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Feargal Óg Mac an Bháird

We are indebted to de Blácam for the first mention of one of the truly celebrated Mac an Bháird poets, Feargal Óg (Young Fergus), who lived during one of the most tumultuous periods in Irish history. His exact date of birth, like that of his death, are unknown. The latter took place "after 1616", and he had been a bard for more than forty years. With twelve years of training, and adding in more than a decade for his boyhood, it can be safely surmised that he was well over sixty when he died.

Osborn Bergin, one of the foremost scholars to chronicle the bards and their works, spoke of Feargal's "smooth and simple style". It was a style which most Gaelic poets tried to achieve, and passed on from generation to generation. Indeed, de Blácam presents a noted similarity of Feargal's style and subject matter with those of Gilbride Albanach MacNamee, who lived some four hundred years earlier. As an example, MacNamee forecast the advent of bounteous crops with the accession of Cathal Red-hand to the kingship of Connacht, in these words:

"Purple leaves and red nuts cluster in the green, smooth-sodded woods;
from them down in heavy masses tumble nuts in auburn shells."

Expecting the return of Red Hugh O'Donnell from Spain to Tir Chonaill and his reassumption of leadership, Feargal Óg in the early 1600s wrote:

"Fruits are coming, verdure's coming (with all shelter, with all growth),
on a sweet voiced wind a-westward, to us over streaming tides."

To Feargal Óg, de Blácam gives a goodly measure of praise, and his critique is worth quoting in full, as follows:

"He was an extremely prolific author of religious poems, which have simplicity and sincerity, although they lack the distinction of his secular verse. We find him first associated with Turlough Lynagh O'Neill, the diplomatic chieftain who, as we have seen, succeeded the lion-like Shane in 1567....Some time after Turlough's accession, Fearghal praises his rule, under which, the poem says, a lone woman may go unchallenged from Tory to Dundalk, nut-laden branches overhang the roads unplucked by lawless hands, and a mantle left upon the highway is recovered by its owner. Feargal had occasion to visit Reformation Scotland, and there made a sorrowful religious poem, telling how "in this bright-flowered land of shining fields I receive not the Lord's Body. By my art I swear," he says, "I was deceived; and though I owned all Alba .... better were one Mass !"....The Flight of the Earls in I607 he celebrates in a poem of terrible grief:

A heavy shipload--Eire herself--has gone westwards past Beirre's coast;
placed on the deck of one barque;
the warm-shored land has left us !

To Feargal another of the greatest bards of the age, Fearflatha O'Gnive, addressed a teasing poem, Cuimseach sin, a Fhearghail Oig, reproving him for making his verses, not in a dark hut, but on horseback as he rode among the mountains; "not thus wrought the bards of old, who lay in their dark, poetic beds until their faces were washed with their own teardrops."

The following are Bergin's translations into English of three of Feargal Óg's poems:

Farewell to Munster

Farewell to you, men of Munster, I do not intend to remain; although it is hard for me to go away from you I will make for the land of Oileach now.

Since I must go north, farewell to you before I depart, a heartfelt farewell from me to you before going to Derry, a decision already made.

The men of Munster, of the fine houses, are a comely host among which wine is short-lived, warriors accustomed to bestowing their drinking-horns--farewell from me to each one of them.

There are few lands fit to be compared to the plain of Munster, of smoothest surface; since I am exchanging the province, I will not leave it without drinking its health.

Since I am going to Tir Chonaill, farewell to the smooth green land of fair houses and swans, of scanty streams and of horses, the territory of the son of Macnia of the generous houses.

Farewell to its castles which are worthy of love, farewell to its low-voiced rivers, farewell from me to its gold cups-- often a party oF poets left it, needing nothing.

It is right to mention my friends in whose huts I used to lie? I saw no ebbing of their understanding--farewell to them from me before I go away.

May Peter and Paul and the apostles bring me safe from the strength of my enemies to see heaven of the nine orders, may they be speaking for me against the demands of justice.


The Downfall of the O'Donnells

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.

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.

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.

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

In Italy of shallow waterfalls--it is as though she were dead--is Nuala, the swan of the nut-grown plain of Corm; her loss to us is agony.

Nuala the bounteous, the hope of all, first in renown of the blood of Criomhthan, to the day of doom shall live the fame of her name among the men of Ireland.

