He was sentenced to seven days in prison for contempt of court, though contempt was the farthest thing from his mind; in fact he was only trying to help the court.  He was a dock worker in Cork harbour who had gone drinking with a German sailor.  The sailor misbehaved in the city and was arrested and brought to court.  The docker went along to show solidarity with one who was almost a colleague.  When the judge asked if there was anyone present in court who would act as interpreter, the docker raised his hand in a spirit of friendly co-operation.  He was invited to the front of the courtroom and seated near his drinking partner.  The proceedings began and the judge said, “Ask the accused to state his name.”  The docker turned to the sailor and uttered as gutturally as he could, “Vot iss your name!”  And that’s how he got himself a week’s worth of porridge.

When you like someone it’s remarkable how little of his or her language you need to know.  A shortage of vocabulary can bring people back to their shared humanity, as an abundance of it may drive them apart.

The German sailor was acquitted.


Love, they say, comes in at the eye.  In a certain part of Ireland a teenage girl met an Italian sailor, and mutual love came in at the eye.  But everyone knows that it tends to go out in large volumes at the mouth, but she and her sailor had no common language.  Still, she was not without resources: she knew that the local bishop spoke Italian, so she brought her sailor to the bishop’s house to have their mutual sentiments translated (with an imprimatur as a bonus).  Which he did!  Still, even if he had not been so helpful they would have managed to communicate with each other: love always finds a way, and happiness has a rich repertoire, “Quips and cranks and wanton wiles / Nods and becks and wreathèd smiles.”  

I'm sure there is no connection between the two words ‘amo’ in Italian: one means ‘I love’ and the other means ‘a fish-hook’.  Good heavens!  And he a sailor and all....


St Paul made groans respectable as a language of prayer.  Truth is God’s language, and a groan is usually more truthful than the smooth worn phrase falling from a practised lip.  God sees the heart, which has a richer and poorer vocabulary than the intellect. 

Or we should say God sees our whole life, and how we lay it down day by day: for ourselves or for our friends... 

...even one week of it, like the helpful docker in Cork.


Donagh O'Shea

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.