Lament for Airt Uí Laoghaire

07-28 Ni Chonaill
Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill
Irish
1743 – 1800

 

I

My steadfast love!
When I saw you one day
by the market-house gable
my eye gave a look
my heart shone out
I fled with you far
from friends and home.

And never was sorry:
you had parlours painted
rooms decked out
the oven reddened
and loaves made up
roasts on spits
and cattle slaughtered;
I slept in duck-down
till noontime came
or later if I liked.

My steadfast friend!
it comes to my mind
that fine Spring day
how well your hat looked
with the drawn gold band,
the sword silver-hilted
your fine brave hand
and menacing prance,
and the fearful tremble
of treacherous enemies.
You were set to ride
your slim white-faced steed
and Saxons saluted
down to the ground,
not from good will
but by dint of fear
– though you died at their hands,
my soul’s beloved…

My steadfast friend!
And when they come home,
our little pet Conchúr
and baby Fear Ó Laoghaire,
they will ask at once
where I left their father.
I will tell them in woe
he is left in Cill na Martar,
and they’ll call for their father
and get no answer…

My steadfast friend!
I didn’t credit your death
till your horse came home
and her reins on the ground,
your heart’s blood on her back
to the polished saddle
where you sat – where you stood….
I gave a leap to the door,
a second leap to the gate
and a third on your horse.

I clapped my hands quickly
and started mad running
as hard as I could,
to find you there dead
by a low furze-bush
with no Pope or bishop
or clergy or priest
to read a psalm over you
but a spent old woman
who spread her cloak corner
where your blood streamed from you,
and I didn’t stop to clean it
but drank it from my palms.

My steadfast love!
Arise, stand up
and come with myself
and I’ll have cattle slaughtered
and call fine company
and hurry up the music
and make you up a bed
with bright sheets upon it
and fine speckled quilts
to bring you out in a sweat
where the cold has caught you.

II

My friend and my treasure!
Many fine-made women
from Cork of the sails
to Droichead na Tóime
would bring you great herds
and a yellow gold handful,
and not sleep in their room
on the night of your wake.

My friend and my lamb!
Don’t you believe them
nor the scandal you heard
nor the jealous man’s gossip
that it’s sleeping I went.
It was no heavy slumber
but your babies so troubled
and all of them needing
to be settled in peace.

People of my heart,
what woman in Ireland
from setting of sun
could stretch out beside him
and bear him three sucklings
and not run wild
losing Art Ó Laoghaire
who lies here vanquished
since yesterday morning?…

Long loss, bitter grief
I was not by your side
when the bullet was fired
so my right side could take it
or the edge of my shift
till I freed you to the hills,
my fine-handed horseman!

My sharp bitter loss
I was not at your back
when the powder was fired
so my fine waist could take it
or the edge of my dress,
till I let you go free,
My grey-eyed rider,
ablest for them all.

III

My friend and my treasure trove!
An ugly outfit for a warrior:
a coffin and a cap
on that great-hearted horseman
who fished in the rivers
and drank in the halls
with white-breasted women.
My thousand confusions
I have lost the use of you.
Ruin and bad cess to you,
ugly traitor Morris,
who took the man of my house
and father of my young ones
– a pair walking the house
and the third in my womb,
and I doubt that I’ll bear it.

My friend and beloved!
When you left through the gate
you came in again quickly,
you kissed both your children,
kissed the tips of my fingers.
You said: ” Eibhlín, stand up
and finish with your work
lively and swiftly:
I am leaving our home
and may never return.”
I made nothing of his talk
for he spoke often so.

My friend and my share!
O bright-sworded rider
rise up now,
put on your immaculate
fine suit of clothes,
put on your black beaver
and pull on your gloves.
There above is your whip
and your mare is outside.
Take the narrow road Eastward
where the bushes bend before you
and the stream will narrow for you
and men and women will bow
if they have their proper manners
– as I doubt they have at present…

My love, and my beloved!
Not my people who have died
– not my three dead children
nor big Dónall Ó Conaill
nor Conall drowned on the sea
nor the girl of twenty-six
who went across the ocean
alliancing with kings
– not all these do I summon
but Art, reaped from his feet last night
on the inch of Carriginima.
The brown mare’s rider
deserted here beside me,
no living being near him
but the little black mill-women
– and to top my thousand troubles
their eyes not even streaming.

My friend and my calf!
O Art Ó Laoghaire
son of Conchúr son of Céadach
son of Laoiseach Ó Laoghaire:
West from the Gaortha
and East from the Caolchnoc
where the berries grow,
yellow nuts on the branches
and masses of apples
in their proper season
– need anyone wonder
if Uibh Laoghaire were alight
and Béal Atha an Ghaorthaígh
and Gúgán the holy
or the fine-handed rider
who used tire out the hunt
as they panted from Greanach
and the slim hounds gave up?
Alluring-eyed rider,
o what ailed you last night?
For I thought myself
when I bought your uniform
the world couldn’t kill you!

IV

My love and my darling!
My love, my bright dove!
Though I couldn’t be with you
nor bring you my people
that’s no cause for reproach,
for hard pressed were they all
in shuttered rooms
and narrow coffins
in a sleep with no waking.

Were it not for the smallpox
and the black death
and the spotted fever
those rough horse-riders
would be rattling their reins
and making a tumult
on the way to your funeral,
Art of the bright breast…

My friend and my calf!
A vision in dream
was vouchsafed me last night
in Cork, a late hour,
in bed by myself:
our white mansion had fallen,
the Gaortha had withered,
our slim hounds were silent
and no sweet birds,
when you were found spent
out in midst of the mountain
with no priest or cleric
but an ancient old woman
to spread the edge of her cloak,
and you stitched to the earth,
Art Ó Laoghaire,
and streams of your blood
on the breast of your shirt.

My love and my darling!
It is well they became you
your stocking, five-ply,
riding -boots to the knee,
cornered Caroline hat
and a lively whip
on a spirited gelding,
many modest mild maidens
admiring behind you.

My steadfast love!
When you walked through the servile
strong-built towns,
the merchants’ wives
would salute to the ground
knowing well in their hearts
a fine bed-mate you were
a great front-rider
and father of children.

Jesus Christ well knows
there’s no cap upon my skull
nor shift next to my body
nor shoe upon my foot-sole
nor furniture in my house
nor reins on the brown mare
but I’ll spend it on the law;
that I’ll go across the ocean
to argue with the King,
and if he won’t pay attention
that I’ll come back again
to the black-blooded savage
that took my treasure.

V

My love and my beloved!
Your corn-stacks are standing,
your yellow cows milking.
Your grief upon my heart
all Munster couldn’t cure,
nor the smiths of Oiledn na bhFionn.

Till Art Ó Laoghaire comes
my grief will not disperse
but cram my heart’s core,
shut firmly in
like a trunk locked up
when the key is lost.

Women there weeping,
stay there where you are,
till Art Mac Conchúir summons drink
with some extra for the poor
– ere he enter that school
not for study or for music
but to bear clay and stones.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.