Thursday, December 20, 2018

Pussies, Poems and Prudes-In Defence of Sex in Old Ireland

I came across an article "The Island That Wouldn't Get Naked, Even in Bed" in Vice Magazine regarding sexuality on the Island of Inisheer during the 1960's. The piece got me thinking-it seems to me, whenever I read the likes of Vice, The Guardian or The New York Times (not to mind more right leaning media), the visions of Ireland that keep getting trotted out are so often old-fashioned, or even negative. The Anglo-sphere loves an auld article on the wayward, Catholic, violent or superstitious Gael. These stereotypes have been around for manys the century, and they keep getting regurgitated. Like all stereotypes there are elements of truth, but much of it is a manifestation, a fear, yet fascination, of the other and the unknown. There is a welsh proverb from the 18th century that says "an Irishman’s loves are three: violence, deception and poetry.”  Given Irish vernacular poetry was marginalised in the early 20th century, that leaves us with deception and violence, which is nowhere to start a defence of old Éireann! So, forgoing violence and deception, lets return to Irish poetry from days of yore, and try to get to grips with whats wrong with this picture.

Édouard Manet, La Nymphe surprise
The Vice article, written by one Dr. Kate Lister says "The sexual revolution transformed life and culture across the planet in the 1960s - except on the island of Inisheer." The piece comes replete with pictures of green fields, round towers and bibles. As a tonic to this stuffy, prude vision, I'd like to first site Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin's poem Cois Abhann dam im aonar (the last written manuscript version of which was collected a few miles from Inisheer in County Clare in the 1850's). This lyric is a piss-take of the Aisling form for which Eoghan was so well known. Like so many other Aisling's, Ireland appears in female form like a forlorn Helen of Troy, then the poet proceeds to solemnly and extensively extol her virtues. It is at this point though, that the poem diverges wildly from the norm, in crude translation the lady replies, "will you go away with your Helen of Troy, cut the shite, if its pussy you want, its right here." The poet continues "I opened her legs apart, got my lad ready for action-that jewel that Jesus gave me to coax the women." The lyric continues in that lively, boisterous vein. Incidentally, most Irish verse was meant to be sung-new ideas, themes and lyrics were attached to old melodies in a dynamic vibrant tradition.

Ar inse chonnaill aerach is gan aon neach 'nár gcuideachtain
is ea d'fhosclas a géaga ó chéile gan spás
Ansin do chuireas-sa mo chléireach i réim cheart chum imeartha,
's a tseoid do thug Mac Dé dom chum bréagadh na mbáb,
An tráth d'admhuigh a béal dom gur chlaochlaigh a huireasba,
Ach más í an phis a deir tú, tá sí anso.

from Geraldius Cambrensis, Topography of Ireland
In the 19th century travel book "Ireland's welcome to the stranger," the author, Asenath Nicholson, tells us that the people of Kerry had the custom of undressing any stranger that stayed in their home before going to bed. Dr. Lister's article in stark contrast says "Nudity was a source of intense shame and embarrassment to the islanders of Inisheer" in the 1960's. Geraldius Cambrensis, the 12th century Norman chronicler makes numerous mentions to the bare-arsed public nakedness of "the Irishry." The recently published book "Ireland 1517," contains the diary of 16th century Frenchman, Laurent Vital, who was a diplomat of the Hapsburg Court. Vital describes at length the breasts of the lady folk of Kinsale, having seen them on display (much to his delight and surprise) throughout the town. "Generally the men, women and young girls wear their shirts open to the waist. It is as common there to see or touch the breast of a girl or woman, as it is to touch her hand. There I saw all sorts of breast according to age." Vital proceeds to describe all the various breasts he saw in detail. On a side note, I remember reading, I can't recall where, that the pre christian Irish (instead of shaking hands) used to kiss or suck on nipples as a greeting!

I could be wrong, but I think a-lot of this more inward, stifled culture mentioned in the Vice article arose after the famine-when the church really got its hands on the country and our language switched from Irish to English. Both the Irish language and the Catholic Church were long associated with rebellion and contrariness in the British run state, but when the Catholic Church eventually became accepted by the powers that be, it spelled trouble for free love and its expression. To put a date on this assimilation of Catholicism by British Ireland a good line in the sand might be the "Irish Church Act of 1869," which dissolved the primacy of the protestant Church of Ireland as the official church of the country. The Church of Ireland (see the Church of England) had been the official church of the country up until that point, although the vast majority of the country was Catholic. It is around this time too that the English language starts to take primacy as the mode of communication for the majority of the populous.

