There are two versions to a story and twelve arrangements to a song.

Note: There are two sides to a story. This classic intepretation of our proverb of the week is the basis of western jurisprudence. Disputes can not be settled in a modern court until both sides of the story are told. This wisdom goes back to the ancient Greeks. Euripides said, “In a case of dissension, never dare to judge until you’ve heard the other side.” Protagoras extended Eurpides’ idea from points of fact to points of law, “There are two sides to every question.” St. Augustine, who built his philosophy on the Greeks, wrote, “Audi partem alteram.” (Hear the other side.) De Duabus Animabus, XIV, 2.

However, the rejoinder to the proverb, “and there are twelve arrangements (versions) to a song” suggests a uniquely Irish interpretation. Irish literature originated in an oral tradition. A Seanchaí (traditional story teller), when telling an old story, would usually personalize the tale as if it happened to him or her self. Local facts might be added to give the yarn a little color. Consequently, stories told in such a way often evolved into two or more versions.

For example, consider the ancient story of the selkie. In the John Sayle’s film, “The Secret Of Roan Inish”, he has the character, Tadhg Conneelly played by John Lynch, retell it to his young cousin. He begins by saying, “Do you know why I am dark?” He goes on to say he is dark because he is descended from a skelkie, a creature that is half seal, half human. Éamonn Kelly tells the begining of the story differently.

As ye all know I’m a stonemason by trade and its behind in Ballinskelligs I was one time building a pier. Tough enough work too, and you’d want to be well paid for it. And in a job like that, down on the brink of the tide, there are times when the shoes’d have to come off. Well, one day I noticed that the man tending me had webbed toes and of course I remarked on it. But it wasn’t until the night above in Main’s Pub that I came by the whole story.

Éamonn Kelly, “The Mermaid,” Ireland’s Master Storyteller: The Collected Stories of Éamonn Kelly, Marino Books, 1998, p. 196.

Kelly then explains that his attendant had webbed toes because he had a selkie in his family line. Both Conneelly and Kelly go on to tell the same story. Each differs only in a few minor details. Every story has two versions.

There is second rejoinder to this week’s proverb, “Bíonn dhá insint ar scéal agus dhá leagan déag ar amhrán agus dhá éiscint fhicid ar riail gramadaí.” (… and there are twenty-two exceptions to a rule of grammar.) Ach sin scéal eile.