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Commentary on Eoghan Ruadh Silleabhn

Eoghan Ruadh Silleabhn

1748 1784

Is For Trm Aisling


s Follus Don Chlir

[Two Songs on Poet and Priest]
Part 2
Samas Domhnaill
- 2 -
A. Is For Trm Aisling
Eoghan Ruadhs lament for Fr. Horgan is rather long, the longest of his songs. I have included headings on the various sections I identified which I hope will prove helpful in getting a handle on the composition and guiding you through. The second editor of Eoghans songs, Risterd Foghludha, left several songs out of his 1937 edition on the grounds that they were too risqu for use in schools but he left this lament out simply because it was too long: N misde innsint annso gur fhgas ar lr roinnt iarrachta de chuid Eoghain ceann aca at r-fhada don leabhrn seo .i. Tuireamh ar an Athair hArgin agus nidthe eile n hoirfeadh do chrsa scoile
Laments and other long compositions of the Irish poets have often been dismissed as simply meaningless excercises of verbosity padded out with excessive adjectives and lists of supernatural, historical and legendary characters in order for the poet to impress the his gullible patrons with a view to maximising his payment. In my view however it is unlikely that intelligent people who were highly trained and educated in a culture would put up with this type of thing. Before passing such a judgement on an Irish Amhrn it is necessary to hear the song being sung to its original music and to have some understanding of its setting as a work of art.
There are occasions however when a large canvas is necessary and appropriate to express what it is the artist wants to say. I would argue that this is the case in relation to the Irish elegies. For a thousand years it was a principal function of the poet to compose a proper elegy or lament for a dead chief. These compositions tended to be very long in order to adequately express the importance of the deceased, his ancestors, ancestoral lands, children & dependents his clan, and his allies. Praise was an important feature of these elegies. The poet was speaking on behalf of the whole community and emphasised those qualities and values which were deemed to most benefit society. While the whole of the elegy was written to the same metre, different parts may have been written and performed at different occasions such as the wake, at the graveside or perhaps even at the months mind.
Daibh Bruadair wrote such an elegy for Sir Edmund Fitzgerald of Claoncglaise, Co. Limerick who died in 1666. This has 105 verses in total and contains a section delivered at the graveside and a section addressed to the son of the desceased, urging him to return quickly from France to fulfil his duty to the people left vulnerable by the death of their protector.
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Eoghan Ruadhs lamant for Fr. Horgan is catagorised as a Caoine in Pdraig Duinnns 1907 edition whereas, to me, it would be more accurate to call it a Marbhna, based on the definitions given by Duinnn himself in his dictionary:
Caoineadh: Act of mourning, lamenting, wailing, deploring; a lament, an elegy; a keen; the form of metre used in keens; i gcaoinibh in keening; dhein s caoine dh he composed (or chanted) an elegy for her; bean chaointe a keening woman; cluiche caointe a funeral game or rite; i ngbhadh chaointe requiring to be lamented i.e. dead.
Marbhna: An elegy, soliloquy, reflection; act of meditating, thinking. Tim ar mo marbhna I become wrapt in thought; ag danamh mo mharbhna reflecting, soliloquising on, composing an elegy
The caoine or keening-song has been described by Breandn Madagin as a form of vocal music used in many cultures which mixes supernatural ritual, emotional release and a social expression.
In Ireland it often involved nonsense vocables and constant repitition of the dead persons name. There followed a dirge in old reacaireacht chanting music in which the dead person was addressed. These were often composed on the spot but were made up of phrases traditionally used for that purpose. Also included was the Gol, or Irish cry such as och ochn or ululoo in which all present joined. While the woman of the house would commonly perform the keen there were also women in certain families who were professional keeners, mn caointe, and were seen as essential to a proper funeral.
The custom of public mourning is very strong to this day in Asian cultures as evidenced by the mass weeping at the funeral of North Koreas Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il. Amongst the Chinese community in the Philippines it is common for "professional mourners" to be hired to weep and wail during the wake and burial. The practice is depicted in the 2003 movie, The Crying Ladies, starring Sharon Cuneta.
As it happens the most famous caoine of all was composed for a man whose death was seperated from that of Fr. Con Horgan by 15 miles and 15 weeks. Art Laoghaire was killed on 4 May 1773 at Carraig an Ime which is 15 miles from Donoughmore via the Butter Road.
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Breandn Madagin explains the difference between a Keen and an Elegy:
The elegy (marbhna) was a learned composition, unlike the keen. Anybody could do a round of keening, extempore, whereas the elegy was a carefully wrought poetical composition, taking time and trouble. Down to the seventeenth century, when a chieften died, he would be keened like anybody else as part of the obsequies. But is would be the function of his bardic poet to compose an elegy, at a commerative ceremony some time after his internment. (Caointe & Seancheolta Eile)
The whole first quarter of the Lament for Fr. Horgan is devoted to Eoghans encounter with the goddess Clona. I do not know enough about this supernatural character, Clona, to give a full explantaion of the encounter. Dear reader, I would be delighted if you could contact me at if you know more about her. The basic information about Clona is that the dangerous current at Cuan Dor, Glandore, in the barony of Carbery, is known as Tonn Clona.