There was reft from us (what a loss!) the first in this land--an omen of grief--he of the gentle grey eyes, trusty in battle, Manus, the wing of Ulster.

Manus, son of O'Donnell, in Uisueach's land of dark yew-trees was unsurpassed by the host of his coevals, the very Naoise of Felim's race.

Four salmon from the mighty Boyne, four sons of Hugh, son of Manus, brood of champions unswerving in purpose, they had nought to fear but jealousy.

Never shall we see--the doom is accomplished--the track of their hooves or their bounding steeds along the Inny or the stately cool Maigue, four woes of the race of Conall.

Highborn hawks of Innisfail, four desolations of Cruachan's hill, four mighty ruins of Tara, are the glittering dark spearshafts.

'Tis strange that Mary should live while the rivers no longer bear ships, and the withered forests of the fold of Uisneach are ever weeping for those four.

Throughout fair Banba the apple-trees bend not with apples, nor the wood of hazelboughs with nuts--strange that Margaret should live.

I mourn not for Margaret nor Mary -- that is ground for sorrow -- but for this fate that has fallen upon the land of the Fair, greater and ever greater is the sighing of Ireland.

Mary and Margaret of Cruachan's wall, that their four brothers are gone is a perpetual hindrance to slumber, alas! their state is very pitiful.


A Begging Letter

I have found a marvel, my friend--no reverence have I found from people to whom it were fitting to wait upon me; it is a cold new marvel.

That I am empty--see whether this be not a thing to mark, while base folk, unworthy of regard, are here receiving riches from Spain in honour of the sweet green plain of Bregha.

Vulgar wives of churl and clown are yonder in golden raiment, while I lack wealth--I deem it unjust.

Against the low-born families of Lughaidh's land, which have caused a spark of envy to kindle within me, O son of Fitheal from Énna's land, show unto me the sunlight of thy earnest care.

O stately tree of the city of Tuam, think in sooth that it is unbecoming for me not to be in company with noble blood; lift me up with good will.

In the west I have left the end of my success, since I have spent my first fortune; if thou art well-minded towards me, O Flaithri, it will be to me a pledge of a second fortune.

Thy father would have held it no small wonder that my possessions grow not--complete is the ruin--while a serf's son finds his riches growing, O thou branch from which has grown rich fruit.

King Arthur, the prop of the world, was mighty upon earth; every man was bound to pay court to him, he ruled the plain of this world.

Arthur never took food nor drink without some new marvel--strange was the addition--until his death, when he had attained sovranty, he the topmost branch of yonder land.

Had I been there while he lived, that world-king of blazing triumphs, he would not--I say it sincerely--let me go fasting to bed a single night.

At the Round Table, in Arthur's presence, I should have told him on behalf of my order how I am sonowful because I am in evil plight, while coarse churls have gold at their disposal.

He would not take his meal when he heard how the children of robbers are full of merriment, and how great is my misery among the blood of the Gaels--the honour due to a guest is not mine.

In the court of Louvain of the purple slopes I am lodged with others here in the east: my state is hard for one like me, I think it a shame to my fathers.

The rod of Tuam hath an old love for the house from which I come;
if he still keeps the love he ought to hold out his hand to me.

When Flaithri son of Fitheal the comely was a master-poet there would have been kindness in his heart--that shield that protected Magh Maoin.

Guiding star of the patrons of Uisneach, Archbishop of Connacht, noble figure, sage whom every true poet has praised, heart of the schools in the western land.

Salmon of the Boyle, salmon of Cong, branch of the orchard of Té's Fortress, golden moon whereon no eclipse has spread, exalter of the humble.

Godly elder never envious, crowned prince who wins devotion, sweet stream gushing from the hillside, saintly faith that will not divide its purpose.

Descendant of Conn of the Hundred Fights of Cnoc Maisdean, son of Onóra, lasting honour, fresh stalk from warm moist Banbha, desire of my heart, welcome that is never cold.

Magennis of the joyous nature, constant welcome I was wont to get from him, his love was always ready to be bestowed, that was no cold welcome.

Conn, son of Ó Ruairc of the red spear-points, heir to Connacht, skin like the foam; his two comrades on a foray were an ancient slender stream and a cold dwelling.

I transgress the teaching of the Apostles by my practice of constant evils. I fear Peter may drive me from his society--may he not be cold towards me.


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