Another tome of reference in this defence would have to be Brian Merriman's Cúirt An Mhéain Oíche. "The Midnight Court" is a bawdy and brilliant poem from the late 18th century, written just a few miles from the Isle of the Chaste, Inisheer. In this lyric a young Irish women laments to a fairy court (presided over by Aibheal-the Fairy Queen) the sorry state of masculinity in Ireland. Older Irish poetry took delight in describing people or things with as many words as possible in a long litany of description, there are some great examples of this in the poem too. The woman extols her own sexual virtues and wonders why she has failed to find a mate. An old Irish man takes the role of the defence, after he gives her a right lambasting, she replies with such gems as this (below is the rough English translation and below that the original Irish poem)....

Tie you head with a bandage round it!
Careful you don’t leave your senses
With the fear of welcoming, giving women,
That would spend the day catering to the needs of all
And would sate you again even after the ball.
Woe is me! I'd understand such Jealously
In a crafty, cracking, strong and strapping
Panting, pushing, pulsing, preening,
Roistering, romping, rollicking, riproaring,
Roving rogue-a fine tuned seeker,
Who'd give a steadfast stalwart, lively pounding,
Not in an ancient oldie, decrepit and hoary,
A useless idler, without limbs, nor use for them.

Is cengail do cheann le banda timpeall
Seachain I dtráth ná fág do chiall 
Le hEagla mná bheith fáilteach fial;
Dá gcaitheadh sí an lá le cách do riar
Bheadh tuilleadh is do sáith-se ar fail ina ndiadh 
Mo chumha is mo chrá ba bhreá san éad 
lúbaire láidir lánmhear léadmhar 
Shantach sháiteach shásta sheasmhach 
Ramsach ráflach rábach rabairneach,
Lascaire luaimneach, cuardaitheoir cuimseach,
Balcaire buan nó buailteoir bríomhar,
Ach seanduine seanda cranda creimneach, 
Fámaire fann is feam gan féile.

A recently discovered manuscript of The Midnight Court
The poem also deals with a-lot of what "The Island That Refuses to Get Naked" concerns itself with-sexual oppression and prudishness, but unlike the world portrayed in the article (where locals were mortified at a dog licking his balls) it grapples and extensively details solutions to these prudish problems. So going out on a limb for to make steadfast my defence! I'd like to site the 16th century poem Óchón A Mhúire Mhór, which finishes with the lines fóir mé os féidir leat, fóir mé le comhradh do chorp "save me if you can, save me with the conversations of our bodies."

Dr. Lister, in a light hearted way, quotes a poem of Philip Larkin at the beginning of her article "Sexual intercourse began in nineteen sixty-three." I think it can be taken as a given that sex was alive, and the Irish as well thanks to it, long before 1963, though the extent of the control that the powers that be had over it waxed and waned with the tide. Inisheer being Irish speaking, and on top of that an Island, perhaps made it easier to control. Once the Irish language became practically extinct on the mainland it may have pushed Inisheer to more moribund waters, leaving the priests firmly in control. Incidently, Inisheer is where Father Ted's opening sequence was filmed!

Ireland was an important resource for the Catholic Church and British imperialism. Unfortunately, the people, shrinking from the grasp of the colonial cohorts, ran willing into the arms of an enemy every bit as bad. Thanks be to God (whoever that may be) the church's power over the Irish is at the lowest ebb its ever been. Ireland's oppression by others and by itself was such that one of its most precious expressions and salves was lost-its language. Without that to express itself, it was left floundering in a sea of sharks-ripe for the picking, so to speak. I think the countries history of repression makes a-lot more sense if looked at from that perspective-language, colonialism, and religion. Also, prudishness and sexual repression is a problem that surely wasn't just to be found in Ireland, it was, I'd wager, a problem of the times, that corrupted and chastened from Arabia to Aragon and from New York to London. Thankfully those particular days of repression seem well behind us, though new stranger shores are looming ahead. We'd want to just keep vigilant that we don't get suckered again by such oppressive regimes. With the rise of the internet, globalism, and rampant free market capitalism fun times are sure to come!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

"Samhain," Cuban Poem, Irish Title

I met Cuban poet Zulema Gutiérrez last November as our paths crisscrossed Cuba. A few months ago she sent me on a collection of her poetry entitled Danza Alrededor del Fuego ("Dance Around The Fire"). One of her verses had the intriguing title, Samhain, which is the Irish for "Halloween." Heres the poem, I made an English translation below it, there is an Irish translation below that (done by a someone from an Irish language "Reddit" sub and myself).