Clona was supposed to reside in a natural rock formation which is located in the townland of Carrigcleena in the parish of Cill Sheanaig on the road between Dromahane and Bweeng. Significantly, as we are exploring this particular song of Eoghan Ruadhs, Carrigcleena is only 6 miles from Donoughmore. I travelled out there a few weeks ago and I had the good fortune to meet a local man who knew a lot about the place. Carraig Clona is about twice my height and sticks out from the ground like a tooth. It used to be in a middle of a field with a number of other stones surrounding it. The field is now gone however and the Carraig currently hangs precariously over a massive opencast quarry hundreds of feet deep. Apparently the stone from that quarry is very highly prized in motorway construction. The operation has taken away many fields.
At first I was surprised that such a project would be allowed which could potentially undermine an important dinnseanachas site like Carrig Clona. Only afterwards did it dawn on me that it is not a structure as such but rather a natural phenomenon which is not even listed in the Ordnance Survey Maps. It is often said that the peoples belief in faries and otherwolrdly characters has meant that many ancient monuments such as ring forts have been preserved in Ireland. It seems that this has preserved Carrigcleena so far but it looks like it has been seriously undermined.
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In 1961 Nikita Khrushchev gave a speech to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union about the state's anti-religion campaign in which he said that Yuri Gagarin flew into space, but didn't see any god there. I wonder could a similar claim be made in relation to digging under Carrigcleena. Traditionally, it was considered very bad luck to interfere with a fairy fort or anything like that. This superstition has been credited with the preservation of the very large number of ancient monuments in Ireland. You might say that such pishoguery is a load of bunkum but, I wonder, if you happened to be an explosives contractor or a JCB driver and were given instructions to undermine a site like Carrigcleena would you think twice about it?
This matter raises another question which is to what extent did Eoghan Ruadh, his fellow poets and his audience believe in fairies. Apparently the poets of Munster referred to Clona and other goddesses as sources of inspiration. But I dont know how much of this was meant figuratively and how much was really believed.
When Sen Tuama died 30 August 1775, Andrias Mac Craith was among many poets who composed elegys for him. Andrias refers to Clona in one of his verses:
T Clodna is ine cridhte casta
Aoibhill rsa is mn Chnuic Grine
S gach sidh-bhean bhlaith n Migh go hirne
Ag caoidhe de ghnith tir gan faesiomh.
Clona and ine are troubled and tormented / ancient Aoibhill and the women of Knockgrean / and every fairy woman beautiful from the Maigue to the Erne / weeping constantly wretched without relief.
This brief mention of Clona is a far cry however from the major role she plays in Eoghans lament where we are brought right up close to her and we hear her voice strongly in direct and violent conversation with the poet. Clona clearly had an importance and a relevance which Eoghans audience would understand even if we do not.
One straightforward explantion for the prominence given to Clona in Eoghans lament is the geographical proximity of Carrigcleena to Donoughmore. 12 miles on the other side of Carrigcleena is Cluain Mn (Clonmeen) which contains the town of Bntr (Banteer) in the barony of Duhallow.
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On 24 August 1724, the lord of Clonmeen, taoiseach of the OCallaghans died. Aodhagan Rathaille wrote the Marbhna for him which contains the following verse:
Do-bheart Clodna n gcarraig mbin ngruaidhghil
Gur bh seabhac smh Chluana ghil Mhn
Ceap rioghdha Chaisil, rdchuaille
Ua Ceallachin uasal sa shol
Brat dona ar Eallaibh l an chruadhtain
D gcasnamh le cruas nirt is claidhimh
Cois Laoi theas marbh t ar fuaradh
Mo chealg bhis chruaidh ghuirt, ar s.
Cliodhna from the white fair-fronted rock, said / that it was the noble warrier of bright Clonmeen / a royal scion of Cashel / a high branch / the noble OCallaghan and his seed / the protecting robe of Ealla in the day of distress / to defend them with the vigour of his strength and sword / who lies beside the Lee, in the south, cold in death / O bitter piercing sting of death to me, said she.
I have given the heading true taoiseach to verses 23, 24, 25 & 26 which I think form the central and key element of this whole song. The importance which Eoghan attaches to these lines is indicated by the extraordinary level of ornamentation he gives to them. In addition to the disyllabic end rhyme of every line and other rhymes common to the rest of the song, the master verse mason gives us twelve lines of alliteration in alphabetic order.
