Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Click on any image for a larger version

In my previous post, on Local History Day 2018, I wrote the following:
We'll say nothing about the doors being a wee bit late opening on a frozen morning or the automatic doors then getting stuck. This is outside our brief, but my own view is that it is a manifestation of the recently discovered CURSE OF URBUS, a more than century old anomaly.
Well, it's finally time to speak openly about URBUS. If you look carefully at the crest above you will see that the motto is a slight variation on the one in the crest of the City of Dublin. Where this one has URBUS the city crest has URBIS.

URBUS adorns the pediment over the building that houses the Dublin City Library and Archive in Pearse Street.

As far as I know, this anomaly has only come to notice in the last decade or so.

Since then it has been assumed that this was a typo by the original sculptor in 1909. It was also assumed that the error made a nonsense of the Latin motto.

Before I go on to discuss this I would like to touch on a dilemma which this error gave rise to in recent times.

When new glass sliding doors were being installed at the main entrance it was decided to incorporate the crest into the glass. But which crest? Should the typo be corrected, leading to the anomaly of two different versions of the crest appearing at the front of the building? Or, should the bespoke version, error and all, be used?

I know what I'd have done, and that is just what was done. The bespoke version is now proclaiming its individuality at ground as well as pediment level. As Sir Humphrey would say, "a brave decision, Minister". Needless to say, his remark was aimed at scaring the bejasus out of the Minister. But our crowd are made of sterner stuff and a brave decision was one to be taken and not ducked.

So is there now really a curse resulting from this multiple "folly", or is there a deeper meaning to it all?

For the avoidance of doubt, let me state quite categorically that the motto as it stands is wrong. It is supposed to be the city motto and it is not.

Nevertheless, it is no harm speculating what it might signify in its present form, and, even at the risk of stretching a point, whether the "error" might have been intentional.

These things do happen. I mean, we have a memorial to the 77 executed by the Free State Government hiding in plain sight on the wall of Rathmines Roman Catholic Church. And we have a bust of Kevin Barry taking its place among the saints in St. Catherine's church in Meath Street. These things do happen.

So let us look at URBUS. It has been known to signify a city in Latin, but I don't think it is fourth declension so in classical grammatical terms it wouldn't fit.

However there is such a thing as colloquial (or bog) Latin, and such even in written form as I know from my school Caesar. So where would this leave us. I offer a phrase from Caesar himself to show that URBUS may not always be declined:
Pompeius ex urbus profectus iter ...

If this is accepted then we must proceed to examine the sculptor's motive for deviating from the actual motto.

Having Googled my Latin head off I came up with an interesting entry in this Latin dictionary from 1711.

Apparently URBUS as an adjective means crooked or bent. .

It is clearly not used here in its pure adjectival sense as it does not accord with any of the remaining three words in the phrase.

But if we take it that the form URBUS, denoting city, is used in preference to the URBIS in the motto, and that this choice was influenced by the adjectival meaning of URBUS (crooked), then we actually have a prophetic crest whose meaning is a CAVEAT EMPTOR to gullible citizens who do not take the trouble to sufficiently enquire into the trustworthiness of some of those in charge.

And lest anyone doubt my credentials in this matter (i) I took Latin for six years at secondary school level, (ii) I took Baby Latin at University level, and (iii) I have been an altar boy.

I passed all these tests successfully and unscathed.

I rest my case.

Memo item: the true crest

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