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18 September 2014
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Wars and Conflict - The Plantation of Ulster

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Bardic Poetry
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3.   The Downfall of the O'Donnells

This poem reveals the sadness felt by the poet at the passing into ruin of the princely house of O’Donnell, in the space of a short few years. Four of the O’Donnell brothers have died and their two sisters have also gone to the continent. Ruaidhrí and Cathbharr both died in Rome in 1608. Aodh Rua was poisoned in Spain in 1602 and Maghnas was killed in a skirmish with his cousin and brother-in-law Niall Garbh Ó Dónaill. Niall Garbh was married to Fionnuala, the younger of the two O’Donnell sisters. He deserted to the English in the hope of becoming chief of his clan but discovered too late that he had been used by the authorities and finally ended up in the Tower of London. His wife left with O’Neill and her two brothers in 1607 in their flight to the Continent. Again, the poet is Fearghal Óg and the poem was in all probability written on the Continent in Louvain, where he suffered great misery and rejection at the end of his life.

I am sad for Mary and Margaret,
the flower of the lowly branches lives no more:
they have shed their leaves,
two nurses of care are they.

Truagh liom Máire agas Mairgrég,
ní beó bláth na n-umhailghég:
do chuir siad a nduilli dhíobh,
dá bhuime iad don imshníomh.

Alas, alas, grief hath left their hearts bloodless:
the two companions of the learned
of Ulster’s land, it is sad
that they have run dry.

Fa ríor, fa ríor, nocha nfhuil
braon ‘na ccroidhibh ón chumhaidh:
dá sheisi shuadh fhóid Uladh,
truagh mar táid ar ttiormughadh.

Their grief is the same as mine,
Hugh Roe was the first cause of our anguish;
Rury of Cabha torments us,
his departure is the cause of our ruin.

Ionand toirrsi dhamhsa is doíph,
Aodh Ruadh céd-damhna ar cciachbhróin,
Rughroidhe Cabha dár ccrádh,
mana turbhuidhe a thérnádh.

We are a poor flock without a sheperd.
Caffar, head of Erin’s honour,
lies beneath a gravestone -
what sadder fate? - away in Italy.

Tréd bhocht gan aodhaire inn.
Cathbharr, cend einigh Éiriond,
fá líg thrá, ga truaighe dál,
atá uainde san Eadáill.

          Full poem lyrics Full lyrics of poem

4.   Courtier and Rebel

The Bardic Poets were very conscious of the importance of tradition and were loathe to adopt English dress and manners. This poem reveals that certain individuals were not as conservative and were willing to adopt ‘foreign’ fashions relating to dress, hairstyle and clothing. It is addressed to an individual, who has obviously adopted the manners of a Tudor courtier, and this is contrasted with the life and style adopted by a companion, perhaps even his brother, to a more adventurous life as a rebel. The poem is important for several reasons. Firstly, we get a contemporary account of how middle class English people in Ireland dressed in the 16th century. There are references to the Irish style of wearing your hair long, which contrasts with the short cropped hairstyle of the English of the period; the growing of locks, the wearing of spurs, gold rings or satin scarves down to heels. Real Irish people should not hanker after feather beds, and should lie on their traditional beds of rushes. Secondly, we see the impact of the language contact between Irish and English and the use of several English loanwords, which have been successfully adapted to Irish spelling and pronunciation. This is of interest to linguists and historians alike.

O man who follows English ways,
who cut your thick-clustering hair,
graceful hand of my choice,
you are not Donnchadh’s good son!

A fhir ghlacas a ghalldacht,
bhearras an barr bachalldocht,
seang-ghlac atú do thogha,
ní tú deagh-mhac Donnchadha.

You think the yellow head of hair unfashionable,
he detests both wearing locks
and going bald after the English style;
your characters are different indeed.

Ní modh leatsa an barr buidhe;
fuath leision na locuidhe,
is bheith maol ar ghrés na nGall -
bhar mbés ar-aon ní hionann.

He would hate to carry at his ankle
a jewelled spur on a boot,
or stockings in the English style;
he will have no locks upon him.

Fuath leis ar chaol a choisi
mionn sbuir ar bhróig bhuataisi,
nó sdocaidhe ar sdair na nGall;
locaidhe air ní fhágbhann.

He has no longing for a feather bed,
he had rather lie upon the rushes.
Pleasanter to Donnchadh’s good son is a hut
of rough poles than the (battlements) of a tower.

Dúil a leaba chlúimh ní chuir,
annsa leis luighi ar luachair;
teach garbh-shlat ná táille tuir,
sáimhe lé dagh-mhac Donnchaidh.

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