Why was the Earl of Desmond titled Sugane?
September 9, 2015 3:20 PM   Subscribe

The Earl of Desmond during the Nine Years' War in Ireland was known as the "Sugane Earl". What does this mean and why?

The book in which I read the title says that "sugane" is Gaelic for straw but did not elaborate further. Internet searches are not actually turning up all that much good information for some reason.

Is the reference to straw meant to insinuate that he was weak? If not, then what?

Also, how and when did he come by the title? Was it only ever borne by him?

Lastly, how should it be pronounced, like /ʃəgaːn/?
posted by Emma May Smith to Writing & Language (5 answers total)
Here's the wikipedia page for the man in question

It looks like "straw" in this case is meant in the sense of "straw man", meaning fake. His uncle, the previous Earl, had been killed while in rebellion against English rule, and as a traitor his title and lands were forfeit to the English crown. Further, even if this had not been the case, James's claim to the Earldom was suspect, since his father had been declared illegitimate. So he was the Sugane Earl because he claimed to be an Earl, but the earldom he claimed didn't exist, and he wouldn't have had a clear claim to it even if it had.
posted by firechicago at 3:36 PM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I found another page that seems to back up what firechicago is saying:

James's cousin was James FitzThomas Fitzgerald,the Sugin (or Straw Earl) of Desmond, the focus of the rebel cause. His claim to the title was not recognised by the Crown.

James the "Straw Earl" was captured by the English in 1603 and put away in the Tower of London. He died there in 1608.

In other words, he was the 'Straw Earl' because his claim was held to be without merit.
posted by trip and a half at 3:49 PM on September 9, 2015

Lastly, how should it be pronounced, like /ʃəgaːn/?

Like everything having to do with Irish, the answer is "it depends." The first place I looked it up gave súgan, with long u and short a, meaning it would be /'su:gən/ ("SOO-gən"). But then I googled up the The Literary Digest, Volume 53, Part 2 (Nov. 11, 1916), p. 1303, the "Lexicographer's Easy Chair" column, which gives the forms soogan, soogaun, sougan, suggaun, and suggen, "all of which are Irish, the form suggane being in use in the Isle of Man." So take your pick! But it doesn't actually mean 'straw,' it means 'hay or straw twisted into a rope.'
posted by languagehat at 5:11 PM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

FYI the term is more commonly used in modern times to refer to a type of chair: the "Súgán" , and as per languagehat, it refers to twisted straw as seen in the seat. The accent on the latter "a" means the pronunciation is more likely to be "Soo-gawn".

Source: am Irish, and from a part of the country that was previously in the Earldom of Desmond (and this would have the same dialiect).
posted by doozer_ex_machina at 2:07 AM on September 10, 2015

I saw the "Súgán" chair, but I don't think we can assume that trademark is identical to the Earl of Desmond's nickname. I saw the word given as súgan in an actual published dictionary.
posted by languagehat at 9:32 AM on September 10, 2015

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