Gombeens at the Gate – the book title explained

The word ‘gombeen’ is the anglicised version of the Irish word ‘gaimbín’.

The gombeen man is a despised figure in Irish history. It usually referred to shopkeepers who exploited their rural customers through extending credit at usurious rates to people in need. Over time however, the expression gombeen – in Ireland at least – has come to describe the activities of anyone who pursues personal gain (usually financial)  by dubious means. In the book, we use gombeens in this latter sense.


‘Barbarians at the Gate’ is the title of a 1989 best seller written by investigative journalists Bryan Burrough and John Helyar.  It tells the fascinating story of the bidding war over the massive leveraged buyout of the tobacco and food conglomerate RJR Nabisco in the 1980s. It was subsequently made into a TV movie in 1993 starring James Garner as F. Ross Johnson, whose unsuccessful attempt to buy RJR Nabisco – to keep the barbarians from the gate – started the bidding war.

At a simpler level of course, the word ‘barbarian’ – to the ancient Romans – was anyone who was different; anyone who lived outside the Roman Empire (Remember the Romans never made it to Hibernia!). Even today we use this term to describe any perceived threat from people usually regarded as our  ‘inferior’ or ‘primitive’.

The word ‘gombeen’ in the title of our book ‘Gombeens at the Gate’ is both provocative and pejorative. But we hope readers will agree that it is appropriate and that it suitably captures all the subtleties and incongruities of Ireland since the Rising.

Most of all we encourage you to read our book, explore with us its central thesis and make up your own mind!

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