In addition, he provides double assonance on the following phrases: chaoin d ndon buidheanmhar broghmhar diadha dian-cheart gaoiseach gnomh-ghlan monla mn-tais ngnomharthaibh naoidheanta riaghail, rianach triathach siansach.
The Irish word for alliteration is uaim. Uaim was the only form of ornamentation in the very earliest Irish poetry prior to the introduction of rhyme in the 7th century A.D. The entry for the word in Dinneens dictionary indicates its use in welding a series of phrases into a framework or a single unit of thought:
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Uaim: Act of joining, sewing or rivetting together, welding; a joint or seam; junction or epoch; alliteration (especially between the last two important words in a line, e.g., fear gan feall), union or concord in a verse, fig. verse; embroidery. Uaim clraidh: joinery In uaimaibh cuil: in the webs of sin. Gan uaim snthaide: having no needles seam (of Christs garment). Gan uaim na mbeol: devoid of poetic diction. Iar scaoileadh a n-uamann: their seams having loosened. Leabhar uama agus oiris: poem books and histories
In addition to all this ornamentation Eoghan links the last words of the alternative verses. For example, the last two syllables of verse 23, Naomh-script, match those of verse 25, naomhtha.
Similarly, I also believe that the same can be said of verses 24 and 25. Fastach reflects the responsibility of a true taoiseach to provide hospitality to his followers. This was essential to the operation of the clan as a viable social unit. Teicseach is given as simply being fond of texts or books. In this context however the word would reflect the intellectual hospitality of the taoiseach or patron who spent his wealth on collecting valuable manuscripts and allowed poets access to his library for copying lmhscrbhinn which was central to the transmission of Gaelic culture.
Some of the words used by Eoghan Ruadh in making these verses are more commonly used than others but all of them have a role to play in expressing his meaning. Don is one of the key words used, meaning an act of protecting; cover, shelter, roof, thatch; protection, defence, patronage; quality of being waterproof or tight (Dineen).
The Clan is the elephant in the room of Irish History. Clanship and its associated values were the default structure of Gaelic society down to the 19th century. Clanship was the source of all resistance to English rule and it was the function of the Penal Laws to eradicate it. I have not come across anything written about Clanship in Ireland but here is what Allan Macinnes has to say about Clanship in Scotland:
The primary value of clanship was protection. Dion - the protective ethos of clanship was personified in the chiefship, specifically in the designation of the chief as ceann-cinnidh head of the kindred and was made manifest specifically be his bestowal of hospitality and generally by his patriarchal attitude towards his clan. These traditional values were pre-eminently propogated through tightly structured, if sterotyped, eulogies and elegies of the bardic schools from the high middle ages.
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Common classical Gaelic, the literary language of the bards in Scotland and Ireland, gave way to the more discoursive but also more adventurous and pertinent compositions in Scottish vernacular Gaelic in the course of the seventeenth century. Nonetheless, eulogies and elegies upholding traditional values remained a staple output of the vernacular poets. The last systamatic bardic practitioner, Niall MacMhuirich, eulogised Donald MacDonald of Clanranald who died in 1686 (Clanship Commerce and the House of Stuart).
Dineen gives the following defination of Gaedhealach: Irish, Gaelic, Irish speaking, Irish made, simple, unsophisticated, generous, easy going; common, native Nach Gaedhealach na ruidn iad: what common folk they are. Duine bregh Gaedhealach: a nice affable fellow.
Hillaire Belloc uses the word English, like the word Gaelach, as a compliment when he compares bad university Dons to a good ones: Remote and ineffectual Don that dared attack my Chesterton with that poor weapon, half-impelled unlearnt, unsteady, hardly held unworthy for a tilt with men - Your quavering and corroded pen; Don poor at Bed and worse at Table, Don pinched, Don starved, Don miserable; Don stuttering, Don with roving eyes Don different from those regal Dons! With hearts of gold and lungs of bronze, who shout and bang and roar and bawl the Absolute across the hall Dons English, worthy of the land; Dons rooted; Dons that understand. Good Dons, perpetual, that remain a landmark, walling in the plain the horizon of my memories - like large and comfortable trees.
The following verses are taken from Daibh Bruadairs lament for Edmund Fitzgerald in 1666:
Codhnach ba cobharthach ar charaid
Is ba dna ar nmhaid do leagadh
Biadhtach an iarthar nar feasadh
Anam dimhe an rais dfhreastal
Cathmhleadh cruaidh nr thuar tathluinn
Is nach tug tuath n truagh gan eallach
Nr chuir brn ar chomhairle Pheadair
Is nr ar an igse f aisce
Leoghan lonn nr throm ar cheallaibh
Is treoraidhe gan chrlighe na chasnamh
Triath luinn thasach fairsing
Do bhaineadh riar is giall do ghallaibh
- 9 -
Trusty champion, who to friends was ever helpful / who prompt and fearless was in smiting low a foeman / In western regions hospitalitys exemplar / when entertaining the retainers of the castle.
