THE RUIN THAT BEFELL THE GREAT FAMILIES OF IRELAND (c. 1720) by Aodhágan Ó Rathaille / Translated by Michael Hartnett

for Luke Kelly

My pity, that Carthy’s heirs are weaklings,
this poor land’s people without a leader;
no man to free her, locked up and keyless,
and shieldless now in this land of chieftains.
Land with no prince of her ancient people,
land made helpless from foreigner’s beatings;
land stretched out beneath the feet of treason,
land chained down—it is the death of reason.
Land lonely, tortured , broken and beaten,
land sonless, manless, wifeless, and weeping;
land lifeless, soulless, and without hearing,
land where the poor are only ill-treated.
Land without churches, massless, and priestless,
land that the wolves have spitefully eaten;
land of misery and obedience
to tyrant robbers, greedy and thieving.
Land that produces nothing of sweetness,
land so sunless, so starless and so streamless;
land stripped naked, left leafless and treeless,
land stripped naked by the English bleaters.
Land in anguish—and drained of its heroes,
land for its children forever weeping;
a widow wounded, crying and keening,
humbled, degraded, and torn to pieces.
The white of her cheeks is never tearless,
and her hair falls down in rainshowers gleaming;
blood from her eyes in torrents comes streaming
and black as coal is her appearance.
Her limbs are shrunken, bound and bleeding;
around her waist is no satin weaving,
but iron from Hades blackly gleaming
forged by henchmen who are Vulcan’s demons.
Red pools are filled by her poor heart’s bleeding
and dogs from Bristol lap it up greedily—
her body is being pulled to pieces
by Saxon curs with their bloody teeth full.
Her branches rotten, her forests leafless,
the frosts of Heaven have killed her streams now;
the sunlight shines on her lands but weakly,
the fog of the forge is on her peaks now.
Her quarries, her mines, are exploited freely,
the rape of her trees is pointless, greedy;
her growing plants are all scattered seawards
to foreign countries to seek for freedom.
Griffin and Hedges, the upstart keepers
of the Earl’s holdings—it is painful speaking—
Blarney, where only bold wolves are sleeping,
Ráth Luirc is plundered, naked and fearful.
The Laune is taken, has lost its fierceness,
Shannon and Maine and Liffey are bleeding;
Kingly Tara lacks the seed of Niall Dubh,
No Raighleann hero is alive and breathing.
O’Doherty is gone—and his people,
and the Moores are gone, that once were heroes;
O’Flaherty is gone—and his people,
and O’Brien has joined the English cheaters.
Of the brave O’Rourke there is none speaking,
O’Donnell’s fame has none to repeat it,
and all the Geraldines, they lie speechless,
and Walsh of the slender ships is needy.

Hear, oh Trinity, my poor beseeching:
take this sorrow from my broken people,
from the seed of Conn and Ír and Eibhear—
restore their lands to my broken people.

They are my tormenting sorrow,
brave men broken by this rain,
and fat pirates in bed
in the place of older tribes of fame,
and the tribes that have fled
and who cared for poets’ lives, defame.
This great crime has me led
shoeless, bare,
through cold towns crying today.

O Rathaille by Michael Hartnett, Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 1999.

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Filed under Bardic Poetry & Christian Verse, Celtic Miscellany

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