We are indebted to de Blácam for the first mention of one of the truly
celebrated Mac an Bháird poets, Feargal Óg (Young Fergus), who
lived during one of the most tumultuous periods in Irish history. His exact
date of birth, like that of his death, are unknown. The latter took place "after
1616", and he had been a bard for more than forty years. With twelve years
of training, and adding in more than a decade for his boyhood, it can be safely
surmised that he was well over sixty when he died.
Osborn Bergin, one of the foremost scholars to chronicle the bards and their
works, spoke of Feargal's "smooth and simple style". It was a style
which most Gaelic poets tried to achieve, and passed on from generation to generation.
Indeed, de Blácam presents a noted similarity of Feargal's style and
subject matter with those of Gilbride Albanach MacNamee, who lived some four
hundred years earlier. As an example, MacNamee forecast the advent of bounteous
crops with the accession of Cathal Red-hand to the kingship of Connacht, in
Expecting the return of Red Hugh O'Donnell from Spain to Tir Chonaill and
his reassumption of leadership, Feargal Óg in the early 1600s wrote:
To Feargal Óg, de Blácam gives a goodly measure of praise, and
his critique is worth quoting in full, as follows:
To Feargal another of the greatest bards of the age, Fearflatha O'Gnive, addressed
a teasing poem, Cuimseach sin, a Fhearghail Oig, reproving him for making his
verses, not in a dark hut, but on horseback as he rode among the mountains;
"not thus wrought the bards of old, who lay in their dark, poetic beds
until their faces were washed with their own teardrops."
The following are Bergin's translations into English of three of Feargal Óg's
Farewell to Munster
Farewell to you, men of Munster, I do not intend to remain; although it is
hard for me to go away from you I will make for the land of Oileach now.
Since I must go north, farewell to you before I depart, a heartfelt farewell
from me to you before going to Derry, a decision already made.
The men of Munster, of the fine houses, are a comely host among which wine
is short-lived, warriors accustomed to bestowing their drinking-horns--farewell
from me to each one of them.
There are few lands fit to be compared to the plain of Munster, of smoothest
surface; since I am exchanging the province, I will not leave it without drinking
Since I am going to Tir Chonaill, farewell to the smooth green land of fair
houses and swans, of scanty streams and of horses, the territory of the son
of Macnia of the generous houses.
Farewell to its castles which are worthy of love, farewell to its low-voiced
rivers, farewell from me to its gold cups-- often a party oF poets left it,
It is right to mention my friends in whose huts I used to lie? I saw no ebbing
of their understanding--farewell to them from me before I go away.
May Peter and Paul and the apostles bring me safe from the strength of my
enemies to see heaven of the nine orders, may they be speaking for me against
the demands of justice.
The Downfall of the O'Donnells
I am sad for Mary and Margaret, the flower of the lowly branches lives no
more: they have shed their leaves, two nurses of care are they.
Alas, alas, grief hath left their hearts bloodless: the two companions of
the learned of Ulster's land, it is sad that they have run dry.
Their grief is the same as mine: Hugh Roe was the first cause of our anguish;
Rury of Cabha torments us, his departure is the cause of our ruin.
We are a poor flock without a shepherd. Caffar, head of Erin's honour, lies
beneath a gravestone--what sadder fate ? -- away in Italy.
In Italy of shallow waterfalls--it is as though she were dead--is Nuala,
the swan of the nut-grown plain of Corm; her loss to us is agony.
Nuala the bounteous, the hope of all, first in renown of the blood of Criomhthan,
to the day of doom shall live the fame of her name among the men of Ireland.
There was reft from us (what a loss!) the first in this land--an omen of
grief--he of the gentle grey eyes, trusty in battle, Manus, the wing of Ulster.
Manus, son of O'Donnell, in Uisueach's land of dark yew-trees was unsurpassed
by the host of his coevals, the very Naoise of Felim's race.
Four salmon from the mighty Boyne, four sons of Hugh, son of Manus, brood
of champions unswerving in purpose, they had nought to fear but jealousy.
