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Summer

This poem is from Aígidecht Aithirni, or ‘The Guesting of Athirne.’ Athirne was a satirist and poet of the Ulaid, who, in this tale, went to stay with his foster-son for a night but got delayed each time he attempted to leave. The tale is preserved in three different manuscripts, and are of varying lengths and detail. Four of the poems detail the good things about a particular season.

Fó sín smarad síthaister,
sám fid forard dorglide
nach fet gaíthe glúaiss;
Glass clúm caille clithaige,
cerba srotha saebuisci,
sén i fótán fó.

Summer is a fine season for long journeys,
Calm is the high, choice wood
that no breath of wind stirs.
Green is the plumage of the sheltering wood,
streams of wandering water are dried up,
there is a good omen in the fine turf.

From A Golden Treasury of Irish Poetry A.D. 600 to 1200, edited and translated by David Greene and Frank O’Connor, pp142-143.

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Seasonal Quatrain: Bealtaine

This quatrain, one of four, is preserved in two separate manuscripts (Bodleian codex Rawlinson B. 512, folio 98b, 2, and the British Museum MS. Harleian 5280, folio 35b, 2), both dating to the sixteenth century. The quatrain has clearly been copied from the same source in both manuscripts, and based on the linguistic evidence, it appears the quatrain goes back to an original composition from around the eighth century. 

Atberim frib, lith saine,
ada buada belltaine:
coirm, mecoin, suabais serig,
ocus urgruth do tenid.
I tell to you, a special festival,
The glorious dues of May:
Ale, worts, sweet whey,
And fresh curds to the fire.

From Kuno Meyer, Anecdota Oxoniensia: Medieval and Modern Series (Part 8), 1894, p49.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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In Praise of May

This poem, translated by T. W. Rolleston, is attributed to Fionn Mac Cumhail:

May-Day! delightful day!
Bright colours play the vale along.
Now wakes at morning’s slender ray
Wild and gay the blackbird’s song.

Now comes the bird of dusty hue,
The loud cuckoo, the summer-lover;
Branchy trees are thick with leaves;
The bitter, evil time is over.

Swift horses gather nigh
Where half dry the river goes;
Tufted heather clothes the height;
Weak and white the bogdown blows.

Corncrake sings from eve to morn,
Deep in corn, a strenuous bard!
Sings the virgin waterfall,
White and tall, her one sweet word.

Loaded bees with puny power
Goodly flower-harvest win;
Cattle roam with muddy flanks;
Busy ants go out and in.

Through the wild harp of the wood
Making music roars the gale —
Now it settles without motion,
On the ocean sleeps the sail.

Men grow mighty in the May,
Proud and gay the maidens grow;
Fair is every wooded height;
Fair and bright the plain below.

A bright shaft has smit the streams,
With gold gleams the water-flag;
Leaps the fish, and on the hills
Ardour thrills the leaping stag.

Loudly carols the lark on high,
Small and shy, his tireless lay.
Singing in wildest, merriest mood,
Delicate-hued, delightful May.

From Eleanor Hull’s The Poem-Book of the Gael.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Warrior Gods of Lugh

This is subtitled an “Irish Battle Chant” in P. J. McCall’s Irish Fireside Songs, but there’s not much more said about it. It’s curious that Lugh is said to be the son of the Dagda, since his father is supposed to have been Cian, though later sources sometimes mistake the fact that he’s often called “mac Ethne” or mac Ethliu” as being a patronymic instead of a matronymic, but I suppose stranger things have happened when it comes to mythical relations getting garbled! 

Unfortunately there’s no reference to where this ballad might come from originally, how old it is, or who might have composed it, but the imagery is beautiful in a highly romanticised sort of way:

Lugh, son of the Dagda (the good god) was a chief of those gods of Light and Life, whose adversaries were the Fir Bolg, the Fir Domnann, the Galioin and their gods, the Fomorians.