(31 de octubre)
hemisferio norte, morada de la Diosa

Esta noche el agua en mis ojos se seca
para que la tierra se humedezca
y sude
los muros se deshacen
y la membrana
permite el paso
aprovecha esta noche
mientras preparo
otra vez
su nacimiento

Foclóir Gaeilge agus Béarla, Patrick S. Dinneen 


(31st of October)
northern hemisphere, morada de la Diosa

Tonight the water in my eyes dries up
so the earth can moisten
and sweat
blood and tears
the walls come apart
the transparent membrane
permits the passage
seize this night
as I prepare
once again
for its birth


(Oíche Shamha)
leathchruinne thuaidh, Dá Chích Anann

Triomaíonn an t-uisce i mo shúile an oíche seo
ionas go bhfliuchfar an chré;
a cuid allais
mar a bheadh
fuil 's deora
ag sileadh go talamh
titeann na ballaí as a chéile
Tríd an scannán oíchidhe gabhaimid
ag ullmhú
aríst a breithe

Monday, September 3, 2018

Irish Spanish Origins & Words

Having been travelling back and forth to Spain and Cuba these last few years I've been struck by the great similarities between some Spanish and Irish words. There are of course Latin roots to many Irish words,  but what is more interesting, is the relation between Irish and the original Celtic languages of Spain which are now extinct. Irish, though more than "two thousand years a growing," is perhaps (if the indigenous histories of Ireland are to be believed) the only extant Celtic language of Spain still in existence, let me explain!

Spanish National Library, Irish Gaels 1529

According to Gaelic chronicles, most notably, Lebor Gábhala Érenn (from the late 11th century) the Irish people are of Spanish origin. If you were of Gaelic royal blood you had to trace yourself to the north of Spain. All clans of note would begin their genealogies with the Gaelic conquest of Ireland, that being, with the sons of Míl Espáine, and their leader Íth. As Gaelic chieftain Hugh O' Donnell said (affirming his allegiance to Spain in a letter from 1593 to King Philip of Spain) "quod mea prosapea [sic] ex cantabrea [sic] originem sumpsit." "Because I myself am of Cantabrian origin." As proof of this when O' Donnell eventually fled to Spain he brought with him a copy of Lebor Gábhala Érenn, and along with that, a history of the genealogy of his clan to the Spanish court.

Many modern scholars hold these origin histories of the Irish in doubt and prefer to think of them as legends. What is interesting, is that recent genetic studies of Irish have placed the Irish populations beginnings squarely in the north of Spain, giving further credence to our Spanish origins. Lebor Gábhala Érenn was patched together from many earlier works, and had its own propaganda purposes at the time it was put together, and since. It comes from a firmly christian world (with some long lost original pagan sources). It tells how Ireland was spied from a tower in Galicia in the North of Spain called Breogán's Tower. Íth, son of Míl Espáine (who's father in turn was Bile son of Breogán) was told by his father to take that green land in the distance, so beginning the Gaelic conquest of Ireland.

Because of all this, and for other more practical reasons, for many hundreds of years, any Irish seeking refuge in Spain were considered native Spanish under Spanish law. In 1680 Charles II of Spain, in a royal decree, stated that "the Irish in Spain have always enjoyed the same privileges as Spaniards, this has always been the practice and indeed still is today."

In 1791 aroused by fears brought on by the French revolution an order was issued for a  special register of foreigners in Spain. Three native Irish men living Cadiz (being aware of the old laws) complained that they should not have to register. Their case was brought before the local magistrate who communicated with the Consejo Real in Madrid who replied "the taking of the oath to which all foreigners have been directed to submit, shall not be exacted on the Irish, seeing that by the sole fact of their having settled in Spain the Irish are regarded as Spaniards and have the same rights." This was signed as a royal decree by Charles IV in March 1792. This also applied to Army lists, where Irish were listed along with Spaniards according to seniority, whereas regiments of Flanders, Italy and Switzerland were entered at the end as foreign mercenaries. In 1734 the regiment of Limerick was listed as the oldest of the native Spanish regiments, for instance.

In 1529 the Earl of Desmond, James Fitzmaurice, and an envoy of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, King of Spain signed the Treaty of Dingle which incorporated much of the south-west of Ireland into a territory of the Hapsburg monarchy and confirmed again Irish peoples citizenship rights in Spain. Of course, this was highly effective propaganda for Spain against the English crown, that is, having a fresh stock of loyal catholics who were of the one blood with Spaniards ready to fight and die for their cause!

For me, one of the more chilling moments in Irish history was when what remained of the Gaelic nobility in the north of Ireland (in the personage of Hugh O' Neill, aforementioned Hugh O' Donnell and their retinues) sailed for the north of Spain in 1607 never to return, beginning what was called "The Flight of the Earls." Was this the Gaelic kings returning to their old origins?

Another great example of Spanish/Irish from this time is Philibín ó Súilleabháin Beara-child of an Irish nobleman who, along with his family, left Ireland for Spain in 1602, never to return. Philibín became a scholar, and was commissioned by the Spanish government to write "A Natural History of Ireland"-a reply to some very influential propaganda written by Geraldius Cambrensis called Topographia HibernicaGeraldius's tome was written to King Henry II of England, and was used as an effective carte blanche for the original invasion and syphoning off of Ireland to English control, the book was dusted off again in Elizabethan times to justify their reconquest of Ireland. Unfortunately Philibín's important writings were lost to history until recent times, when they were found in manuscripts in the University of Upsala in Sweden. Another O' Sullivan published the first volume of the translation (from the original Latin to English) in 2009.

