Aogán Ó Rathaille (1670-1726)


Life
[var. Aodhagáin Uí Rathaille; Aogan (or Aodhagan) O’Rahilly; anglice Egan], b. Screathan an Mhíl [Mt. Scrahanaveal, Sliabh Luachra range], nr. Killarney, holding land from Sir Nicholas Browne up to 1690; prob. educated in bardic school of the Egan family, ollamhs to the McCarthymores; became well-versed in Munster genealogy; reduced to poverty and lived as an under-tenant at Stagmount, nr. Schranhanaveel, Co. Kerry, and briefly in dire poverty at Tonn Toime, nr. Castlemaine Harbour;
 
travelled as a migrant labourer and vagrant throughout Munster; composed laments on decay of Gaelic order and satirised new planters as upstarts and boors; wrote “Kilcash” as an epithalamion for Valentine Browne and Honora Butler, 1720 (‘Kilcash united [...] with Killarney, the Prince of Killarney, our Champion’), but suffered disappointment at not being regranted some lost land in recompense; made a lament at the banishment of Eoghan McCarthy, following on quarrel involving death of two men, in which he boasts that his own forefathers had served the McCarthy family as ollamhs since before Christ; composed an elegy for Diarmuid O’Leary of Killeen (Iveleary);
 
he achieved his greatest distinction in the aisling-form, notably in the poem “Gile na gile [Brightness of brightness]”, a lament for the Gaelic order telling of a bright vision seen by the poet on a lonely path; also wrote praise-poems for the O’Donoghue [Domhnall - who presented him with a pair of shoes], the O’Mahony, and the O’Callaghan families; composed a 120-line elegy for John Blennerhasset of Ballyseedy; met other poets at Ballyvourney; reputedly composed “No help I’ll call” on his death-bed [‘I shall not cry for help until placed in a closed coffin]’; widely regarded as one of the latest and greatest poets of the Gaelic order; bur. Muckross Abbey. DIB DIW FDA OCIL
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Works
  • An tAth. Pádraig S. Dinneen & T[adhg] Ó Donnchadha, eds., The Poems of Egan O’Rahilly [ITS Vol. 3] (London: Irish Texts Society 1911) [see details]. Poems incl. “The wounds of the land of Fodla”, “The ruin that befell the great families of Erin”, “No help I’ll call”, “Kilcash”, “When the Bishop of Cork was sent over the sea by the [Protestant] heretics”, “The drenching night drags on”, “On a pair of shoes presented to him”, &c.
  • Filidhe móra Chiarraighe / Four Notable Kerry Poets (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son 1929), viii, 32pp., 8º [Egan O’Rahilly, Eoghan Ruadh O’Sullivan/Ó Suilleabháin, Piaras Ferriter/Féiriteir and Geoffrey O'Donoghue/Seafradh Ó Donnchadha].  
  • Egan O’Rahilly [sic], Da´nta (Dublin: Aquila 1969), viii, 144pp.
 
Bibliographical details
Dánta Aodhagan Uí Rathaille / The Poems of Egan O’Rahilly, to which are added miscellaneous pieces illustrating their subjects and language / ed. and with introduction, translation, notes, and glossary by Rev. Patrick S. Dinneen, M.A. [Irish Texts Soc., Vol. 3] (London: David Nutt 1900), lxii, 304pp.; and Do., with introduction, translation, notes and indexes, together with original illustrative documents / edited by Rev. Patrick S. Dinneen and Tadhg O'Donoghue [2nd edn.; Irish Texts Society, Vol. 3] (London: David Nutt [for ITS] 1911), pp. lxii, 360pp., 1 lf. of pls, 8° [parallel texts in Irish and English]. Contents incl. “The wounds of the land of Fodla”, “The ruin that befell the great families of Erin”, “No help I’ll call”, “Kilcash”, “When the Bishop of Cork was sent over the sea by the [Protestant] heretics”, “The drenching night drags on”, “On a pair of shoes presented to him”, &c.