Eldest of Plains art thou, Plain of the Triune Mist!
Wave-leafing, foam-flow’ring rivers around thee flow!
Throngs of great heroes, their ringlets by dawn be-kissed.
Over thy meadows of gold under greenness go —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Salient and straight their tall bodies like pine trees be:
Eyes, ocean-skimmers, sky-wingers, blue orbed all!
Teeth that out-glitter the foam from the western sea:
Thin ruddy lips of the Quicken Tree’s burning ball —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Shield to each one his huge disc of Findrinna white —
Sea horse entwined and out-twisted its boss adorns!
Sword to each one his swift falchion blue-beamy-bright —
Wondrous its hilt of deer-branchy red-metal horns —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Woven they halt in strong pliant-knit battle rows:
Fair in their midst the good son of The Dagda stands!
Horns wind for conflict! With lips breathing flame he goes,
Kissing and kindling their swords into flashing brands —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Foemen they scatter bewhirled like ghostless chaff:
Captives they bind under bonds of nine-knotted thongs!
Sweetness o’er bitterness rises their feast’s light laugh,
Rippling its gladness from hearts that are wells of songs —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Matchless in war each is champion, coequal, good!
Peerless in peace each is poet, to curse, to bless!
Lore singer, love lilter, minstrel beneath green wood!
Winner in turn of the final hard game of chess —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Eldest of Plains art thou, Plain of the Triune Mist —
Wave-leafing, foam-flow’ring rivers around thee flow!
Throngs of great heroes, their ringlets by dawn be-kissed,
Over thy meadows of gold under greenness go —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

From P. J. McCall’s Irish Fireside Songs, 1911, pp13-15.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Maclachlan and the Glaistig

Although the title of this tale refers to a glaistig, Maclachlan himself addresses her as a Chailleach, and the confusion between the two beings is common. This is a fascinating tale in some respects, clearly referencing the tradition of Fionn and how he came to possess his powers, as well as the common belief that such powers are gifted to people by the daoine sìth or other kinds of Otherworldly figures like the Cailleach.

 

The first of the MacLachlans of Ardnamurchan lived in Glenahurich. In his herd of horses he had a fine grey mare, whose first foal he wished to keep. But the Glastig frequenting the rocky sides of a neighbouring ravine or waterfall knew this; and because she hated him as an intruder in the place, she resolved to disappoint him.

As soon as the foal was born, she took it and thrust it into a hole opening over an underground stream, in which it was drowned. On the following day MacLachlan found the foal dead in the hole, but thought that it had fallen in accidentally. Next year the same thing happened, the second foal being found dead in the same hole, and in the same underground stream. His suspicion was now aroused, and so he resolved to watch the mare next summer at foaling time.

When the season arrived, he went one day to the hill to see the mare; but the Glastig was there before him, and was busy pushing the third foal through the hole into the stream underneath. He knew well how to defend himself from fairy influence; and, therefore, he seized the Glastig in his arms, and with a great effort succeeded at last in throwing her down.

“Your death is over you, Carlin,” said he, as he stood over her. ” My ransom is mine own,” she replied. “What ransom wilt thou give me?” said he.

“The vision of the two worlds to thyself and prosperity to thee and to thy descendants after thee.” On these terms he let her go.

Some time after, being in the Braes of Lochaber, he took his rod, and went to the river Spean to fish. With the first cast he hooked a fine fish, which he landed on the river bank. Being hungry, he kindled a fire at the river side, and placed the fish upon it.

Soon afterwards he happened to press with his finger a blister which rose on the upperside of the fish. The heat burnt his finger so badly that he put it into his mouth to cool. No sooner had he done this than he obtained the vision of the two worlds, or, in other words, the second sight. The first part of the Glastig’s promise was then fulfilled, and it is said that the other part was fulfilled afterwards.

 

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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A Banshee Story

The Caointeach was a Banshee. She followed the Clan MacKay and other clans in the Rhinns of Islay. When a death was going to happen in one of these clans, she would come to the sick man’s house with a green shawl about her shoulders, and give his family warning by raising a sad wail outside the door. As soon as the sick man’s friends heard her voice, they lost all hope of his getting better. They had heard the Caointeach lamenting, and that was proof enough to them” that his end was at hand.

The Caointeach has ceased to give warning to the people of the Rhinns. She was last heard at a house in that district many years ago.

A sick man was then on his death-bed, and his friends attending him. It was winter, and the night was wet and cold, with rain and wind. She stood at the wind-ward door of the house; and there she raised a low, melancholy wail. The family heard her mourning; and one of them so pitied her that he went out at the leeward door, and left her an old plaid on a seat at the side of the door. He then returned within, and cried to her: “Come to the sheltered side, poor woman; and cover yourself with a piece of my plaid.” In an instant the lamenting ceased; and from that time to this the Caointeach has not been seen or heard in the Rhinns. 

 

Reference

James MacDougall, Folktales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English, 1910, p215.

 

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Great Selkie of Sule Skerry

With thanks to Laurel from Unfettered Wood for posting this on Facebook!

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

 
 
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