Doughty battle-chief, who never augured insult / nor robbed the peasant nor the needy of their cattle / Who gave no cause for sorrow to Peters council / nor ever turned away a poet unrewarded.
Fierce as a lion, he oppressed not churches / but as a guide and leader guarded them uninjured / Comely, open-handed lord of joyful triumphs / exacting from the Galls obedience and submission.
Bruadair wrote his elegy for an actual practicing taoiseach. There is no such taoiseach with landed title in Eoghan Ruadhs day. Instead it falls to the priest to act as leader to his community who are a repressed people. The Poet, the Priest and the People live outside the law. The linguistic world of Irish (and Latin) in which they talk and sing and weep and pray is alien to the powerful official state which lives in English. The two worlds occupy the same space but hardly see each other.
There is a parallel here with the Jewish community whose story we hear in the musical film The Fiddler on the Roof which is set in the village of Anatevka in tzarist Russia in 1905. The village is mainly Orthodox Russian with a closeknit Jewish minority. At the beginning of the film Tevye the Milkman sings the song Tradition (dai dai dai ) and introduces us to his neighbours:
Tevye: And in the circle of our little village, we've always had our special types. For instance, Yente, the matchmaker, Reb Nachum, the beggar. And, most important of all, our beloved Rabbi
Leibesh: Rabbi, may I ask you a question?
Rabbi: Certainly, Leibesh.
Leibesh: Is there a proper blessing ... for the Tzar?
Rabbi: A blessing for the Tzar? Of course. May God bless and keep the Tzar far away from us! Dai dai dai dai dai dai
Tevye: Then there are the others in our village. They make a much bigger circle. We don't bother them and so far, they don't bother us.
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The Jews of Anatevka speak Yiddish amongst themselves and read the Scriptures in Hebrew. While they can speak Russian they have little use for learning to read that language. In one scene all the Jewish men gather in the village square to buy milk for the Sabbath from Tevye. Avram, the bookseller, who can read Russian, approaches in a panic:
Avram: Look at this! Look what it says in the paper.
Crowd: Look, look, look!
Mendel: Quiet! Quiet! Stop braying like a pack of mules! Let the man talk. Talk, Avram.
Avram: My paper came to the post office today, like it always does. Usually it comes on a Thursday, but it can be a day late...
Mendel: Avram, that's not talking! That's babbling.
Crowd: The news ... What does it say?
Mendel: Quiet! Talk, Avram.
Avram: Well, I was reading my paper. It's nothing very important, a story about the crops in the Ukraine, and this and that.
Mendel: Avram! Talk.
Avram: And then. I saw this.
Mendel: All right. We all see it. What does it say?
Avram: "In a village called Rajanka, all the Jews were evicted, forced to leave their homes. "
Mendel: For what reason?
Avram: It doesn't say. Maybe the Tzar wanted the land. Maybe a plague?
Mendel: May the Tzar have his very own plague (spitting on the ground).
Crowd: Amen (spitting on the ground).
Eoghan indicates the emormity of Fr. Cons death by telling of how he was keened by all of the Mn S (Banshees) of Ireland. Verse 42 refers to young human girls who were abducted by the fairies when passing by fairy forts etc. and who acted as banshee to their own families and people of their surname from then on. Other types of human could also become a banshee such as deceased professional keeners and damned women. Badhbh is the name most commonly associated with the supernatural banshees (Patricia Lysaght). Eoghan seems to include both human and supernatural types of banshee in this section.
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It is interesting that Eoghan does not include the Rosary, an Paidirn Pirteach, in his list of devotions to be offered for the repose of Fr. Cons soul. The Rosary was the prayer of the common people whereas the Psalms and the Passion would require access to a bible or a missal and, more than likely, knowledge of Latin. Eoghan was very friendly and involved with various priests throughout his life. It is possible that he was originally intended for the priesthood and shared their junior seminary education.
The reading of the Passion, the section of the Gospels which tell of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, is a central part of the celebration of Holy Week in most Christian churches. In the Catholic Church the Passion is read on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday. In the Lutrheran Church there is a rich tradition of setting Passion texts to music. The most famous being J.S. Bachs St. Matthew Passion which is based on chapters 26 and 27 beginning: And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said unto his disciples, Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified and finishing: Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch. The Matthus-Passion was first performed in St. Thomas Church in Leipzig on Good Friday 11 April 1727, 21 years before Eoghan Ruadh was born.
The Feart Laoi was an essential element of any elegy which is often addressed to the tombstone itself:
Feart: a grave, a tomb, a vault, a trench. Laoidh: a lay, poem or lyric; a song or hymn. Laoidh chumainn a love lay. Laoidh luin the blackbirds song. Laoidh suain a lullaby (Dineen)
 Pat Muldowney: Eoghan Ruadh Silleabhin Dnta. Aubane Historical Society, 2009.
