Somewhere, beyond the pale

In Frank Delaney’s book, Ireland, he tells the Story of Ireland in the stories of Ireland. One of his characters is a mysterious man who is ostensibly the last wandering story teller in Ireland. He befriends a boy at one of the country houses he visits, and the boy’s story becomes a major part of the book.

The story teller brings many of the myths and historical tales of the Emerald Isle to life, including explanations, however fanciful, for many events and even some words and expressions. In telling the story of Strongbow, the great Norman 12th century invader of Ireland, Delaney describes a wall in Dublin designed by the Normans to keep out the native Irish. It was called the Pale after the Latin word Palus for “stake” (or fence). The expression beyond the pale, eventually came to mean “outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour.”

Strongbow, after the death of his ally Dermot Macmurrough, had to defend Dublin against the Viking Hasculf, who sought to retake his former land. He brought with him a band of fierce warriors who wore bear skins and were known to whip themselves into a frenzy before attacking their enemy with unequaled fury. The biggest and craziest of these fighters was John the Mad, known for viciously severing the limbs and heads of his opponents. These men were collectively called “Berserkers” or “Berserks” after the Norse words bera, bear, and serkr, shirt.” Now we understand that anyone who “goes berserk” is behaving in a savage and crazy manner.

By the way, three of Strongbow’s knights were eventually able to kill John the Mad and deflect Hasculf’s attack. It is not known whether John the Mad is one of our ancestors.

DadWords01/26/06 0 comments

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