My own 21st century scribbling are being done, fittingly, in the town of Paterna in the province of Valencia, Spain. La leyenda persiste!

I'll finish with a bunch of Spanish words, with their Irish equivalents after...

Sconse, Sconsa
A fenced off fort

Cómo estás tu? Conas atá tu? 
How are you?


Chest (as in a chest of drawers)

A cove or small bay

A woman's breast

A grave pit or ditch

Conejo (Conill in Valenciano)/Coinín


Fiesta (Feasta in Valenciano)/Feasta
Party with food and drink

Di Marts(Valenciano)/De Máirt

The in plural form as in "the Germans"

Tie (as in a neck-tie)

Sins (from the latin I'm guessing!)



* I came across this word in Irish in the poetry of 18th century Irish poet Eoghan Rua Ó' Súilleabháin (in the third verse of the linked poem). Eoin came from Gníomh go Léith another village next to Killarney.

** There is a village next to my hometown of Killarney called Fossa. I was always told that the meaning of the village had been lost or that it had a pre-Celtic origin, methinks it is surely Celtic!

Further Reading

Ireland 1518 by  Lauret Vital, introduction by Hiram Morgan, a Dorothy Convery translation (2011)

The Natural History of Ireland by Don Philibín Ó Súileabháin Beara, translation by Denis C. O'Sullivan (2009)

The Military Order of St. Patrick by Micheline Walsh, Seanchas Ardmhacha: Journal of the Armagh Diocesan Historical Society Vol. 9, No. 2 (1979)

Friday, July 27, 2018

¿Un Hombre Cansado?

Heres a rough mix and outtake from "Hy Brasil, Songs of the Irish in Latin America." I've been endeavouring to finish the album in between the rays of the rollicking, rolling summer. Its been surprisingly productive just having windows here and there. Today was a particular rainy day in a summer of sun, so I spent it piecing together this song "¿Un hombre Cansado?"

While in Valencia, Spain, a month ago, I bought an album "La Tierra Grita." The artist is Juan Antonia Espinosa-a Spaniard who spent many years living in Peru. Heres a translation of the back of the record, "these songs were born in Peruvian lands while listening attentively to the roar of the South American continent. There are three protagonists-the people (the oppressed who advance towards their liberation), the guitar (who while fighting learned to sing) and that same earth who is converted into a prophet of new country."

Being quite taken with the words of ¿Un Hombre Cansado? (A Tired Man?), I decided to record it myself. In this last phase of recording "Hy Brasil" I'm trying a few different ideas like this, some of which may or may not make the album. I'll have a few as bonus tracks though for sure. I'm playing all the various sounds on this one, the keyboard sound is called black moth dreams.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

I Sacsaiḃ na Séad

I Sacsaiḃ na Séad is an 18th century poem of Eoġan Ruaḋ Ó Súilleaḃáin. The title translates as "In England of the Treasures." The poem is a beautiful example of the Aisling form. The version below was taken from "Na hAislingí, Vision Poems," a compilation of Eoġan Ruaḋ's verses published by The Aubane Historical Society in 2002. I took to doing a translation of the poem into Spanish and it seems to suit the language, there is a natural bounce to it that doesn't come across easily in English, for example. The translation was completed in late 2019. Ana Belén Guerrero, María de Los Ángeles Arrieta and Edmundo Murray helped me hone and finish the Spanish translation. I've included the literal English translation first from Na hAislingí, the Irish text is below that, and the Spanish, is at the end of the post. The carving below (from the 16th century) is of Sily Nig Donogh MacCarthy Reagh, wife of Donogh O' Sullivan More.

In England of the treasures far from my homeland
In the shadow of the masts by the quays of the tall ships,
And I pondering on the passing of the nobles and the heroes
Done to death in the land of Céin,
By savages in a whirlwind of conquest,
Helpless, valiant though I am in ventures,
Shedding my tears copiously in sorrow,
Without delight, powerless, without pleasure.

I beheld a lady, Grecian, elegant, 
Bright, clever she was of fair appearance,
Feminine, well bred, soft lipped, elegant,
Dignified, modest, well-shaped,
Beautiful, of fair mien, majestic, estimable,
Lively, mature, courteous, 
Coming in haste, light of gait,
She descended next to me a while.

Her thick hair was twisting, 
From the crown of her head to the grass,
Flowing in swift tremors,
Her eyebrows were slender, her eyes were inviting,
Her face and appearance were lustrous,
The ember was red on the fresh lily,
In her cheek seeking supremacy,
And more elegant was every verse her voice uttered,
Than the plucking of fingers on a gentle harp.

