adjective, and you find it in dictionaries, but you practically never see it in either native folklore or native literature. The Irish text is obviously a translation from the English one, and as the English text uses two different words – “faithful” and “loyal” – the translator felt compelled to do so, too. However, I’d prefer to just say dílis d’Éirinn agus don bhunreacht. Another possibility would be to use urramach or a related word for variation: go mbeidh mé dílis d’Éireann agus go dtabharfaidh mé urraim don Bhunreacht.
  • The use of céanna as a standalone pronoun. Usually we find this only in the idiomatic expression mar an gcéanna. It is not wrong to use an céanna as a standalone pronoun (this usage is mentioned in Ó Dónaill), but it is far more typical and natural to use it in an adjective attribute position (an rud ćeanna and so on). Instead of leis an gcéanna, den chéanna I would prefer lena leithéid, dá leithéid.
  • Bhéarfas is a form of tabhair!/tabhairt, and in the present standard language it would be thabharfaidh (because standard Irish does not acknowledge either the direct relative form of the verb or the b(h)éar- stem of the verb tabhair). Personally, I’d prefer to keep the direct relative -s, though – thabharfas. I don’t think bhéarfas is wrong, but combining the -s relative form (in my opinion, especially typical of Ulster and Connacht) with such synthetic forms as ceanglód, bead and so on in the same text feels stylistically awkward, noting that those synthetic forms are mainly Munster Irish.
  • The use of ceangail!/ceangal le… for joining a society sounds kind of funny to me, too. I’d say simply dul i…, which is the usual way to refer to joining a society. Thus: nach rachaidh mé in aon eagraíocht ná in aon chumann polaitíochta ná in aon chumann rúnda ar bith… Note though that I find cumann polaitíochta much better than cumann polaitiúil. Nowadays they would sure translate “a political society” as cumann polaitiúil, which at least originally used to be more literary and less straightforward style than cumann polaitíochta. The Irish way is to use a genitive attribute – dochtúir mná is better Irish for “a female doctor” than dochtúir baineann, and cumann polaitíochta is better Irish than cumann polaitiúil. (In fact, I’d say there is a subtle difference between cumann polaitíochta and cumann polaitiúil. The first one is a political organization which is explicitly meant to be political and has political aims. The other one is an organization that has other than political aims – theoretically – but that has been politicized. For instance, think of a situation where there are two Irish-language organization, one of which is only an Irish-language one, while the other one has been hijacked by a political party. Then the first one would be spoken of as an cumann neamhpholaitiúil, the one as an cumann polaitiúil.)
  • Comhalta rather than ball for the member of a society or organization is quite correct, you don’t see it too often these days.

 

In my own variety of Irish, I would suggest:

Mise, Seán Ó Rudaí/Síle Ní Rudaí, mionnaím/dearbhaím go sollúnta go mbeidh mé dílis d’Éirinn agus go dtabharfaidh mé urraim don Bhunreacht; agus, fad is a bheas mé i m’oifigeach de chuid na mBuan-Óglach, go gcomhlíonfaidh mé gach ordú dleathach a thabharfas mo chuid oifigeach uachtarach dom, agus, nach rachaidh mé in aon eagraíocht nó cumann polaitíochta ná in aon rúnchumann, nach mbeidh mé i mo chomhalta d’eagraíocht ar bith den chineál sin, agus nach dtabharfaidh mé tacaíocht dá leithéid.

One thing more: joining an organization as a member is in Irish dul i…, but taking its stance is dul le… Chuaigh sé i bPáirtí na Polaitíochta means that he joined the Political Party, but chuaigh sé le Páirtí na Polaitíochta means that he only shared its stance. (I use here Páirtí na Polaitíochta or the Political Party for a generic political party.) If I could work out a way to do it elegantly, I’d attempt to use these constructions in my translation. However, ní rachaidh mé i ná le haon eagraíocht… does not sound elegant, and ní rachaidh mé in aon eagraíocht…ná ní rachaidh mé lena leithéid is not good style either. I’ll work on this yet.

However, while my suggestion is more intelligible and colloquial than the official one, I don’t say it couldn’t be further improved. And, while the official one could be streamlined, there is also the argument that if a ceremonial text is not blatantly wrong, it should not be altered, because the old-fashioned style is part of a tradition. The military oath might be stylistically peculiar, but if you are an Irish army officer with fluent and good Irish and still insist on the official text for such reasons, then you are probably right and I am wrong. I am not a military man myself, and I don’t want to come across as somebody who’d teach his dad how to make babies.

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s