Fear Flatha Ó Gnímh

Life
?1540-?1630; head of the Ó Gnímh bardic family, ollamh to Ó Néills; laments anglicisation of Ireland and disregard for learned orders; also wrote for Randall MacDonnell; Earl of Antrim; “Beannacht ar anmain Éireann” (1609), mourns the Flight of the Earls; “Mo thruaighe mar táid Gaoidhil” (1612), compares Ireland to a funeral party; printed in Watty Cox’s Irish Magazine in 1810, and later in Hardiman’s Irish Minstrelsy (1831), in a translation by J. J. Callanan; earlier belief that he travelled to London with Shane O’Neill disproven by T. F. O’Rahilly. DIW JMC

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Criticism
Tomás Ó Rathile [T. F. O’Rahilly], ed., Meagra Dánta, 2 (1927); Osbert Bergin, ed., Irish Bardic Poetry (1970).

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Commentary
Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ulster (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1992), quotes Fear Flatha Ó Gnímh’s expression of regret at not having been taught a useful trade: ‘Alas that the fosterer in lore did not teach the breaking of steeds / Or the steering of ships, or the yoking of plough behind oxen, / To the men who compose lays. / Woe to the scholar who knows not some craft that would be / No cause to censure, that he might join timbers, or shape a vat, / ere he attained the service of learning. / The honour of poesy is departed; / the credit of guardianship is gone, / So that the school of Ireland’s land were better / As husbandmen of the ploughland.’ Quoted in Ciaran Brady and Raymond Gillespie, eds., Natives and Newcomers, Essays on the making of Irish Colonial Society 1534-1641, Dublin 1986, p.162; Bardon, p.131.)

J. Ardle McArdle, review of Patricia Palmer, Language and Conquestion in Early Modern Ireland [ … &c.] (Cambridge UP), writes that the book aims to redress the imbalance created by history drawn from monoplane records where the conquerors speak and the conquered are doomed to silence. McArdle remarks: ‘as early as the 1570s, Brian Ó Gnimh captured the desolation of the poet adrift on a rising tide of English which reduced his words to the lonely call of seabirds: I am the guillemot, the English the sea. The long ebb of the Irish language had begun. But the rising tide of English came freighted with a complex cargo from the wreckage of the Gaelic world.’

Quotations

“The Downfall of the Gael”, by O’Gnive - translated by Sir Samuel Ferguson
  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 35
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 Mote of Rathmore
Be the Saxon churl’s haggard!

The land of the lakes
Shall no more know the prospect
Of valleys and brakes—
So transformed is her aspect!

The Gael cannot tell,
In the uprooted wildwood
And the 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!

Note: This poem was written by the bard of Shane O’Neill; O’Gnive. 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.

[Given in Padraic Colum, Anthology of Irish Poetry (NY 1922, rev. edn. 1948) - Item 125; available online.]

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References
Brian Cleeve & Anne Brady, A Dictionary of Irish Writers (Dublin: Lilliput 1985); Ulster, c.1540-1640; as young man or poss. as a boy accompanied Shane the Proud with Elizabeth to London, 1562; credited with rousing in O’Neill’s a sense of their role as leaders of the North against the English; His most famous poems are ‘Mo Thruaigh Mar Táid Gaoidhil’, and ‘Beannacht ar Anmain Eireann’; the former printed in Watty Cox’s Irish Magazine and Monthly Asylum, III (Dublin 1810); also in James Hardiman, Irish Minstrelsy, Vol. II [here 11] (Dublin 1831). Comm., Meagra Dánta (Cork 1927), and issues of Studies, VIII, IX, XIV, XV (1919-26), with articles on early Irish poetry by O. J. Bergin; and L McKenna, Dioghluim Dánta [given here as Dána] (Dublin 1938). [NOTE that the assertion that he travelled to London with O’Neill has been overturned by T. F. O’Rahilly, as noticed to OCIL post-publication by Padraig Ó Macháin].

Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature, ed. (Washington: University of America 1904); O’Gniamh, ollamh to the O’Neil of Clandeboy c.1556; his poem ‘Ma thruagh mar ataid’ Gaodhil’ trans. by JJ Callanan as ‘The Lament of the O’Gnive’ [‘How dimmed the glory that circled the Gael / And fallen the high people of green Inisfail / The sword of the Saxon is red with their gore / And the might of nations is mighty no more! // Like a bark of the ocean long shattered and tost / On the land of your fathers at leangth you are lost / the hand of the spoiler is stretched on your plains / And you’re doomed from your cradles to bondage and chains // O where is the beauty that beamed on thy brow? / Strong hand in the battle, how weak art though now! ... // O bondsmen of Egypt, no Moses appears / To light your dark steps thro’ this desert of tears / Degraded and lost ones, no hector is night / To lead you to freedom or teach you to die!’. [Notes refer to Gollam, name of Milesius; Niall of the Nine Hostages, an O’Neill eponym; Con Cead Catha, his fore-father; and Brehons, ‘hereditary judges’. ed. MF McCarthy.]

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