Never shall we see--the doom is accomplished--the track of their hooves or
their bounding steeds along the Inny or the stately cool Maigue, four woes
of the race of Conall.
Highborn hawks of Innisfail, four desolations of Cruachan's hill, four mighty
ruins of Tara, are the glittering dark spearshafts.
'Tis strange that Mary should live while the rivers no longer bear ships,
and the withered forests of the fold of Uisneach are ever weeping for those
Throughout fair Banba the apple-trees bend not with apples, nor the wood
of hazelboughs with nuts--strange that Margaret should live.
I mourn not for Margaret nor Mary -- that is ground for sorrow -- but for
this fate that has fallen upon the land of the Fair, greater and ever greater
is the sighing of Ireland.
Mary and Margaret of Cruachan's wall, that their four brothers are gone is
a perpetual hindrance to slumber, alas! their state is very pitiful.
A Begging Letter
I have found a marvel, my friend--no reverence have I found from people to
whom it were fitting to wait upon me; it is a cold new marvel.
That I am empty--see whether this be not a thing to mark, while base folk,
unworthy of regard, are here receiving riches from Spain in honour of the
sweet green plain of Bregha.
Vulgar wives of churl and clown are yonder in golden raiment, while I lack
wealth--I deem it unjust.
Against the low-born families of Lughaidh's land, which have caused a spark
of envy to kindle within me, O son of Fitheal from Énna's land, show
unto me the sunlight of thy earnest care.
O stately tree of the city of Tuam, think in sooth that it is unbecoming
for me not to be in company with noble blood; lift me up with good will.
In the west I have left the end of my success, since I have spent my first
fortune; if thou art well-minded towards me, O Flaithri, it will be to me
a pledge of a second fortune.
Thy father would have held it no small wonder that my possessions grow not--complete
is the ruin--while a serf's son finds his riches growing, O thou branch from
which has grown rich fruit.
King Arthur, the prop of the world, was mighty upon earth; every man was
bound to pay court to him, he ruled the plain of this world.
Arthur never took food nor drink without some new marvel--strange was the
addition--until his death, when he had attained sovranty, he the topmost branch
of yonder land.
Had I been there while he lived, that world-king of blazing triumphs, he
would not--I say it sincerely--let me go fasting to bed a single night.
At the Round Table, in Arthur's presence, I should have told him on behalf
of my order how I am sonowful because I am in evil plight, while coarse churls
have gold at their disposal.
He would not take his meal when he heard how the children of robbers are
full of merriment, and how great is my misery among the blood of the Gaels--the
honour due to a guest is not mine.
In the court of Louvain of the purple slopes I am lodged with others here
in the east: my state is hard for one like me, I think it a shame to my fathers.
The rod of Tuam hath an old love for the house from which I come;
if he still keeps the love he ought to hold out his hand to me.
When Flaithri son of Fitheal the comely was a master-poet there would have
been kindness in his heart--that shield that protected Magh Maoin.
Guiding star of the patrons of Uisneach, Archbishop of Connacht, noble figure,
sage whom every true poet has praised, heart of the schools in the western
Salmon of the Boyle, salmon of Cong, branch of the orchard of Té's
Fortress, golden moon whereon no eclipse has spread, exalter of the humble.
Godly elder never envious, crowned prince who wins devotion, sweet stream
gushing from the hillside, saintly faith that will not divide its purpose.
Descendant of Conn of the Hundred Fights of Cnoc Maisdean, son of Onóra,
lasting honour, fresh stalk from warm moist Banbha, desire of my heart, welcome
that is never cold.
Magennis of the joyous nature, constant welcome I was wont to get from him,
his love was always ready to be bestowed, that was no cold welcome.
Conn, son of Ó Ruairc of the red spear-points, heir to Connacht,
skin like the foam; his two comrades on a foray were an ancient slender stream
and a cold dwelling.
I transgress the teaching of the Apostles by my practice of constant evils.
I fear Peter may drive me from his society--may he not be cold towards me.