 Athair Pdraig Ua Duinnn: Amhrin Eoghain Ruaidh U Shilleabhin. Conradh na Gaeilge, (3rd edition) 1907, containing quotation re. genealogy from Fr. Jarlath, Journal of Cork Arch. Society.
 Patrick S. Dinneen: Irish English Dictionary, Irish Texts Society, 1927.
 Patricia Lysaght: An Bhean S sa Bhaloideas, in Breandin Madagin, ed. Gnithe den Chaointeoreacht. An Clchchomhar Teo, 1978.
 Breandin Madagin: Caointe agus Seancheolta Eile. Cl Iar Chonnachta, 2005.
 Allan I. Macinnes: Clanship, Commerce and the House of Stuart. Tuckwell Press, 1996.
 Rev. John C. Mac Erlean, SJ,: Duanaire Daibhidh U Bhruadair, Part 1. ITC, 1910.
 Risteard Foghludha: Eoghan Ruadh Silleabhin. Comhlucht Oideachais na hireann, 1937.
 James Carney: Early Irish Poetry. RT Thomas Davis Lecture Series 1965.
 Rev. Patrick s. Dinneen & Tadhg ODonoghue: Dnta Aodhagin U Rathaille. ITS, 1911.
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B. s Follus Don Chlir
Hello dear Reader, in this article about the song s Follus Don Chlir you will come across a couple of references to King John of England, a phrase in the Hiligaynon language of the Philippines, Paul Simon, a little bit of Shakespeare and a lot of Daniel Corkery1. I hope to unlock the meaning of the song with help of key words that link one verse to the next.
A while back I was telling you about Eoghan Ruadhs lament for Fr. Con Horgan, the parish priest of Donoughmore. That song is the nearest Eoghan ever came to writing a true love song (in a I love you, man! kind of way). Os Follus Don Chlir on the other hand is a lament for the lack of appreciation shown by a different type of priest to poets in general and to Eoghan in particular.
Its a peculiar thing that the editors of Eoghan Ruadh seem to have missed the significance of the songs relating to priests. Risterd Foghluadh said he left out the Lament for Fr. Con Horgan just because it was too long. Even though we are grateful to Fr. Dinneen for presenting that song in his first edition he still seems to have underestimated its worth:
Eoghan never composed anything that is not of first-class merit of its kind, if we except the elegy on Father Horgan.
With all due respects to the reverend scholar, I think he is seriously wrong there. The song is a master piece which ought to be celebrated at least to much as the Lament for Art OLeary. It must have been magnificent altogether for an educated audience to hear Eoghan sing it. We will not come close to comprehending the real meaning and depth of Irish literature until we know the airs of the songs, understanding the language and gain the cultural knowledge of the people who first heard them sung. As John Minihane asks about the poems of the 1640s, what did these poems say to someone who could hear them fully?
1 If learners of Irish like you and me were to be honest we would always have to acknowledge the debt we owe to Daniel Corkery for opening up the world of Irish literature with his 1925 classic, The Hidden Ireland. Nothing like it has been attempted since that time. It would be hard to find anyone who would have the knowledge and ability to attempt it, unless John Minahane would take on the task.
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Fr. Dinneen also seems to have missed the significance of s Follus Don Chlir:
Eoghan was a great favourite of the clergy, who appreciated his learning and revelled in his vivacity. It has been sometimes said that he lashed them with fierce satire. The charge is false. Among the pieces that have come down to us in manuscript. There is but one satire against the clergy, which is of a mild and humorous nature.
At first glance it might appear that Eoghan is using his song writing talents to hit back unfairly at a diligent if rigorous priest whose patience has been tried by the poets unruly behaviour. As a teacher and a local celebrity Eoghans might set a bad example for younger people whose best interests the good priest had at heart. The priest had enough on his plate spending hours in the saddle every day traipsing over a huge country parish tending to the diseased and dying amongst the poorest people in Europe. The thatched roof on what passed for a church was leaking and he was pestered on the altar by the braon anuas. He had to deal with rogue friars carrying out clandestine marriages, drunken wakes, patterns and weddings not to mention fending off penal law vultures. The Penal Laws hadnt gone away, you know! It was only 10 years since Fr. Nicholas Sheehy was hung, drawn and quartered above in Clonmel. And here was this vagabond poet teacher looking to scrounge off him and giving him lip!
To see no further than that however, is to miss the point of the song.
