On What Sheamus Says In Irish (Faugh A Ballagh!) and the Plight of the Midcard

With all the kerfuffle about what Rusev says in his entrance, I just realized it’s been a couple months since Sheamus started yelling something when he enters the arena. I think Heel Sheamus is a marvelous douchebag, and yet somehow I never stopped to worry about his passionate battle cry. Me, the IWC’s resident linguistics nerd! A quick cruise around the internet uncovered a number of discussion threads about it, one of which pointed me in the direction of Sheamus’ own tweet as reference:

Faugh a Ballagh (or its alternate spelling per Wikipedia, Faugh an Beallach), means “Clear the Way”. It’s a traditional Irish battle cry that originates in the late 1700’s, and has been used as a motto by Irish, Irish American, and Australian military regiments, brigades, and battalions, even an Irish brigade during the American Civil War. It is still the motto of the Royal Irish Regiment, whose website tells an extensive history of its adoption here.

But there is more to this battle cry than simply an Irish guy yelling something battle-ish in his country’s traditional language. The theme of “Clear the Way” certainly plays a role in the dominant narrative structure of professional wrestling, especially in the WWE. Faugh a Ballagh is a rather archetypal idea. A wrestler’s career is inherently an ascent, climbing a steep upward slope as they battle their way toward the top of the card, one match at a time. Some of them run into impossible resistance despite their undeniable talent. Consider the way so many of wrestlers in this generation have had their ascents permanently blocked by John Cena, for example. John Cena has “buried” so many people, kept them beneath him, unable to break through.

But this is much bigger than a Cena problem, it’s the nature of any sport or business: sometimes you just can’t rise any further because there are people, policies, and politics blocking the way. Sometimes being a compliant worker and diligently playing the cartoon character you’re told to play is the kiss of death for your upward mobility. Just ask the Red Rooster of yore. With his “Clear the Way” motto, Heel Sheamus has broken free of his gawky, happily cliched Irish persona crafted for the under ten demographic and is leading a charge toward relevance among the wrestlers of the stagnant midcard. Look at the other talented, charismatic wrestlers who have been busting out of their slumps along with Sheamus: Cesaro, the New Day, Ambrose, Prime Time Players, even R-Truth! And that’s not even mentioning the NXT women charging into the stagnant divas division and knocking aside the blocade of Bellas, like “CLEAR THE WAY!” This collective surge represents great progress in the plight of the midcard, a breaking through of brick walls and glass ceilings of carny-corporate dysfunction and antiquated paradigms. Sheamus may be a douchebag, but his “Faugh A Ballagh” is the cry of a valiant midcard warrior, stepping forth out of the ranks and clearing the path for his fellow midcarders to follow.

While Becky Lynch leans toward the Irish trickster, Sheamus has truly built out the Celtic Warrior Irish stereotype, and isn’t it fun that he’s such a douchebag? We crave that our warriors be admirable and knight-like, but this gives him more complexity, which allows him to become unique enough to crash through the barriers blocking his way. The happy-go-lucky “fella”-saying innocuous babyface was the kind of cultural gimmick that hobbles a wrestler’s potential. Turning him into a douchebag heel allows him to forge ahead and get Money In the Bank even, Faugh A Ballagh! It’s a powerful, often even positive stereotype: The Fighting Irish. And yet he’s ironically a douchebag. Like the trickster, its an archetypal cultural gimmick, this one being subverted into heel territory, which on wrestling’s Mobius Strip of irony can be very empowering for the wrestler. Consider the likes of Rowdy Roddy Piper, the Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, Boris Zhukov, Muhammad Hassan, and even Lana: they will be remembered for the overt negative cultural stereotypes that empowered their characters into complexity and ascendance. (Too bad Muhammad Hassan was too effective in his portrayal of a negative stereotype.)

People in my Twitter timeline have been quite snide and snippy about Sheamus, but there’s much more to meet the eye with what he’s done here. He has tons of potential, and don’t forget that he successfully made you hate him and call him stupid. This is the hallmark of a successful douchebag heel. He draws the ire of the the uppity smark crowd, baiting them into expressing their disdain for his character and gimmick, which results in loud scornful heat, the thing that is music to WWE’s ears no matter how it is won. So say what you want about Sheamus, but he is effective. I for one am a supporter.

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