Shedding some light on the Devereux family name

Championship Special

Alan Aherne

One of the more unusual off-shoots of the hurlers' championship campaign thus far has been the fascination in some sections of the national media with our pronunciation of corner-back Willie Devereux's surname.

While the silent 'x' is favoured north of the county and further afield, anyone from Willie's neck of the woods that I've ever known has insisted that the last syllable should sound like 'icks'.

Purely by chance, I was looking at a book in my collection of G.A.A. memorabilia during the week that sheds further light on the origins of the name.

And, given that it's topical right now, I'm going to share this information which appeared in the 1946 edition of the 'History of Hurling' which was written by P.D. Mehigan, the foremost G.A.A. journalist of that era, who wrote under the pseudonym 'Carbery'.

Several pages of the book are devoted to the poem 'Carrigmenan' which was written by Robert Devereux to describe a hurling match played on the banks of the River Slaney in 1779, over a century before the formation of the G.A.A.

Mehigan explains that 'the Devereux family (pronounced "eux" in Wexford, Deverowe in Dublin, and Deveroo in France) are an old Norman-French family. They hail from the district of Evereux in northern France; they fought with the Normans and secured considerable property on the banks of the Slaney in Wexford, where they were held in high respect'.

The Cork journalist, a native of Ardfield, was born on March 1, 1884, seven months before the G.A.A. came into being, and died on December 5, 1965, having written for the 'Cork Examiner' as 'Carbery', and also for 'The Irish Times' under the byline 'Pato'.

His piece goes on to point out that one of the clan - Willie Devereux - won an All-Ireland hurling medal with Wexford in 1910.

He then sheds light on Robert Devereux, the author of the poem 'Carrigmenan', which means 'the rock of the young goats'.

'He lived on the banks of the Slaney in its most picturesque spot. Under the rock and amidst the trees was his Manor and Mill - with its long meadow beside the stream where the hurlers played.

'He had a young son who was apparently very close to his affections; the boy was sent away to relatives in England and France where he was educated.

'His father was a bit literary and kept up a regular correspondence with the youth, who seems to have developed a nostalgia for his home and demesnes. He asks his father to give him some account of the scenery and social amusements at home.'

Robert Devereux duly obliged him by writing a weekly epistle in simple verse, describing the beauties of Slaneyside.

Carbery added that 'He tells how the word Slaney comes - the waters of health (slán); some hold the name comes from the Firbolg chief Slainge'.

Devereux's long and detailed description of a hurling match from 1779 is unique, and it appears that a broad-bladed hurley was used.

Just one goal decided the fortunes of the day, and a barrel of beer, probably put up by Robert Devereux himself, was the prize.

The poem itself is too long to re-produce in full, but it finishes as follows:

'At length Patroclus' arms were borne away,

Which closed the actions of that well fought day;

Thus by an effort was the goal put out.

Instant the ear is deaded by a shout -

Hats, wigs, shoes, stockings quickly fly in air,

The victors to the beer barrel repair,

Where, huntsmanlike, the game's played o'er again

And bagpipes drone whilst all rejoice in twain.'

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