Firstly, as Fr. Dinneen points out Eoghan Ruadh was a deeply religious person:
Nevertheless, it is quite certain that he was a man of strong passions, and a led a reckless life; but the cast of his mind was orthodox, and his religious convictions were deep and clear. He was, as Dr. S.H. OGrady says, a strong theologian; he is not without passages of pious sentiment that would do honour to an ascetic writer. Of his poetry which has come down to us, the portion which could be fairly pronounced indelicate is exceedingly small, and perhaps not all genuine, while the general lessons he inculcates are high and noble.
While Os Follus don Chlir is a humorous song, it is not an attack on the Church. It is rather a plea for a return to the basis of Irish Civilisation.
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The first verse of eleven syllables2 serves an introduction. In the second verse we see that the song is addressed to a priest (eochar na suibhscalta) who is also a poet (coinneal na n-ollamh do folcadh I dtobar na Naoi mBithe). It is probable that this is part of a song series with each poet answering the other in verse. The phrase A bhile gan chodam is a mirror of the phrase Eoghan used when addressing Tadhg Crona Ua Scannaill at the start of the satire on old men: A bhile gan chealg. It was quite a common practice for poets to answer one another using the same song air on a particular subject. In Pat Muldowneys book of Eoghan Ruadh translations you will find a verse written by some poet to Eoghan:
Aindeise an tsaoghail go ndanaidh domsa spreas
M fheadar i nirinn c aca dobh mo leas
Ainnir dheas simh na gcraobh-fholt gcortha gcas
N aimid gan chill go mbith aici caoirigh is ba.
May the wretchedness of the world make me a useless person / if I could somehow know which of these is better for me / a pleasant, lovely maiden of branching, curling, glossy tresses / or a silly foolish woman who possesses sheep and cows.
Eoghans reply commences as follows:
At eadtortha araon an meid seo chimse is feas
Go mbfhearra liom b na gcraobh-fholt gcortha gcas
Ar leabaidh lem thaobh n ar aonach taoibh liom seal
Na baile is leath hireann s a mbith le sraoille leamh
I see that between the two of them there is this much, it is clear / that I would prefer the maiden of branching, curling, glossy tresses / to be beside mein bed or along with me for a while at the fair / than a house and half of Ireland with a silly slattern.
Eoghan exhibits his verse-craft in this song by his dynamic use of metrical chain. This is where a certain word appears at the end of one verse and also at the start of the first line of the following verse. This device was used fairly often enough, by the Munster poets in any case. An example is the lament written by Sen na Raithneach Murch, of Carraig na bhFear on the death of Sen Clrach Mac Domhnaill of Charleville. It builds momentum in a song, moves narrative forward and develops meaning.
2 The 2nd verse also has eleven syllables while the 3rd has eight. From then on the verses have 11 and 8 syllables alternatively.
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In Os Follus Don Chlir, metrical chain appears from verse 2 onwards. Take a couple of seconds to have a look at verses 3 & 4 and you will notice that the chain word is eol knowledge. Fr. Dinneen translates deagh-eol (full knowledge) as learned. This type of knowledge is however abstract, something to be worked for and sought through long study. The same word in verse 4 changes its meaning to a personal and concrete type of knowing. Eoghan is speaking here about someone he knew in his own life. He knew his voice, his gatch, his smell. He knew him like Hamlet knew Yorick3:
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? (Hamlet, V.i)
Or to quote Paul Simon: As if a didnt know that As if I didn't know my own bed. As if I'd never noticed The way she brushed her hair from her forehead.
The chain word linking verses 6 and 7 is roghacht: Kingdom, the exercise of kingship. It is possible that in verse 6 the word simply means the country, the Kingdom of Ireland. Ireland had been formally a Kingdom since the passing of the Crown of Ireland Act in 1542. King Henry VIII of England became King Henry I of Ireland4. Prior to that, the country was recognised by the English as Lordship. The first Lord of Ireland being the bold King John. I do not know if there was any objection from the Gaelic people to being in a Lordship or a Kingdom. Maybe it just didnt bother them one way or the other. In any case in the 18th century the country of Ireland was commonly referred to a kingdom even by people of Gaelic Catholic background. Those people would probably never have thought in terms of independence or of a republic. Nano Nagle, for example, used the word Kingdom when referring to the country of Ireland in her correspondence: It was my uncle Nagle, who is I think the most disliked by the Protestants of any Catholic in the Kingdom.
3 If you are one of those people who did King Lear for your Leaving Cert rather than Hamlet Id better explain that Prince Hamlet and his friend Horatio were walking in a graveyard and saw some grave diggers at their work with a load of skulls and bones thrown about. Hamlet picks up a skull and the gravedigger tells him that it belonged to Yorick who was the court jester when Hamlet was a child.
4 In Jacobite terms, Bonnie Prince Charles, younger brother would have been King Henry IX of England, II of Ireland and I of Scotland.
