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Authors: Benedict Kiely

As I Rode by Granard Moat (18 page)

BOOK: As I Rode by Granard Moat
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This translation from the Irish is generally attributed to a young man called George Fox, a friend of the poet Samuel Ferguson. Fox died far from home, away in South America, and one may feel that Ferguson worked hard to keep alive the name and fame of his young friend.

Here is a note on the poem by Edward Hayes in his valuable nineteenth-century book
The Ballads of Ireland:

This specimen of our ancient Irish Literature is one of the most popular songs of the peasantry of the counties of Mayo and Galway, and is evidently a composition of the seventeenth century. The original Irish, which is the composition of one Thomas Lavelle, has been published, without a translation, by Mr Hardiman, in his
Irish Minstrelsy;
but a very able translation of it was published by Mr Ferguson, in a review of that work in the ‘University Magazine’ for June, 1834. The original melody of the same name is of very great beauty and pathos and one which it is desirable to preserve with English words of appropriate simplicity of character.

THE COUNTY OF MAYO

On the deck of Patrick Lynch’s boat I sat in woeful plight,

Through my sighing all the weary day, and weeping all the night,

Were it not that full of sorrow from my people forth I go,

By the blessed sun, ’tis royally I’d sing thy praise, Mayo.

When I dwelt at home in plenty, and my gold did much abound,

In the company of fair young maids the Spanish ale went round –

’Tis a bitter change from those gay days that now I’m forced to go,

And must leave my bones in Santa Cruz, far from my own Mayo.

They are altered girls in Irrul now; ’tis proud they’re grown and high,

With their hair-bags and their top-knots, for I pass their buckles by –

But it’s little now I heed their airs, for God will have it so,

That I must depart for foreign lands, and leave my sweet Mayo.

’Tis my grief that Patrick Loughlin is not Earl in Irrul still,

And that Brian Duff no longer rules as Lord upon the hill;

And that Colonel Hugh Mac Grady should be lying dead and low,

And I sailing, sailing swiftly from the county of Mayo.

Jack Butler Yeats, great painter and most memorable gentleman, liked that old song, and all its Connacht connotations, so much that he called one of his strange, and most diverting, works of prose-fiction simply ‘Sailing, Sailing Swiftly’. For Jack Yeats was not only a great painter but a great writer – as Samuel Beckett would always have been the first man to say.

And Jack Yeats had cast his painter’s and writer’s eye on the Sporting Races of Galway and would always have welcomed the song that celebrated those Races.

It has been said that many’s the man went to Galway for the Races and never got as far as Ballybritt, where the horses are, but was delayed by good company in and around Eyre Square. That could be. I was there myself at the races and saw the horses.

Anyhow: listen to the song.

GALWAY RACES

It’s there you’ll see confectioners with sugar sticks and dainties,

The lozenges and oranges, lemonade and the raisins;

The gingerbread and spices to accommodate the ladies,

And a big crubeen for threepence to be picking while you’re able.

It’s there you’ll see the gamblers, the thimbles and the garters,

And the sporting Wheel of Fortune with the four and twenty quarters,

There was others without scruple pelting wattles at poor Maggy,

And her father well contented and he looking at his daughter.

It’s there you’ll see the pipers and fiddlers competing,

And the nimble-footed dancers and they tripping on the daisies.

There was others crying segars and lights, and bills of all the races,

With the colour of the jockeys, the prize and horses’ ages.

It’s there you’ll see the jockeys and they mounted on most stately,

The pink and blue, the red and green, the Emblem of our nation.

When the bell was rung for starting, the horses seemed impatient,

Though they never stood on ground, their speed was so amazing.

There was half a million people there of all denominations,

The Catholic, the Protestant, the Jew and Presbyterian.

There was yet no animosity, no matter what persuasion,

But fáilte and hospitality, inducing fresh acquaintance.

Beyond any shadow of a doubt we are now in the West, where again we encounter the ghost of James Clarence Mangan. You may meet Mangan, or his ghost, in the strangest places.