Her teeth were of the likeness of a swan's appearance
on the foam wet fury of the sea,
her keen breasts were undefiled 
by the wanton tricks of Cupid;
Her ready slender hand inscribed very clearly 
Bears and tall ships, 
the battles of hundreds, savage wolves,
Fishes and feathered flocks.

Her fine, graceful body doubled my pangs,
From the crown of her head to the grass in correct proportions,
From which my appearance crumbled and I was struck dumb;
My vigorous limbs were enfeebled,
I was blinded after all these events, 
Though I spoke to her timidly,
And I enquired of the lady her name and her story,
Her tribe and her company to tell me.

I took heart after her words, 
I was silent awhile I deferred to her, 
I desired her beauty, her mein and her person,
A circumstance that was no disgrace to me;
Every organ of my limbs was active, strong,
I was not long faint and at a loss,
Whenever I supposed that the woman was one who was devoted to
The forms and sins of lust.

Answer me, are you the illustrious lady 
who brought about the fury war of the guiltless Troy?
Or the maiden who wrought the grief and overthrow of the Irish
In the lands of Céin and Iughgoin,
That left the nobles and bards of those lands
In weakness under the yoke of churls?
Or the lady who leaped afar over the sea,
From Eamhain, with a knight in his strong ship?

I am none of those you tell of in your lying stories
And I shall not relate a story to a savage such as you,
A scion of the clan of Luther,
A savage in mien, in outlook and in treachery,
A rake and a coxcomb from London,
Who are in arms and armour arrayed, lacerating
The limbs and shelter of my prince.

Do not insult me, O bright countenanced lady of fair hair,
By this book in my hand, I am not one their blood,
But I am a feeble traveller who goes over the raging ocean,
Who was torn far away by the hair of my head, 
Aiding the person I was not of a mind to,
In the gunships on the foaming ocean,
And my tribe is of the strain of the bloodstream of the Irish
In Caiseal of the provincial kingships.

As it is true that you are one of the Royal blood of Caiseal
Then for a while I was united with you,
I shall myself relate to you the exploits of my travels,
And I will tell you my true name;
Poets call me deceitful Éire,
A hussey of treacherous ways,
Who gave insult and injury,
Through deceit with the foreigners,
To the company of my native homesteads.

From the lands of Céin and the worthy Éibhear,
Over the ocean of ropes I fled easily,
With a message of news from the clans of the Irish, 
That soon they would make a conquest,
That they would scatter every bear of the company
Of mercaneries of the root-stock of London,
Here's to the life of the heroes, and he shall return in power
My champion, as king, to Dún Luirc.

Bards of verse and knowledge prophesy,
His coming in battle ranks and troops,
Strong, valiant, chivalrous, thrashing
Fat bucks of foreign manners,
From the examining of every story their time is spent,
By which they must submit,
And adopt different manners, though it is bitter for them to accept it
And yield authority to authors.

I fear, oh illustrious maiden!
That this tale you devise is a lying pastime
The savages are too strong in their ships that have no care
For King Charles, your prince,
Every measure of assistance is wanting,
And the Irish people are cowed,
Without freehold lands as their clerics were accustomed
who waxed strong in noble Ireland.

I must keep silent, perforce
In the land of the beast-like foreigners,
Since I happen to be a while in bondage, 
A circumstance that left me truly downcast;
Tell my story to the poets at home,
And they will send a verse to me,
That will scatter my grief, though full of streams
Of tears so that I am blinded senseless.

By the river of the moor is the worthy phoenix,
Manly, festive, feasting, generous, 
A support in clearly analysing texts,
And wise, learned, subtle,
Who would compose every verse without stupidity,
Do not forget to call in his house
And he will protect you kindly in his company while he reads
In verses every step of your adventures.

Of the true-stock of the Irish is the keen, pure scion,
A true pearl of his native land,
who is descended from the blood of the bards and knights who were not cowardly
In conflicts of hard-fought battles,
Noble, sturdy Séan of the root-stock of Eachaidh,
It is he who will take you in his affection
And grant you to himself, above any of my relatives,
My lady without protection for her treasures.

En Inglaterra de los tesoros, lejos de mi patria
A la sombra de los mástiles, en los muelles de veleros
Pensando en los nobles y héroes ya desaparecidos, 
Muertos en la tierra de Céin,
Por salvajes en un torbellino de conquista.
Indefenso, aunque soy valiente y aventurero 
Llorando abundantes lágrimas de tristeza,
Sin felicidad, sin poder, sin placer.

Vi una doncella, Griega, elegante,
Deslumbrante, lúcida y de gran belleza,
Femenina y de estirpe, suaves labios, noble.
Distinguida, modesta, bien formada, 
Hermosa, de bello aspecto, majestuosa, respetable,
Animada, madura, amistosa, 
Vino rápida, con paso ligero,
Descendió un momento a mi lado.

