Is maol gualainn gan bráthair

This is an old Irish saying and what it says literally, that a shoulder is bare without a brother. What it means is that it's lonely if you don't have someone with you, i.e., at your shoulder. But what interests me about it is that it expresses something that I think is very relevant to cycling and which is largely ignored by cyclists.
It is this.

I've been cycling with Mary for I suppose 25 years. I've been cycling myself for way longer than this. She is a timid cyclist and very careful, though she is a fine athlete and well capable of hard climbing , etc. She more or less refuses to cycle alongside me. Mick, my main cycling companion is tending to cycle in front or behind, recently.
This is NOT a good idea. Motorists are much more inclined to overtake where they shouldn't when cyclists are in single file. When I'm on my own, I'm inclined to command the road in such places by moving a bit into the centre. This is in everyone's interest as it discourages lunatic overtaking, of which there is plenty, believe you me!
In fact some of the recommendations you will see in Rules of the Road with regard to cyclists are actually the wrong advice.
I've been driving for 44 years and I have never once, ever, overtaken a cyclist on a corner, or coming up to a corner. It is idiotic to more or less "invite" idiot-motorists to do so.


Iss mwayol goo a ling gone (as in gone away) braw hirr.
Bráthair is the old Irish for brother. As you can see it's like brother. The Sanskrit for brother is brathair. This word was one of the many clues to the evolution of Indo-European languages. "Is" which is "it is" in Irish is another. It's a link with the verb IS, or to BE, in English, from way back. The Irish for BE (imperative as be good) is bí, pronounced as be. All the other words in the verb are quite different. You could be delving into derivations for the rest of your life.

13 comments on “Is maol gualainn gan bráthair”

  1. Patrick wrote:

    The problem is, Garry, many motorists believe cyclists should not be two abreast (and in some cases the Highway Code says they should not). Often, when a car overtakes two riders side by side they will blow their horn. Except on a very quiet road I don't like it. One of the riders is constantly moving back and forth into single file and that is irritating.

    I agree with you about moving out though. I tend to ride a metre or so from the verge, then when I hear the car beginning to overtake I move back close to the verge. This gives an extra margin of clearance.

    ... You could be delving into derivations for the rest of your life.

    Very true. I looked up 'sister' – partly from Old English sweostor and partly from Old Norse systir. Not from the Latin soror but they all begin with the letter "s". Is this a coincidence?

  2. Mary wrote:

    Im afraid, I disagree with cycling in a pair side by side. Now, I do do this, but only on our very quietest lanes in the North of the Island as the roads are wide and have lots of visibility.

    Tina and I cycle in a line when in the UK. I do find cars behind a pair of cyclists side by side will over take anyway, and squeeze past, except they give the least room for the outside cyclist. Plus, in the UK at least, I feel it increases anger from drivers.

  3. Chris wrote:

    Where I ride locally – once I am out of the main town or city – there are very few cars on the roads. It's two abreast for much of the way. The only time I don't like to ride two – or three – abreast is on the rare occasions when we need to use an A road to link parts of the ride. I must admit I am much more comfortable on main roads riding in single file. I get my head down and pick up the speed so that we can get off on to quieter roads as soon as possible.

    Speaking of brothers – I only have a sister – on our first ride together my brother-in-law was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of riding two abreast. He didn't know it was even legal to do so!

  4. Garry wrote:

    It certainly is legal to ride 2 abreast. In Ireland the latest edition of Rules of the Road says, that cyclists are advised to ride no more than 2 abreast except in busy traffic. But this is not law and in fact there is no law against cycling 3 abreast. Cyclists here almost never cycle three abreast.
    My feeling about 2 abreast as I've advocated it is that it deters dangerous overtaking. We immediately signal to the motorist when to overtake, even before he can see that it's safe.
    The older Irish for sister is siúr, pronouned exactly like sure. Sometimes you have coincidences in sounds as the Irish word for soldier which is saighdiúr which sounds like sigh-jure. You would think that that's related to soldier or so'jur, but it's not. It means archer, and then soldier. Soldier comes from solidus which is the Latin for a soldier's pay.

  5. Hilary wrote:

    Its certainly the case here that motorists don't like you cycling two abreast and judging from the comments frequently shouted from the window they also believe its illegal.

  6. Garry wrote:

    But they are mistaken, ignorant or ill-informed!! I used to carry a laminated page of the rules of the road to inform them!

  7. Kern wrote:

    We find it very difficult riding shoulder-to-shoulder on the tandem :).

  8. Garry Lee wrote:

    You need a Sondheim tandem.

    Side by side by Sondheim.

  9. Chris wrote:

    Doh, just got the Sondheim joke. Anyway, AFAIK you can't be side by side on a tandem! Its meaning has something to do with being 'at length', rather than breadth. According to Wikipedia a side by side bicycle is called a 'sociable'. Which is nice 🙂

  10. Garry wrote:

    A side by side with each rider facing in the opposite direction could be used to drill for oil!

  11. Patrick wrote:

    Garry wrote: Cyclists here almost never cycle three abreast.

    I had to look it up... Sondheim "Side by Side by Side" = three abreast.


  12. Seamus mac an tailleur wrote:

    a chara choir,

    The saying about the bare shoulder, though quite accurately used in this case, originally refers to an ancient Gaelic practice of clan warfare, in which one fought alongside one's kinsmen. The brother would be either your actual brother or (just as importantly) your foster brother. In both the Scottish and Irish Gaelic manner of fighting, (very similar to the ancient Celtic method). The targaid (a leather buckler) would be worn on the left arm, often with the dirk held in the same hand, and the sword in the right hand. They would discharge any distance weapons (arrows, javelins or later guns) and then charge in a "cloud" with the chief men in the lead, and fall on the enemy at a run, depending on the impetus and ferocity of their charge to break the enemy lines. In this manner of fighting, having a brother at your shoulder was critical, as he would be "covering" the warrior's "bare" side – the right. There are numerous descriptions and even a few depictions, such as Morier's painting of the Highland charge at Culloden). Though it is today mostly associated with the Gaelic Highlanders of Scotland, it was developed from old Gaelic warfare and likely from still more ancient Celtic antecedents, finding its flowering in the tactics developed by Alasdair mhic Cholla (Alexander MacDonald, Montrose's lieutenant in the "Year of Miracles") with his Scoto-Irish allies, when they beat their enemies in a spectacular series of battles.

    Mise le meas,

    Seamus mac an tailleur

  13. Garry Lee wrote:

    Glé mhaith, ana-mhaith, an-mhaith, iontach maith! They are all the variants I know!

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