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Criticism
  • Séamus Ó hAodha, Aodhagán Ó Rathaille (Baile Atha Cliath: Comhlucht Oideachaisna hÉireann 1925), 124pp.
  • R. A. Breathnach, ‘The End of a Tradition: A Survey of 18th-century Gaelic Literature’, in Studia Hibernica, I (Dublin 1961), pp.128-50;
  • Cainneach Ó Maonaigh, ‘Scríbhneoirí Gaeilge an seachtú haois déag’, in Studia Hibernica, II (Dublin 1962), pp.182-208;
  • Seán Ó Tuama, Filí faoi Sceimhle [Poets under Pressure] (1978), (Baile Atha Cliath: Oifig an tSoláthair [An Gúm] 1978), xii, 204pp. [a study of Sean Ó Ríordáin and Aogán Ó Rathaille].
  • Seán Ó Tuama, ‘The World of Aogán Ó Rathaille’, in Repossessions: Selected Essays on Irish Literary Heritage (Cork UP 1995), pp.101-18 [extract];
  • Benedict Kiely, ‘Land Without Stars: Aodhagan O’Rahilly’, in A Raid into Dark Corners and Other Essays (Cork UP 1999), pp.8-30 [formerly in The Capuchin Annual, 1945-46; extract];
  • Declan Kiberd, ‘Dying Acts: Ó Rathaille and Others’, in Irish Classics (London: Granta 2000), pp.39-54;
  • Breandan Ó Buachalla, Dánta Aodhagáin Uí Rathaille: Reassessments [ITS, Vol. 15] (London: ITS 2005), 64pp.
General studies
  • Douglas Hyde, A Literary History of Ireland [1899, 1901], and Do., ed. Brian Ó Cuív [rep. edn.] (NY: Barnes & Noble 1967);
  • Daniel Corkery, The Hidden Ireland (Dublin: Gill 1924) [extract];
  • Aodh de Blacam, Gaelic Literature Surveyed (Dublin: Talbot 1929);
  • Paul Walsh, Irish Men of Learning (Dublin: Three Candles 1947);
  • Vivian Mercier, The Irish Comic Tradition (OUP 1962);Frank O’Connor, The Backward Look (1967);
  • Briain Ó Cuív, ‘The Irish Language in Early Modern period’, in A New History of Ireland III (OUP 1976), pp.509-42;
  • Briain Ó Cuív, A View of the Irish Language, ed. T. W. Moody, F. X. Martin, F. J. Byrne (Dublin: Stationary Office 1969);
  • J. T. Leersen, Mere Irish and Fíor-Gael (1986).
See also Bernard O’Donoghue, “Visiting the Birthplace of Aodhágan Ó Rathaille” [q.v., supra].

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Commentary
Daniel Corkery esteemed O’Rahilly for ‘his poverty, his oneness with his race, his oneness with the fortunes of his province’ and ‘the sense of his own troubles in those of his race’ (The Hidden Ireland, 1967 Edn., pp.179, 180); also, calls “The ruin that befell ... &c.” one of the poet’s ‘litanies of racial sorrow ’(pp.180-81.)

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Conrad M. Arensberg, The Irish Countryman: An Anthropological Study (Macmillan 1937): ‘We owe the first poem of the eighteenth-century poet O’Rahilly to the epression of this rivalry [between old and young men], in a older day when Gaelic poetry still survived. He was called to in to defend the young unmarried men, the “boys” of today, in a poetic contest over respective merits between thenm and the “old men”, that is, the married men of family and substance. And he played, too, in the hurley game which fought out the contest on another field. For wer are dealing here not so much with truths and falsities as with group-attitudes reciprocally held. Pareto would call them derivations; he would find their residues in the sentimental of those grouped together about a common status in the community. Once these sentiments were expressed ceremonially as in O’Rahilly’s day. Evenm now the men of Luogh point out a large stone. With that stone the “men” and the “boys” competed at tests of strength till jut a few years ago.’ (p.116.)

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Frank O’Connor, The Backward Look, A Survey of Irish Literature (London: Macmillan 1967):‘By the eighteenth century the old aristocracy hardly existed at all ... Egan O’Rahilly was the best of these peasant imitators, and his heavy-handed verse occasionally blazes out in lines that influenced Yeat’s later work. [Quotes: ... na flatha fá raibh mo shean roimh Eag do Chríost, with a trans., i.e., ‘I shall go after the heroes, ay, into the clay; / My fathers followed theirs before Christ was crucified’]. Unlike Daniel Corkery, who wrote a very lyrical and wrongheaded book on it, I can see nothing to admire in Irish eighteenth century poetry ... completely uninfluenced by literature in English that was developing at the same time and in the same places ... the old cultural attraction between the Irish and the invaders had completely broken down.’ (pp.113-14; unique ref.) Note, the phrase cited in Dictionary of Irish Writers [infra] is not included here. And see also remarks of Richard Kain, citing both O’Connor’s translation and Yeats’s version of the concluding line [infra].