Su cabello abundante ondulaba
en remolinos de la cabeza a los pies,
Flotando en temblores ligeros.
Sus finas cejas, su mirada invitaba,
Su aspecto y su rostro brillante,
Un ascua ardiente en el lirio fresco.
Sus mejillas sonrosadas me estaban conquistando.
Era más dulce cada palabra suya
Que la mano que toca suavemente las cuerdas del arpa.

Sus dientes blancos como la nieve, como el cisne
en la húmeda espuma del furor marino.
La pureza de sus pechos ardientes,
nunca fueron deshonorados por 
los trucos lascivos de Cupido;
Sus finas manos inscribiendo claramente
Osos, veleros,
Combates de cientos, lobos feroces,
peces y bandadas de aves emplumadas.

El corazón duele ante su bello cuerpo, esbelto,
Sus finas formas desde la coronilla hasta los pies.
Me deja sin habla, destruído,
Frágiles mis miembros vigorosos.
Ciego quedé ante tanta maravilla,
Aunque le hablé tímidamente,
Y pregunté a la dama su nombre, su pasado,
Le rogue me dijera su clan y sus compañeros.

Ardió mi corazón ante sus palabras,
Quedé mudo mientras la escuchaba.
Deseaba su belleza, su persona, su presencia,
Lo que no me robaba la gracia;
Cada parte de mi cuerpo estaba activa, firme.
Ya no desfallecía, ya no me hundía
Cuando imaginaba a la dama devota
A toda forma de pecado y lujuria.

Respóndeme: ¿Eres tú la dama ilustre 
que trajo furia y guerra a la Troya inocente?
¿O bien la que causó la miseria y destrucción de los irlandeses
en las tierras de Céin y Lughgoin?
¿La que a los nobles y bardos de esas tierras
Unció bajo el yugo de los patanes?
¿O la heroína que saltaba a través de las aguas del mar,
desde Eamhain de los titánes y falúas?

No soy ninguna de las que mencionas en tus falsas historias,
Y no compartiré mis narraciones con un salvaje como tú, 
Heredero del clan de Lutero,
Con tu feroz aspecto, tu mirada traicionera,
Bárbaro en rostro, infamia y felonía,
Vagabundo y gomoso de Londres,
Que en armadura de guerra estás cortando
Los miembros y el refugio de mi príncipe.

No me insultes, inescrutable dama de fulgurantes cabellos,
Te juro con este libro en mi mano, no soy de la misma estirpe.
Soy un débil viajero que navega en océanos furiosos,
Arrancado de mi pelo hacia tierras lejanas, 
Socorriendo al que no quería ayudar,
En los barcos guerreros del océano espumoso,
Y mi clan lleva la fuerza de la sangre irlandesa,
En Caise de los cinco reyes.

Como eres de la estirpe de los reyes de Caiseal
Por un instante somos hermanos.
Te contaré las hazañas de mis viajes 
Y pronunciaré mi verdadero nombre.
Los poetas cantan al Éire engañada,
Una dama de arteras maniobras,
Denuesto e injuria declamaba,
Engañanda a través de extranjeros
La multitud de mis tribus.

Desde las tierras de Céin y de la valiente Éibhear 
Por el océano de cuerdas huí fácilmente,
Portando las nuevas de los clanes irlandeses,
Que pronto lograrían una conquista,
Desperdigando al coloso enemigo,
Mercenarios de los residentes de Londres.
Aquí les canto a las vidas de los héroes, volverá al poder
Como rey, mi líder, a Dún Luirc.

Los bardos profetizan con sus versos y conocimientos,
El regreso al combate y a las tropas.
Fuerte, valiente, recto, castigando
Los conquistadores con sus costumbres extranjeras.
Pasan el tiempo estudiando cada historia,
Por la que deben someterse,
Y adoptar otras tradiciones, aunque sea difícil aceptar
Y rendirse a la autoridad de los doctos.

Temo, ¡oh, dama ilustre!
Que esta historia que engendras es un falso pasatiempo
Los salvajes en sus naves son demasiado poderosos, no se preocupan
Por el Rey Carlos, tu príncipe.
Todo tipo de ayuda es necesaria,
Y el pueblo irlandés amenazado,
Sin tierras como sus sacerdotes estaban acostumbrados,
Los que vivían libres en la noble Irlanda.

Ineludiblemente debo permanecer en silencio,
En la tierra de los extranjeros con aspecto de monstruos,
Ya que fui esclavo durante un tiempo,
Lo que me dejó realmente descorazonado;
Cuenta mi historia a los poetas de la isla,
Y ellos me enviarán unos versos,
Para quebrar mi tristeza a través de anchos ríos
de lágrimas para cegar mi sinsentido.

