10 Mar 18

The Pale

England’s on-again-off-again conquest of Ireland, starting in the 12th Century, entered an intense and bloody phase in the 16th, under the Tudors.

Henry VIII’s notorious split with the Roman Church, officially starting in 1534, injected an evangelistic religious element into Britain’s mostly unwelcome presence in staunchly Catholic Ireland.

The next two-hundred years were to be the bloodiest in Irish history!

“Pale” translates loosely to “sharp, pointed stick” It is the base for the verb “to empale .” Rows of pales were commonly used to bolster fortress parameters. Hence, the term quickly became associated with defensive military positions.

“The Pale,” as it became known, was from the beginning, the established “English District” of Ireland, much like the “Pale of Calais” on the coast of France.

Centered around Dublin on the island’s east coast, The Pale was protected by garrisons of British troops, and most towns therein have French or British names.

“The Pale,” then, was this heavily-defended area where British “visitors” in Ireland, overstaying their welcome, enjoyed at least some security.

When one ventured out, past the parameter, he was said to be “beyond the pale,” thus in “Indian Country!”

In modern parlance, the phrase is often used to describe risk-taking and “thinking outside the box,” but its original meaning was quite specific, and very serious!

Many such English words and phrases in common usage today have similar historic origins.

Unhappily, we remember the words, but forget the history!