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Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce (Oklahoma UP 1962; Newton Abbot: David Charles 1972): ‘No policy of persecution could exterminate Irish loyalty. The pride of an ancient civilixation gives a manly tone to the laments of the last bards, a note that Yeats cherished in his late poems. In one magnificent elegy Egan O’Rahily (1670-1726) voiced his own farewell to life and art as well as the death of a tradition: “I will follow the beloved among heroes to the grave, / Those princes under whom were my ancestors before the death of Christ” / Yeats, who advised Frank O’Connor in preparing this translation, echoed the theme in “The Curse of Cromwell”; even though lovers and dancers “are beaten into the clay,” the old man retains his pride as a servant: “His fathers served their fathers before Christ was crucified.”].

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John Jordan, ‘Aoghan O’Rathaille’, in Seán MacReamoinn, ed., The Pleasures of Gaelic Poetry (Harmonsworth: Penguin 1982): ‘I do not thing it absurd to take cognisance of the piteously human pattern coexisting with the patent political allegory. The poet has seen his “brightness of brightness” befouled and must live to record the grand disillusion.’ (p.88.)

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John Montague (Faber Book of Irish Verse, 1978, p.30), describes O’Rahilly in common with Daithí Ó Bruadair as ‘angry men, concerned in their different ways about the state of their country and vituperating against those in power.’ (Quoted in Callum Boyle, UG Diss., UUC 2003.)

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Benedict Kiely, ‘Land Without Stars; Aodhagan O’Rahilly’: ‘He was not by any means, a landscape poet. He did not write reliable, detailed accounts of th elives of the common people. Even the descriptions he have given of castle interiiors can be aas far fromsocial ducmentary as any fanciful effort of the imagination ever was. But his intuitive power caught in a few sudden lines allthe secret of the water, the woods, the great mountains, the beauty of the world and its sorrow, the sunny calm places, the crushing rush of storm. And somehow he was written into all that his own misery, the misery of his people, the horror of his time contrasted wit the past as he had imagined it./ The man who once perfectly expressed the spirit of any place is always alive in that place. The local peole may forget that he ever existed. The spot where his body was put in the ground many be forgotten. No man in all the land may name him among his ancestors. The words that he wrote may be read only by a very few. But, at some time or other, men reading those words will understand that he, and he only gave perfect voice to the beauty that had previously impressed in silence. And that he said the words that described exactly the silences and the wordless sounds, the lights, the shadows, the differing colours./O’Rahilly’s handful of lyrics did all that for the country around Killarney.’ (A Raid into Dark Corners and Other Essays, Cork UP 1999, p.10).

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Seán Ó Tuama, ‘The World of Aogán Ó Rathaille’, in Repossessions: Selected Essays on Irish Literary Heritage (Cork UP 1995), pp.101-18: ‘[...] It was most likely about the year 1703 Aogan Ó Rathaille, a married man with two daughters, was dispossessed of his family home. He may have lived for some years afterwards as an undertenant at Stagmount, a few miles from Schrahanaveel but finally (c.1707?) had to leave the Sliabh Luachra district completely. He most likely found himself a hovel by the sea - a gift, perhaps, from one of the widespread McCarthy clan - near Castlemaine, County Kerry. In his poem Is fada liom oíche fhír fhliuch (The drenching night drags on), written on the occasion of a storm at sea, one senses that for the first time he was tasting grinding poverty. His inner desolation is palpable throughout the poem. The mood develops from being a sharp dramatic visualization of his own deprivation to a feeling of savage frustration at the humiliation suffered by his whole community:

The drenching night drags on: no sleep or snore,
no stock, no wealth of sheep, no horned cows.
This storm on the waves nearby has harrowed my head -
I who ate no winkles or dogfish in my youth!

If that guardian King from the bank of the Leamhan lived on,
with all who shared his fate (and would pity my plight)
to rule that soft, snug region, bayed and harboured,
my people would not stay poor in Duibhne country.

Great Carthy, fierce and fine, who loathed deceit;
with Carthy of the Laoi, in yoke unyielding, faint;
and Carthy King of Ceann Toirc with his children, buried;
it is bitterness through my heart they have left no trace.