Por el río en el páramo llega el ave fénix poderoso,
Masculino, festivo, alegre, generoso,
Un ayuda para revisar los textos.
Sabio, educado, sútil,
Escribe cada verso con profundidad.
No olvides pasar por su casa,
Y él te protegerá consideradamente mientras lee
En versos cada paso de tus aventuras.

De los auténticos irlandeses, él es el heredero, 
verdadera perla de su patria,
Sangre de poetas y héroes que no se amedrentaban
En combates arduos, 
Noble y valiente Séan, del linaje de Eachaidh.
Es él quien te tomará en sus brazos,
Y servirte más que cualquier otro,
Mi dama, sin refugio son sus joyas!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Killarney, 1929

When I came across this video on YouTube it was entitled "Cork Street Scenes, 1929." While watching the film I noticed the corner of College St. and Lewis Rd. in Killarney, then I saw J O' Leary's-a building which is still there on Main St. today. I soon realised the majority of the video was shot in Killarney. "The Killarney Bar" on film is now Casey's off-licence (which still has a small sign on the side of it advertising "The Killarney Bar"). The original video is housed in the archives of the University of South Carolina. I cut out the segments that were from Cork and Connemara.

I'm sure people's relations in town appear here on film. My own great-grandparents were living on Fair Hill (the street that appears at 4.20) by the Friary Church in 1929, no sign of them unfortunately, as far as I can see! The kids outside the Courthouse with the donkey should surely be identifiable by someone. As far as I'm aware this is the oldest video taken of Killarney town, certainly the oldest with sound. The girl singing in Irish is from another location, its a pity the whole thing wasn't recorded. I'm guessing the girl is from Connemara she is singing the song Sail Óg Rua. Below are the lines the girl sings.

.... bróin, ag oiliúint mo leanbh ar bhacán mo láimhe, 's gan fiú braon bainne agam a bhéarfainn dhó. "Grieving, rearing my child under my bended arm, without even a bit of milk to give him."

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Viva Los San Patricios!

On the day that is in it, that being St Patrick's day, here's to the "San Patricio Battalion" of Mexico! In 2010 I was part of a documentary film called Saol John Riley. My role was that of presenter-I followed the story of the leader of that bold Mexican brigade, John Riley, from famine torn Connemara to the Mexican American War of 1847. The song "Pa' Los del San Patricio" appeared on my first album "Songs From An Outpost" and was the spark which led to me being involved in the documentary, or indeed in film atall! An Irish language version of the same song will be on my latest endeavour in song "Hy Brasil, Songs of the Irish in Latin America." Go raibh míle maith agat Séan Ó Garbhí, as ucht an cabhair a thug tú dom chun aistriúchán breá bríomhar a dhéanamh air ón leagan Bhéarla! 

There's a version of the song from the film in English at the end of the blogpost. Heres a demo recording of the song in Irish that I did with Séan Garvey. Séan helped me out with the translation and is playing the guitar too, I'm singing. I must try my hand at a Spanish version of the song too, somewhere further down the road!

Na San Patricios

Daichead a seacht i bhfad ró dhian,
Cailleadh anso iad ‘s i bhfad i gcéin,
Cailleadh iad i ngleanntá glasa na hÉireann
is crochadar ar cláracha Mheicsiceo

Dhá scór fearaibh ag feitheamh le bás
Sínte ar chroch ba thrua a gcás,
Le teas millteanach an mhéan lae
Thugadar leo go bhflaitheas dé.

Daichead a seacht i bhfad ró chrua
Cos ar bholg gan stad, gan suan,
Ó Vera Cruz le bratach in airde
Baileadar go cróga le céile.

Naomh Pádraig ‘s a cros
‘s iomaí fear a déag faoin bhreatach glas,
Lámh ar lámh le chéile,
Gach beachaint á réabadh.

Os cionn scamaill gan céilúir n-éan
General Lee lena airm féin
Cuireadh ruaig ar airm Valencia
Ach d-éalaíomar go caithair Mheicsiceo.

I ngort arbhar bhí na poncán clúdaithe
Thit siad ar an dtalamh lenár gunaí morá,
Lámh ar lámh le chéile,
gach beachaint á reabadh.

Luascadh an bhreatach bán trí uaire
Fós gearr Riley é síos gan bac air,
Géill siad faraor in ísle brí
i lochán dá fhuil féinig.

An Cruit, Naomh Padraig, ‘s an cros
“Éireann go brách” ar bhreatach glas,
Go dilís le chéile ‘s gunaí a pléascadh,
Gach beachaint á reabadh.

Dhá scór fearaibh ag feitheamh le bás
Sínte ar chroch ba thrua a gcás,
Le teas millteanach an mhéan lae
Thugadar leo go bhflaitheas dé.

Here's the English language version of the song, an outake from Saol John Riley. The song was filmed in Clifden, Ireland in 2009.

