I started reading Colm Tóibín’s Jan. 27 TLS review of The Letters of John McGahern (I’ve never read McGahern; any thoughts from those who have?) when I was stopped by a word unknown to me, and apparently to almost everyone:

The first letter​ – five lines written to his father in April 1943 when John McGahern was eight years old – could take an entire book to gloss:

Dear Daddy,
        Thanks very much for the pictures. I had great fun reading them. Come to see us soon. We got two goats. Uncle Pat does not like them. Will you bring over my bicycle please and games. We are all well. I was gugering for Uncle Pat Thursday.
        Goodbye from Sean to Daddy

At the time, McGahern and his siblings were living in Aughawillan, County Leitrim, with their mother. […] ‘Gugering,’ Frank Shovlin explains in a footnote, ‘is the act of dropping seed potatoes into holes in the ground.’

The OED doesn’t have “gugering,” and Google turns up almost nothing — but it does find this entry in the Wannaskan Almanac for June 29, 2022, which includes vital incorrect information on pronunciation:

gugering: /GOO-jə-riNG/ v. IRISH, the act of dropping seed potatoes into holes in the ground.

Anybody know anything more about this rustic word?

And a merry Christmas to all who celebrate it!

Update. Xerîb points out (in a 3:41 pm comment) that the pronunciation is actually /ɡʊɡərɪn/.


  1. Dave Lull wrote to pass on this additional information from the footnote in the reviewed book: “[. . . ] likely derives from the Irish word ‘gogaide’ meaning ‘haunches’ or ‘hunkers’.” Thanks, Dave! (But it it’s from gogaide, why “GOO-jə-riNG” with a j? Or is that an erroneous pronunciation?)

  2. Could it be related to gudge, which the EDD records from Scotland and Sussex with meanings along the lines of ‘poke, probe’?

  3. Sounds plausible!

  4. This farmer from County Leitrim says /ɡʊɡərɪn/ with /ɡ/ at around the 4:40 mark here. This makes the derivation from gogaide much clearer.

    There is a short treatment of the protean family of gogaide here (in the middle of p. 148, Jeffrey L. Kallen (1977) “Irish English and Word English: Lexical perspectives” in Englishes around the World: Studies in honour of Manfred Görlach). Some forms from different regions listed here at the entry for haunch.

  5. Also guggerer /ɡʊɡərər/ and to gugger /ɡʊɡər/ here after around the 8:10 mark.

  6. I note that when I look up gogaide in that English-Irish dictionary, it shows up as the second translation of “coquette” on p. 364.

  7. Thanks for those links, mollymooly! One of these notebooks from the School Collection even has some basic etymological discussion of guggering, at the very bottom of the page scanned here:

    This notebook apparently originates in a school in Corratillan, County Cavan, which I gather is about 7 or 8 kilometers from Knockanroe, County Leitrim, where John McGahern was raised.

  8. In the Schools’ Collection notebooks, mention of the word gugger seems localized to the area of Leitrim, Cavan and Longford, with two outliers, one adjacent in Roscommon and one west of that in Mayo.

  9. PlasticPaddy says

    Sorry if someone posted this already, here is gogaireacht in an Irish text from Co. Leitrim.

    Seasann fear ar an iomaire agus stibín ina láimh aige.
    Gníonn sé puill [=poll] san gcré [= sa chré]. Bíonn an gogaire ag teacht leis ‘s é ag gogaireacht, sé sin le ráidh [= rá] [- or :] cuireann sé sciolláin [=sceallán] nó póirín in gach pholl.

    iomaire = ridge
    stibín = dibble
    sceallán and póirín are small potatoes (maybe someone remembers the Reagan connection to Ballyporeen), I don’t know what the distinction intended here is, maybe the local word was sciollán and the writer was not sure the teacher was familiar with it. The text was collected at a Co. Leitrim school.

  10. Great find, thanks!

  11. Ignorant question: is gouge related?
    OED n.1 “…Probably of Celtic origin….”

  12. Richard Ellis says

    John McGahern is a glorious writer. ‘That They May Face the Rising Sun’ is a great place to start gugering into his work.

  13. PlasticPaddy says

    According to Wiktionary, gouge goes back to a form like M. I gulba “beak, mouth, jaw” and I think gogaireach may be related to M. Ir gúnga “posterior, loins”, but I cannot find any etymology.

  14. sceallán and póirín are small potatoes… I don’t know what the distinction intended


    -áin, pl. id., m., a thin slice, a “slit,” a seed, kernel or pippin, a portion of potato containing an “eye” or seed for planting; groats, shelled oats; a small potato, apple, etc., a complimentary term for a person; subhaill, an apple pippin; ag gearradh S-, cutting potato slits for planting; tá na péacáin ag fás ar mo chuid s., my seed potatoes are germinating (see sciollóg); al. sceallán, sciolltán; from sceall.

    g. id., m., a bean; a pellet, playing-marble or small round-stone such as are used for jack-stones, etc., a small potato, etc.., póiríní fataí, small potatoes (Con.); p. neascóide, a small boil; ag imirt póiríní, playing jack-stones; scaoil p. le plaosc an fóm, fire a pebble at the seal’s head; cuir póiríní is gheobhair póiríní, sow poor seed and you will get a poor crop; al. púir(th)in

  15. Interesting that most of the examples in Mollymooly’s links, as well as in the John McGahern letter, indicate that the guggering was generally done by children. I spent a lot of time as a kid on an old-fashioned farm in Holland in the 1950s and this would be just the kind of thing for which we either volunteered or were pressed into service to do.

  16. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I feel like there must be a Scottish word for this, but it seems to be just part of tattie-settin

    As far as I can tell, gogaireachd turns up in Scottish Gaelic only in Là na Gogaireachd, April Fool’s Day, although there might still be forms I haven’t tried.

  17. Trond Engen says

    Setting the potatoes is one thing, but what do you call piling up soil around the young potato plant? Norw. hyppe (poteter) < LG hüppen.

  18. German häufeln, literally “make heaps”.

  19. Setting the potatoes is one thing, but what do you call piling up soil around the young potato plant?

    Maybe aithchré a chur? Dinneen, Foclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla (1927), has aithchré ‘the light mould put to growing plants, as potato stalks’, which is a compound of ath- ‘second, later’ (aith- before palatal consonants) and the noun cré ‘earth, soil’. (With the verb cur, ‘to put’.)

  20. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I think in Scotland the soil-piling was mostly done first – the lazy-bed system, alternately strips of piled up manure and soil which the planting was done into, and ditches where the extra soil had come from.

    My favourite of the DSL list is tattie-roguer, a person who removes (defective) seedlings from potatoes

  21. PlasticPaddy says

    Deintear na puill leis an rámhain nó le maide beag, agus sáithtear na sciolláin isteach ionnta agus chuirtear an cré anuas ortha. Nuair a bhíonn síad curtha
    aca, tarraingtear an aoileach amach.
    Fagtar é ins an gcarn aoiligh. Nuair a bhíonn na gais ós cionn talmhan, cuirtear cré ortha arís ar a dtugtar an
    This is from Co. Kerry, but confirms Xerib’s suggestion, although here the soil is sprinkled or heaped (cuirtear cré orthu) over the stalks when they appear above ground (os cionn talún).

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