But, here and now, he allows us to share his vision of Connacht in the thirteenth century, and of Cáhal Mór of the Wine-Red Hand:

I walked entranced

Through a land of Morn;

The sun, with wondrous excess of light,

Shone down and glanced

Over seas of corn,

And lustrous gardens aleft and right.

Even in the clime

Of resplendent Spain

Beams no such sun upon such a land;

But it was the time,

’Twas in the reign,

Of Cáhal Mór of the Wine-red Hand.

Anon stood nigh

By my side a man

Of princely aspect and port sublime.

Him queried I,

‘O, my Lord and Khan,

What clime is this, and what golden time?’

When he – ‘The clime

Is a clime to praise,

The clime is Erin’s

The green and bland;

And it is the time,

These be the days,

Of Cáhal Mór of the Wine-red Hand.

Then saw I thrones,

And circling fires,

And a Dome rose near me, as by a spell,

Whence flowed the tones

Of silver lyres

And many voices in wreathed swell;

And their thrilling chime

Fell on mine ears

As the heavenly hymn of an angel-band –

‘It is now the time,

These be the years,

Of Cáhal Mór of the Wine-red Hand.

I sought the hall,

And, behold! – a change

From light to darkness, from joy to woe!

Kings, nobles, all,

Looked aghast and strange;

The minstrel-group sat in dumbest show!

Had some great crime

Wrought this dread amaze,

This terror? None seemed to understand!

’Twas then the time,

We were in the days,

Of Cáhal Mór of the Wine-red Hand.

I again walked forth;

But lo! the sky

Showed fleckt with blood, and an alien sun

Glared from the north,

And there stood on high,

Amid his shorn beams
A SKELETON
!

It was by the stream

Of the castled Maine,

One Autumn eve, in the Teuton’s land,

That I dreamed this dream

Of the time and reign

Of Cáhal Mór of the Wine-red Hand!

Closer to home and the hearth, though, and far away from the formidable lands of ancient kings, are the lovely lines that Douglas Hyde translated and rendered in his
Love
Songs of Connacht:

Ringleted youth of my love,

With thy locks bound loosely behind thee,

You passed by the road above,

but you never came in to find me;

Where were the harm for you

If you came for a little to see me;

Your kiss is a wakening dew

Were I ever so ill or so dreamy.

If I had a golden store,

I would make a nice little boreen,

To lead straight up to his door,

The door of the house of my storeen;

Hoping to God not to miss

The sound of his footfall in it,

I have waited so long for his kiss

That for days I have slept not a minute.

I thought O my love! you were so –

As the moon is, or sun on a fountain,

And I thought after that you were snow,

The cold snow on the top of the mountain;

And I thought after that you were more

Like God’s lamp shining to find me,

Or the bright star of knowledge before,

And the star of wisdom behind me.

You promised me high-heeled shoes,

And satin and silk, my storeen,

And to follow me, never to lose,

Though the ocean were round us roaring;

Like a bush in a gap in a wall

I am now left lonely without thee,

And this house I grow dead of, is all

That I see around or about me.

And since we are in touch with Douglas Hyde, and I once had the privilege of standing in his presence, it would be ill-mannered to pass by without recalling those most moving lines he wrote to the memory of that majestic man, the great Fenian John O’Mahony. Hyde broods on the broodings of O’Mahony in exile:

In a foreign land, in a lonesome city,

With few to pity or know or care,

I sleep each night while my heart is burning,

And wake each morning to new despair.

Let no one venture to ask my story

Who believes in glory or trusts to fame;

Yet! I have within me such demons in keeping

As are better sleeping without a name.

For many a day of blood and horror,

And night of terror and work of dread,

I have rescued nought but my honour only,

And this aged, lonely, and whitening head.

Not a single hope have I seen fulfilled

For the blood we spilled when we cast the die;

And the future we painted in brightness and pride

Has the present belied, and shall still belie.

In this far-off country, this city dreary,

I languished weary, and sad, and sore,

Till the flower of youth in glooms o’ershaded

Grew seared, and faded for evermore.