Pa’ Los Del San Patricio

47 too long a year, men died in chains men died in fear
some were lost under Irish sky and some on Mexico’s fields were hung.
The gallows there 14 feet high two score men condemned to die
hung at noon in scorching heat, three hours they waited bound hand and feet. 

47 too dark a year, men shook their chains and fell in fear
from Vera Cruz a flag unfurled many men rallied round it.
A Mexican eagle and a Celtic cross under the green flag men were lost
shot down as soldiers, hung as slaves their cruel fate a shallow grave.

Birds wouldn’t cross the Pedragal through it General Lee he carved a path
Valencia’s army were routed there Churubusco’s fate was calling.
The Yankees tumbled through high corn at Churubusco we shot them down 
Mexican guns they soon gave out with bayonets we joined the slaughter.

Three times the white flag swung round three times O’Riley pulled it down 
when blood ran down into the sand only then did they surrender. 
The Mexican eagle and a Celtic cross under the green flag men were lost
Shot down as soldiers, hung as slaves their cruel fate a shallow grave. 

The gallows there 14 feet high two score men condemned to die
Hung at noon in scorching heat, three hours they waited bound hand and feet.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Ned Kelly's "Jerilderie letter"

Ned Kelly was the infamous Australian bushranger-the aggrieved and agog thorn in the arse of the colonial authorities of Victoria and New South Wales. Eager to tell his story, with the boiling blood of many grievances, he was intent to live life on his own terms, to relate his tale by whatever means. I wrote the song "Ned Kelly (born in chains)" many moons ago after reading the book "The True History of The Kelly Gang" by Peter Carey.

I came across the below portion of Ned Kelly's "Jerilderie letter" a few days ago. The letter was dictated to his compatriot Joe Byrne, it tells the story of what led Ned to becoming an outlaw. The style of the letter is somewhere between James Joyce's "Ulysses" and some of the Fianníochta tales of old. What makes Ned's letter unique is his tale's proximity to the reality of his situation-it is straight from the horses mouth, not a story embellished and passed down over centuries. You can read the full letter here, below are the extracts.

"I have been wronged and my mother and four or five men lagged innocent and is my brothers and sisters and my mother not to be pitied also who has no alternative only to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct off a parcel of big ugly fat-necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splaw-footed sons of Irish Bailiffs or english landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police who some call honest gentlemen."

"But he would be a king to a policeman who for a lazy loafing cowardly bilit left the ash corner deserted the shamrock, the emblem of true wit and beauty to serve under a flag and nation that has destroyed massacreed and murdered their fore-fathers by the greatest of torture as rolling them down hill in spiked barrels pulling their toe and finger nails and on the wheel. and every torture imaginable more was transported to Van Diemand's Land to pine their young lives away in starvation and misery among tyrants worse than the promised hell itself all of true blood bone and beauty, that was not murdered on their own soil, or had fled to America or other countries to bloom again another day, were doomed to Port Mcquarie Toweringabbie norfolk island and Emu plains and in those places of tyrany and condemnation many a blooming Irishman rather than subdue to the Saxon yoke Were flogged to death and bravely died in servile chains but true to the shamrock and a credit to Paddys land What would people say if I became a policeman and took an oath to arrest my brothers and sisters & relations and convict them by fair or foul means after the conviction of my mother and the persecutions and insults offered to myself and people Would they say I was a decent gentleman, and yet a police-man is still in worse and guilty of meaner actions than that The Queen must surely be proud of such herioc men as the Police and Irish soldiers as It takes eight or eleven of the biggest mud crushers in Melbourne to take one poor little half starved larrakin to a watch house."

Monday, January 1, 2018

Shehnai Music

On my recent sojourn in Kolkata I came across a style of music called Shehnai. Shehnai groups are brass bands that play wedding music across India, their origins are colonial, from the mid 19th century. When the British formed brass bands to express their military splendour (impressing upon the locals the might of British imperialism) the locals formed their own bands for their own purposes--filling the skeleton of the colonial construct with the meat of their own local music.

Shehnai, as well as being the name of the music, is also the name of the oboe like reed instrument that forms the backbone of the groups. Here are some images of "Sagar," the band I recorded.  They have their HQ in some of the more congested and warrenous dens near College St. Kolkata. Heres a quick listen to how Sagar sound (its a basic audio recording straight from the camera)...

The band's garb pay more than a passing resemblance to Sgt. Peppers era Beatles, though methinks this is due more to the British military origins of the groups than any particular Indian appropriation of the Beatles. Until the advent of d.j.'s Shehnai bands were the go to music for any wedding celebration. Their popularity in recent years has been waning. The leader of Sagar, Mr Iqbal, when asked about if he was worried whether their type of music would continue replied "we have no reason to worry, when the world is over, the music is over."