In search of the real shebeen


A chara, – Having read Frank McNally’s excellent article on shebeens (An Irishman’s Diary, November 20th) I wondered about the origin of the word and consulted my favourite “go to” source of wisdom on the Irish language, Dinneen’s Dictionary.

Having been referred from “síbín” to “séibín”, I was informed as follows: “a little mug; a shebeen which was a measure of varying quantity, 2 to 3 quarts, used at Limerick for grain tolls, it also meant the toll thus taken (See Irish Commons Journal, 1761-1764, vol.VII, Report of Committee, 1761 . . .) whence the word shebeen (sheebeen) and “shebeen house”; fig. ale, esp. bad ale; “shebeen properly means weak small-beer, taplash.” (Note to 1848 Ed. of Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent). The New OED gave the following explanation: “(especially in Ireland, Scotland and South Africa) an unlicensed establishment or private house selling alcoholic liquor and typically regarded as slightly disreputable . . . origin late 18th cent.; from Anglo-Irish síbín, from séibe, ‘mugful’.” Neither source mentioned the shebeen queen. – Yours, etc,


Bishopstown, Cork.