My heart has dried in my ribs, my humours soured,
that those never-niggardly lords, whose holdings ranged
from Caiseal to Cliona's Wave and out to Thomond,
are savaged by alien hordes in land and townland.

You wave down there, lifting your loudest roar,
the wits in my head are worsted by your wails.
If help ever came to lovely Ireland again
I'd wedge your ugly howling down your throat!

Duainaire/Poems of the Dispossessed (Dublin 1981), p.141.

The poem has a typical Ó Rathaille structure, the last verse referring back to the first and revealing a great deepening of the initial mood. In the [106] opening lines his poverty and hurt pride are captured passionately and exactly. [...] the inner persona storm and the outer physical storm converge in the final howl of desolation where, Lear-like (as Daniel Corkery sees it), he challenges the might of the sea.’ (pp.105-06.)

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Declan Kiberd, Irish Classics (Granta 2001): ‘[O’Rathaille’s] grandiloquence cannot conceal the poet’s marginality and powerlessness, by contrast with his bardic ancestors. This explains the undercurrent of self-mockery, emphasised by the lapse from metrical intricacy into loose slang. It is as if the very idiom of the stanzas were enacting in its freefall that decline of cultural tradition which was [his] obsessive theme.’ (p.43.) Noting that O’Rahilly was dubbed the last of the Gaelic bards, Kiberd remarks: ‘he may even have believed this publicity himself, for he wrote as if his own life were a final test case for Ireland’ (Ibid., p.44.) Further, ‘there are [...] two registers in the vocabulary: one vicious and deliberately insulting (diabhal iasachta) and the other stately and restrained (fearann choinn): and they enact the conflict in the writer’s mind between his noble self-image and his low social standing.’ (p.48.) [All quoted in Callum Boyle, UG Diss., UUC, 2003.]

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Quotations
Last Words”: “Cabhair ní ghoirfead go gcuitrear mé i gcruinn-chomhrainn”: ‘Now I shall cease, death comes, and I must not delay // By Laune, or Laine, or Lee, diminished in their pride; / I shall go after the heroes, ay, into the clay, / My fathers followed their fathers before Christ was crucified.’ (Quoted in Mary Campbell, Lady Morgan, London: Pandora 1988, p.9; see original and Kinsella’s version under The Field Day Anthology, infra.)

Q. source: ‘Our virtues are all withered every one, / Our music vanished and our skill to sing; / Now may we quiet us and quit our moan.’

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References
Brian Cleeve & Ann Brady, A Dictionary of Irish Writers (Dublin: Lilliput 1985), gives account of the writer [under Aodhagán Ó Rathile; Egan O’Rahilly] acc. to which his father, who died in his boyhood, left much of the townland of Scrahanaveal; dependents of Eoghan MacCarthy; fell into destitution after 1691; called ‘one of the great snobs of literature’ by Frank O’Connor; his poetry edited by Pádraig Ó Duinnín (ITS 1900) [but cf. FDA1, infra, & Works, supra.]

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 1, Aogán Ó Rathaille [var. Egan O’Rahilly]; Alan Harrison, ed.; remarks: ‘aislings of Ó Rathaille represent a real, if romantic, political aspiration’ [275-76]; selects, ‘Cabhair ní ghairfead [No help I’ll call]’, [287, under sect., “Last Words I”], trans. Thomas Kinsella, in An Duanaire (includes lines ‘rachad ’na bhfasc le searc na laoch don chill, / na flatha fá raibh mo shean roimh éag Chríost [In the grave with this cherished chief I’ll join those kings / my people served before the death of Christ’]); “Mac an Cheannaí [The Merchant’s Son]”, trans. Kinsella, ibid. [292-93]. BIOG 325-36: b. Sliabh Luchra, scribe and poet with reputation for learning; laments demise of MacCarthy chieftains; sometimes turns to Browne for help; latter part of life lived in poverty in west Kerry; sometimes accredited with first aisling poetry; bur. Muckross Abbey. Bibl. [as in Works & Criticism, supra.]

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Notes
Absit: There are neither references to nor selections from Ó Rathille in Charles A. Read, ed., A Cabinet of Irish Literature, 3 vols. (1876-78) or later edns [T. P. O’Connor, ed., 1880; rev. edn., ed. Katharine Tynan, 1903), nor in Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: Catholic Univ. of America 1904).

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