THE DOWNFALL OF THE GAEL by O’Gnive, Bard of Shane O’Neill, circa 1560, and translated by Sir Samuel Ferguson

This poem was written by the bard of Shane O’Neill; O’Gnive (now Agnew). He accompanied O’Neill to London in 1562. The poem is written in the difficult Deibhidh metre, the dignity of which is not reproduced in Ferguson’s translation.

MY heart is in woe,
___And my soul deep in trouble,—
For the mighty are low,
___And abased are the noble.

The Sons of the Gael
___Are in exile and mourning,
Worn, weary, and pale.
___As spent pilgrims returning ;

Or men who, in flight
___From the field of disaster.
Beseech the black night
___On their flight to fall faster ;

Or seamen aghast
___When their planks gape asunder.
And the waves fierce and fast
___Tumble through in hoarse thunder

Or men whom we see
___That have got their death-omen—
Such wretches are we
___In the chains of our foemen !

Our courage is fear,
___Our nobility vileness,
Our hope is despair,
___And our comeliness foulness.

There is mist on our heads,
___And a cloud chill and hoary
Of black sorrow sheds
___An eclipse on our glory.

From Boyne to the Linn
___Has the mandate been given,
That the children of Finn
___From their country be driven.

That the sons of the king—
___Oh, the treason and malice !—
Shall no more ride the ring
___In their own native valleys ;

No more shall repair
___Where the hill foxes tarry,
Nor forth to the air
___Fling the hawk at her quarry ;

For the plain shall be broke
___By the share of the stranger,
And the stone-mason’s stroke
___Tell the woods of their danger ;

The green hills and shore
___Be with white keeps disfigured,
And the Moat of Rathmore
___Be the Saxon churl’s haggard !

The land of the lakes
___Shall no more know the prospect
Of valleys and brakes—
___So transform’d is her aspect !

The Gael cannot tell,
___In the uprooted wild-wood
And red ridgy dell,
___The old nurse of his childhood ;

The nurse of his youth
___Is in doubt as she views him,
If the wan wretch, in truth,
___Be the child of her bosom.

We starve by the board.
___And we thirst amid wassail—
For the guest is the lord.
___And the host is the vassal

Through the woods let us roam.
___Through the wastes wild and barren ;
We are strangers at home !
___We are exiles in Erin !

And Erin’s a bark
___O’er the wide waters driven !
And the tempest howls dark,
___And her side planks are riven !

And in billows of might
___Swell the Saxon before her,—
Unite, oh, unite !
___Or the billows burst o’er her !

Leave a comment

Filed under Celtic Miscellany

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s