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Other Tirconaill Bards

"Danta Diadha Uladh", collected by Enri Ó Muirgheasa, published by Oifig Díolta Foillseacháin Rialtais in 1936, carries an inscriptory line by Feargal Mac an Bháird, "Is diomhaim gac dan acht dan Dé--Every song/poem is useless except a song to God". Ó Muirgheasa's foreword, in Irish, pays tribute to the Celtic bards whose religious poems helped succour their people during the prosletysing heyday of Protestant planters, satirising the few weaklings who succumbed, and laughing at the newly transplanted English churches' efforts to persuade the poor and the dispossessed to part with their sole remaining treasure, their Catholic faith.

Of special interest are the notes appended to most of the poems by Ó Muirgheasa, detailing where he found them and tracing their origin. The source of seven of them he places in a manuscript compiled by Micheal Mac a' Bháird of Ros Inbhear, in 1825. The first of these is "Friday's Poem"--"Dán na hAoine", a reflection on the crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday. I mention it solely for the reason that Good Friday is a highly significant date in recent Irish history.

Of more immediate interest is that one of the poems he preserves is "Aodh Beag an Dóchtuir", an excoriation of a turncoat cleric, which Micheal discovered in manuscript in Belfast City Library, wherein it is stated that the poet was Brian Mac an Bháird.

The surviving bards of Donegal, however, were not slavish in their praise of all Catholic clergy. If something were amiss, they were not remiss in their criticism. In this they were following their traditional role and duty. An observation by Mata Ó Graeme, quoted by Ó Muirgheasa at p.374 o his "Dánta Diadha Uladh" is worth noting:

"Though the Catholic clergy of Ireland were justly beloved of the people for their privations and sufferings, yet whenever they infringed on the rigid rules of the Church, or imposed on the people under any pretense, they were sure of meeting the opposition of the bards. Seldom indeed did the priesthood incur their censure, but if at any time that censure was called for it was not called for in vain."

The above observation is appended to a poem "Da mBeinn-se Saidhbhir" by Art Mac Cubhthaigh, condemning over-exaction of tithes or other levies from poor parishioners. This same Art composed a famous bilingual poem "Tagra an Da Theampall," a dispute in rhyme between an English and an Irish church over matters canonical. "Just for the jig of the thing," as the old woman said when asked why she rode a whin bush, one of its English verses is given herewith:

In spite of your beads my English shall reign,
While Irish grows daily odious;
England and Wales have riches in heaps,
To flourish away most glorious;
My flock has estates, with land and demesnes,
All riding in state in their coaches,
While taxes, arrears, and cesses severe
Are on your Gaedhelian broaches.

The estates are gone (mostly), the demesnes, and the coaches. Only the land remains, and the original owners, not to mention "taxes, arrears, and cesses severe".



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