Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill

Friday 19 October 2012 19:54

This is a section from ‘The Wake In The House’ a poem from my first collection Mathematics & Other Poems. It’s very much a ‘version’, but close enough to the original to evoke the tone and atmosphere for anyone familiar with it. In the context of the book, it formed part of a sequence of poems about the death of my parents.

Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill (‘dubh’ in the this context means ‘black-haired’) (1743-1800) was the wife of a professional soldier named Art Ó Laoghaire who was killed in an ambush in 1773 because he would not sell his horse for the sum of five pounds to an English official called Abraham Morris - under the so-called Penal Laws in Ireland a Catholic could not own a horse worth more than the sum offered. The ‘caoineadh’ or lament was composed during and spoken ex tempore at her husband’s wake. It was preserved first in the oral tradition. When I was a teenager and trying to write in Irish myself, I corresponded briefly with an elderly woman who had collected numerous oral versions of the poem. I still have the typed transcript I made for her of her composite version. The poem is regarded as one of the greatest literary productions in Irish. As it happens, Art O Laoghaire is buried not far from where I live in the now-ruined churchyard of Kilcrea Friary.

The full text in Irish with a brief introduction to the background

The magnificent Seán Ó Tuama/Thomas Kinsella translation

after The Lament for Art O’Leary

I never regretted it.  You had the parlour opened

for me, the long dark table bright with silver,

rooms turned out & curtains & pelmets freshened.

The oven was warm & smelling of soda bread.

There was a roast, I remember, that Spring’s lamb,

or perhaps it was a heifer killed not long before.

& I slept late on the down tick, the huge soft bed

that was like the sea around me, almost until evening.

I recall that Springtime. Your hat had a gold band.

Stand up now, my love, & I’ll call in neighbours

for the evening. I’ll make up the big bed

with bright sheets that have been cracking in the wind,

& the down quilt your mother gave us,

& we’ll drive the cold from you one time more.

Caoineadh Áirt Uí Laoghaire

Is domhsa nárbh aithreach:
Chuiris parlús á ghealadh dhom,
rúmanna á mbreacadh dhom,
bácús á dheargadh dhom,
brící á gceapadh dhom,
rósta ar bhearaibh dom,
mairt á leagadh dhom;
codladh i gclúmh lachan dom
go dtíodh an t-eadartha
nó thairis dá dtaitneadh liom...

Mo ghrá thu go daingean!
is érigh suas id sheasamh
is tar liom féin abhaile,
go gcuirfeam mairt á leagadh,
go nglaofam ar chóisir fhairsing,
go mbeidh againn ceol á spreagadh,
go gcóireod duitse leaba
faoi bhairlíní geala,
faoi chuilteanna breátha breaca,
a bhainfidh asat alias
in ionad an fhuachta a ghlacais.

The translation is Creative Commons