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Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire By Eibhlin Dubh Ni Chonaill

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This week, I chose number 27 on the top 100 Irish poems list for my poem choice—the tragic tale of the greatest poem ever composed in the Irish oral tradition. Caoineadh Art Uí Laoghaire is a lament written by Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonail, the aunt of the Liberator, Daniel O’Connell, which outlines the life and murder of the great love of her life, Art O’Laoghaire, an Irish Catholic who fought with the Hungarian Hussars and returned home to stand up to the Protestant Penal Laws in Ireland. Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire By Eibhlin Dubh Ni Chonaill

As this poem is very long, and I am sure most of you reading this will not be fluent in Irish, I have put the first half of it below. The poem is quite grim, so brace yourselves. And Eibhlin was one of 22 children! 

The Lament [Keen] For Art Ó Laoghaire
translation by Thomas Kinsella


The extracts in this section appear to have been uttered by EibhIín over her husband’s body in Carriginima.

My steadfast love!
When I saw you one day
by the market-house gable
my eye gave a look
my heart shone out
I fled with you far
from friends and home.

And never was sorry:
you had parlours painted
rooms decked out
the oven reddened
and loaves made up
roasts on spits
and cattle slaughtered;
I slept in duck-down
till noontime came
or later if I liked.

My steadfast friend!
it comes to my mind
that fine Spring day
how well your hat looked
with the drawn gold band,
the sword silver-hilted
your fine brave hand
and menacing prance,
and the fearful tremble
of treacherous enemies.
You were set to ride
your slim white-faced steed
and Saxons saluted
down to the ground,
not from good will
but by dint of fear
– though you died at their hands,
my soul’s beloved….

My steadfast friend!
And when they come home,
our little pet Conchúr
and baby Fear Ó Laoghaire,
they will ask at once
where I left their father.
I will tell them in woe
he is left in Cill na Martar,
and they’ll call for their father
and get no answer….

My steadfast friend!
I didn’t credit your death
till your horse came home
and her reins on the ground,
your heart’s blood on her back
to the polished saddle
where you sat – where you stood….
I gave a leap to the door,
a second leap to the gate
and a third on your horse.

I clapped my hands quickly
and started mad running
as hard as I could,
to find you there dead
by a low furze-bush
with no Pope or bishop
or clergy or priest
to read a psalm over you
but a spent old woman
who spread her cloak corner
where your blood streamed from you,
and I didn’t stop to clean it
but drank it from my palms.

My steadfast love!
Arise, stand up
and come with myself
and I’ll have cattle slaughtered
and call fine company
and hurry up the music
and make you up a bed
with bright sheets upon it
and fine speckled quilts
to bring you out in a sweat
where the cold has caught you.

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