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Eoghan Ruadh himself used the term in this manner, with the understanding being that the Stuart was the true king:
Go hitreabh Chuinn d dtagadh
Spinnigh ghroidhe le ceannas
Is grda Laoisigh farra,
Tin do lucht faobhair;
Nl srid san roghacht n cathair,
Nr bhrd a dteinnte ar lasadh,
Ln-chuid fonta ` scaipeadh
Is girdeachas pilar,
Dnta ag buidhin na leabhar,
Rs is rinnce fada,
Clirseach chaoin d spreagadh,
Grtha `gus sclip,
Ag filtiughadh an Rogh tar calaith,
N trchtfar linn ar a ainm,
`S a chirde dogaidh feasta
Slinte mo Rics.
If there came to the abode of Conn / brave Spaniards with leadership / and the guard of Louis with them / a host of armed men / there is not a village in the kingdom or a city / whose fires would not be lit on high / full portion of wine distributed / and celebratory volleys / poems by the literary folk / racing and long dancing / gentle harps being plucked / laughter and delight / welcoming the King from over the sea / his name will not be mentioned by me / and, my friends, drink forever / the health of my King
Whatever about the meaning of the word in verse 6, the word roghacht at the start of verse 7 refers to the exercise of Kingship in the old Gaelic order.
It is in verse 7 that we come to the heart of Eoghan Ruadhs complainte:
Ba ghnth an chlir i stheach-pirt
Damhna ollmhain is druadh
Eoghan is referring here to the special relationship between the poets and the priests in the days of the rule and sway of the Irish kings. Daniel Corkery, in his book the Hidden Ireland, argues that Ireland was unique in Europe in having a secular stream of learning in tandem with the church schools which added to the quality of Gaelic culture. I feel it is worthwhile to quote him at length:
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In Europe of the Dark and Middle Ages the universities were frankly Church institutions, with Churchmen ruling in their professoriates; whatever influence those universities wielded in European life and thought was, therefore, a Church influence, which means practically that whatever influence the higher learning exerted in Continental thought was a Church influence, for except in those universities where else was there any repository of that learning? In Ireland, on the other hand, the bardic schools, which obviously exerted great influence in the nation's life, were a repository of learning, and were, at the same time, frankly a lay institution. The great monastic schools had, too, of course, much of the university spirit in them, and did also exert great influence on the life of the country; this influence, however, one may roughly equate with that wielded by the Church universities of the Continent. But one searches Europe in vain for the equivalent of our bardic school system. In this regard, then, European civilization was less varied than Irish civilization. That factor, which Europe lacked, a secular intellectual centre, who shall fathom its various promptings and achievements on its native soil? What part, great or little, exciting or assuaging, did it play in the local wrestlings of Church and State, if there were such? And in how much is it responsible for that non-European tang which one feels everywhere both in Irish life and In Irish letters in all the centuries down to the nineteenth?
Gaelic learning proved very resilient, lasting for more than 300 years after the defeat of the Irish kingship at the Battle of Kinsale. According to Daniel Corkery, the Bardic Schools managed to survive for three reasons. Firstly because they were built around a person rather than a building:
the chief poet was the school, not the sheltered hut or chieftain's hall. Human bodies are frail tenements, yet in every age imperial civilisers have found them more difficult to break than castles of stone. When the stone walls of the castles were blown to fragments, when their lords were fled over the seas, the poets, though greatly put out, of course, remained; and consequently the schools remained.
The second reason why the schools survived was their feeling for poetry rather than prose. I feel it is well worth while to quote Corkery at length in this regard:
at this time, the seventeenth century, the Gaels had not learned to look upon prose as an art-form. Prose, as opposed to poetry, concerns itself with the civic life of man, with the institutions he sets up to carry on the business of life. Had prose assumed among the Gaels of the
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seventeenth century the place we now think naturally due to it, Lecky's story of Ireland in the next century would come near being the whole truth, instead of being, as it is, superficial and partial. For the Gaels would, have ceased to write at all (as Lecky appears to have imagined they did), their civic institutions having ceased to exist, and the ritual of their daily life become impoverished almost to the primitive. But their soul remained, and poetry, the language of the soul, was needed to express it. Indeed it may be that the vast distress in striking it quickened that soul into a new urgency of declaring itself, of uttering its cry. When the men of the world's armies, in the Great War, went down into the agony of the trenches, so flinging off the multiple institutions that had all along regulated, more than they themselves were aware, their daily and even hourly existence, the new thoughts that began to stir and awaken in their souls yearned for a new mode of expression, a way that was not prose, which, they instinctively felt, would not serve their needsand yearned in vain. It was for the intensity of poetry that their unwonted sensations longed; but it was only of the form of prosemould for a less glowing metalthat they had command. For two whole centuries our people were, we may say, down in the trenches, suffering so deeply that they oftentimes cried out that God had forsaken them: their souls were therefore quick with such sensations as must find utterance in poetry or none. Fortunately for their needs, it was of verse-form that they had the better command. As long as there was this natural desire for poetry, there was, of course, a place for the schools that taught the craft of it.
