Irish for Americans: Brine Oge

Brian Boru, himself something of a rbine oge.

There’s an Irish tradition of putting the word og, or oge, into a name. If you’ve seen “The Quiet Man,” and of course you have, you may remember that Barry Fitzgerald’s character was named Michaeleen Oge Flynn, and he’s just one of many. There was Brian Oge O’Rourke, the penultimate king of West Bréifne. There was Gaelic footballer Brian Óg Maguire. There was one of the title characters from the song “Brian Og and Molly Bawn,” who was notorious for winking.

Do I seem to be mentioning a lot of Brian’s? It’s because our word today, brine og, is probably a corruption of the name Brian Og, the former likely being an ancient Celtic word meaning  “high” or “noble,” the latter meaning “young.” But the literal translation of the word isn’t what we’re after here — after all, when you slip someone a Mickey Finn, you’re not actually dunking a Chicago bartender into a drink.

No, Mickey Finn means a drugged drink, and Brine Oge means “a young man full of fun and frolic,” according to The Dublin Penny Journal from 1832. Or, as explained by the character Shane in William Carleton’s “Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry”:

When I was a Brine-Oge,” said Shane, ” I was as wild as an unbroken cowlt — no divilment was too hard for me ; and so sign’s on it, for there wasn’t a piece of mischief done in the parish, but was laid at my door.

I include this phrase because I like it — it doesn’t seem to have been tremendously widely used, even in Ireland, and there are only a few scattered examples of it being used in America, such as a 1915 issue of the Arkansas Catholic newspaper, and as the name of a racehorse in the early 60s. The phrase seems to have completely fallen out of favor, replaced by contemporary Irish slang: gurrier, for a while, and bowsie, although these phrases increasingly offer the sense of a someone who may actually have nefariousness in them, and not just youthful wildness.

Brine og, and its variants, has a sort of permanence, though, or at least of rucurringness — apparently, old Irish phrases never completely die, but instead disappear for a while and appear somewhere else without warning, like a merchant seaman or a debt collector. In 1918, Francis Z. Stone
 used the phrase as part of a poem dedicated to the Tuscania, a luxury liner that was used to transport American troops to Europe at the start of WWI, and was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland on February 5 of 1918, killing 210.

Stone’s poem was published in the Riverside Independent Enterprise, the story of Irish immigrants to America waiting news of one of their own who had been aboard to Tuscania, which isw then paralleled with earlier wars and earlier battles that the Irish participated in, and includes the following lines:

Straight and clean he was, my Danny, though a trifle wild, belike,–
Like the Brian Oge that I was when my years had matched his own,
And as Irish as the bravest that took up the blacksmith’s pike
when the Frenchmen lay off Bantry for the landing of Wolfe Tone.

What happen to Danny?

There was extras. The Tuscania. And we waited for the news
Of the lads that was survivors. And his name did not appear.
So ye took my message, Danny, through the sea drench and the ooze,
And I’m asking you, O Ireland, where my heart lies, will ye hear?

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Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a playwright, journalist, and history detective in Omaha, Nebraska.