Oh my land! from thee driven – our old flag furled –

I renounced the world when I went from thee;

My heart lingers still on its native strand,

And American land holds nought for me.

Through a long life contriving, hoping, striving,

Driven and driving, leading and led;

I have rescued nought but my honour only,

And this aged, lonely, and whitening head.

There is a West beyond the Irish West. Shane Leslie wrote well about the work of William Carleton, the contriver of the
Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry:
‘He caught his types before Ireland made the greatest plunge in her history and the Famine had cleaned her to the bone. For the hardiest of the Race rose up and went away into the West, of which their storytellers had been telling them for a thousand years.’

Gerald Griffin, a poet and novelist from the same period as Carleton, but a very, very different sort of man, wrote his own version of the legend of the dreamer who sailed from our West to seek the Promised Land or Ultima Thule or the Isle of the Blest. (Griffin himself gave up the search and joined the Irish Christian Brothers to find his own Isle of the Blest.)

On the ocean that hollows the rocks where ye dwell,

A shadowy land has appeared, as they tell;

Men thought it a region of sunshine and rest,

And they called it Hy-Brasil, the isle of the Blest,

From year unto year on the ocean’s blue rim,

The beautiful spectre showed lovely and dim;

The golden clouds curtained the deep where it lay,

And it looked like an Eden, away, far away!

A peasant who heard of the wonderful tale,

In the breeze of the Orient loosened his sail;

From Ara, the holy, he turned to the west,

For though Ara was holy, Hy-Brasil was blest.

He heard not the voices that called from the shore –

He heard not the rising wind’s menacing roar;

Home, kindred, and safety, he left on that day,

And he sped to Hy-Brasil, away, far away.

Moon rose on the deep, and that shadowy isle,

O’er the faint rim of distance reflected its smile;

Noon burned on the wave, and that shadowy shore

Seemed lovelily distant, and faint as before;

Lone evening came down on the wanderer’s track,

And to Ara again he looked timidly back;

Rash dreamer, return! O ye winds of the main,

Bear him back to his own peaceful Ara again.

Rash fool! for a vision of fanciful bliss

To barter thy calm life of labour and peace.

The warning of reason was spoken in vain,

He never re-visited Ara again!

Night fell on the deep, amidst tempest and spray,

And he died on the waters, away, far away.

And now that we have entreated Gerald Griffin to join us on the Road Round Ireland, let us allow him to celebrate the lovely Limerick land he came from:

O sweet Adare! O lovely vale!

O soft retreat of sylvan splendour!

Nor summer sun, nor morning gale,

E’er hailed a scene more softly tender.

How shall I tell the thousand charms

Within thy verdant bosom dwelling,

Where, lulled in Nature’s fostering arms,

Soft peace abides and joy excelling!

Ye morning airs, how sweet at dawn

The slumbering boughs your song awakens,

Or linger o’er the silent lawn,

With odour of the harebell taken!

Thou rising sun, how richly gleams

Thy smile from far Knockfierna’s mountain,

O’er waving woods and bounding streams,

And many a grove and glancing fountain!

Ye clouds of noon, how freshly there,

When summer heats the open meadows,

O’er parched hill and valley fair,

All coolly lie your veiling shadows!

Ye rolling shades and vapours grey,

Slow creeping o’er the golden haven,

How soft ye seal the eye of day,

And wreath the dusky brow of even!

In sweet Adare the jocund Spring

His notes of odorous joy is breathing;

The wild birds in the woodland sing,

The wild flowers in the vale are wreathing.

There winds the Maigue, as silver-clear,

Among the elms so sweetly flowing;

There, fragrant in the early year,

Wild roses on the bank are blowing.

The wild-duck seeks the sedgy bank,

Or dives beneath the glistening billow,

Where graceful droop, and glistening dank,

The osier bright and rustling willow.

The hawthorn scents the leafy dale,

In thicket lone the stag is belling,

And sweet along the echoing vale

The sound of vernal joy is swelling.

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