Finally, the schools of poetry survived the fall of the continental style monasteries because they had a separate existence from them.
when, at last, its abbeys were destroyed, and its learning flung out upon the roads, the Church found itself shiftless and dismayed. The bardic schools, with their deep-rooted feeling for Latin, if not also for Greek, then found themselves, shattered and changed though they were, gradually called on to fulfill a new purpose : in the penal days they became the unofficial seminaries of the Church. By unpremeditated steps, although still a purely lay institution, they became a helpmate of the Church; and in return, again without premeditation, the Church be-came a helpmate of theirs.
This then is the reason why Eoghan wrote Os Follus don Chlir and the basis of his grievance. This relationship between the church and the poets was in no way theoretical or hazy. It was a real and living thing. It was the way the world was in Eoghans lifetime. Again, I feel that it is well worth while to listen at length to what Daniel Corkery has to say:
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It was a good thing, in the end, for the Church, that its future priests, while they sat learning their Greek and Latin, should become at the same time saturated with the Gaelic learning which still, as always, held first place in the affections of the schools. All the evidence shows that this new function was undertaken. The number of priests who were themselves poets is very striking: Keating, that great soul, is now remembered as poet and historian rather than as priest; Blessed Oliver Plunkett, that most sterling of martyrs, at least wrote some verses in the mode of the schools; the poems of Fr. Padraign Haicad have been gathered into a book i the songs of Fr. Liam Inglis, after two centuries, are found to-day in newly-gathered anthologies of Irish poetry; Fr. Eoghan O Caoimh (O'Keeffe) is another poet whose light two centuries of neglect have not quenched; while not alone was Fr. Nicholas O'Donnell a writer of verses, but he seems to have presided at times over the School, or Court, of Poetry that assembled at Croom, in County Limerick. Many other poet-priests could be named; and then outside these we have the large number of priests whom we know of through the poets they associated with. On hearing of the death of Eoghan Ruadh Silleabhain poor drunken wastrel as he wasit was a priest who exclaimed: "I would rather the best priest in the diocese were dead," and we may gather from the saying how much this fellow-feeling, forged in early manhood, must have meant for the poets. Between parish priest, fearful for his flock, and strolling schoolmaster-poet, with his wild ways, there often arose bickering, and sometimes open war, as we know, yet on the whole the priests protected the poets when all other patrons had failed, and did so entirely for the reason that they themselves were learned in the same Gaelic lore. This good thing happened because the bardic schools, broken down though they were, were now the only institutions left where youths could be Initiated into the classical languages : needless to say, their fulfilling of this need was of itself sufficient reason for their existence. How curiously it had come about, then, that for the reason that they had never become Church institutions, had never swapped their native for European traditions, those schools in the end were able to assist the Church in its distress!
The chain word in verses 7-8 is cuard which in Dinneens dictionary is given as: a circuit, a tour, a visit, a revolution. Miodh-chuard is given as a harmful visitation. Dinneen gives the meaning ill-luck to the phrase as used by Eoghan Ruadh in our song. The phrase compares to the English word catastrophe from the Greek katastrophē, from katastrephō, I overturn, from kata, against + strephō, I turn. Pat Muldowney gives the meaning of the line as until misfortune befell.
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In the next line Eoghan uses the chain word to shift focus from the general fortune of Irish civilisation to his personal individual experience. In verse 8 the word cuaird refers simply to his own travels.
The chain word for verses 8 & 9 if clog a bell. Bell, Book and Candle was a phrase used to signify excommunication from the Catholic church. The ceremony used to involve closing the book of scriptures, quenching the candle and toll a bell, as for someone who had died. This phrase is used by a character known as the Bastard in Shakespeares play King John. In real life the Bastard was Philip of Cognac, the illegitimate son of King Richard the Lionheart and nephew of King John:
Act 3, Scene 3: On the plains near Angiers after the battle. Alarums, excursions, retreat. Enter King John, Queen Elinor, the Bastard
King John: (to Queen Elinor) So shall it be; your grace shall stay behind so strongly guarded. (to the Bastard) Cousin, away for England! haste before; and, ere our coming, see thou shake the bags of hoarding abbots; imprisoned angels set at liberty; the fat ribs of peace must by the hungry now be fed upon; use our commission in his utmost force
Bastard: Bell, book, and candle shall not drive me back, when gold and silver becks me to come on. I leave your highness. Grandam, I will pray, if ever I remember to be holy, for your fair safety; so, I kiss your hand.
Elinor: Farewell, gentle cousin.
King John: Coz, farewell. Exit the Bastard
You can hear the lovely irony tone of voice in the phrase Clog n baoghal. In English it could be bell my eye (or a little cruder) or as they say in Bacolod lingganay kada!