I'm currently reading Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds and come across this term in one of Sweeney (Shuibhne)'s verses (p. 82, Penguin Classics 2001). Here Sweeney seems to be lamenting his misery and using this term to refer to his own condition (i.e., turned by St. Ronan's curse into the shape of a bird):

Forgive me Oh great Lord,
mortal is the great sorrow,
worse than the black grief -
Sweeney the thin-groined.

(At Swim-Two-Birds, p. 82, Penguin Classics 2001)

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    It's not a common idiom (in modern US English), so it's impossible to say if there is some metaphorical meaning, especially in language that appears to be faux-archaic. (Or it could be an Irish idiom.) The literal meaning is something akin to "weak-legged", or simply "thin-bodied", but it could have a metaphorical meaning of "timid" or "cowardly".
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 3, 2018 at 2:13
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    @Cascabel "poriicuhtr" is almost certainly an OCR misread.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 3, 2018 at 17:29
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    @Cascabel - Yep, in the line above you see "if not in this Q|>eech, as&urediy in the one which precedes it".
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 3, 2018 at 17:38
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    Note that this is 'poetry', and frankly most anything can go here.
    – Mitch
    Sep 11, 2018 at 22:20
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    I'm not sure if it's got any clear answer, but assuming he's a bird, one starts wondering if bird's groins can be described as thin which is a totally weird train of thought and perhaps that's the intention. Flann o' Brien wasn't known for sticking to 'reasonable rules' of standard English. I wonder if it might be worth posting on the writer's site.
    – S Conroy
    Sep 14, 2018 at 21:23

1 Answer 1


Flann O'Brien's writings tend to make for interesting discussions due to the many layers he places in his works. As a result, I don't think you will be able to find much consensus on minor details such as what this individual term means. That said, I will do my best to offer my take based on the words and context.

If you read through the entirety of this passage (extending a little beyond both the beginning and the end of the cited portion), O'Brien's language suggests "sorrow", "depression", "weakness", and "faintness of heart" as potential contextual meanings for this term. At the same time, it can also suggest physical weakness as Sweeney (the character speaking) is contrasting himself to stags who have the strength to walk where they wish, but he is forced to forever wander.

This is where your quoted text comes in: Sweeney apologizes to God saying, basically, "Forgive me. I know this pain and sadness is only temporary, but this madness feels worse than death and I do not have the strength to fight it." It's worth noting that "At Swim-to-Birds" is heavily pulled from "The Madness of Sweeney" which means the term "thin-groined" may actually be an approximated translation of something mentioned in the original tale.

For context, "The Madness of Sweeney" takes place after "The Battle of Mag Rath" and tells the story of King Sweeney who was made mad by St. Ronan's curse. Much of the imagery in this reflects aspects of that curse such as how he wanders naked (like the stag), treads lightly like a bird (compared to seagulls), and how he can't keep peace (later mentioned "two hand-shaked cranes", as cranes are known for being territorial, but due to the curse, during the war, he'd regularly break the truce forbidding combat during the evening). As he wanders, like a bird, he'd perch himself in trees frequently. His body even growing feathers in the original tale. His world and life effectively fell away from him and now he is less a man and more a beast, and this passage reflects how he laments that his life has turned out this way.

I hope this in some way helps. I understand this isn't quite a precise answer, but I don't know what would be a better way to answer in regards to a man such as O'Brien's writing.

  • @ Sora Expansive answer that sends me back to the novel.
    – Zan700
    Dec 1, 2018 at 0:31

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