Marbhna Airt Óig Uí Néill

Background

(See A Hidden Ulster pp. 265-279; 250-84; 350-1 for detailed references and information)

This is Art Mac Cumhaigh’s longest and most mournful poem with forty-three verses in the published version, edited from scribal manuscripts. Art Óg Ó Néill was a direct descendant of the O’Neill Gaelic chieftains of Glasdrumman and, as the last four lines of the song tell us, he died in July 1769 aged twenty-six. This was the same year as Peadar Ó Doirnín’s death in Forkhill, for whom Art Mac Cumhaigh also wrote a death-lay. The song survived in the Oriel oral song tradition until c. 1900. This song is in a recitative style and lament metre as are two other laments in this collection An Bhean Chaointe and Séamus Mac Murfaidh.

Grave-lays were often part of the funeral rituals There is little doubt but that Art Mac Cumhaigh sang his own compositions and, although he does make many references in his poems to the playing of the harp and to harp music, there is little evidence that links him with playing an instrument. There is one reference, however, where, at his fellow poet Peadar Ó Doirnín’s funeral, he is mentioned as singing and playing in a description of the lamentation at the funeral: ‘The most celebrated dirge women sung his dirge according to the old bardic custom existing in Ireland and which was much esteemed at that time. Art McCooey, his contemporary, attended and sung and played the elegy on the grave of his deceased friend.’ (AHU 269).

There seems little doubt but that Mac Cumhaigh wrote many if not all of his poems as songs to be sung, probably set to airs by him as a single creative composition and initially sung by himself. The collector Enrí Ó Muiríosa claimed that ‘nearly all MacCooey’s songs – perhaps even the lengthy Marbhna (Elegy above) – were meant to be sung, and were no doubt sung by MacCooey himself, for it appears he was an expert singer.’ He was known in the folk tradition as Art na gCeoltaí (Art of the Songs) This epithet was also given to others locally who were celebrated singers: Bríd na gCeoltaí (Brid Casserly) and Cáithtí na gCeoltaí (Cití Sheáin Dobbin) in Omeath.

Art Óg Ó Néill, whose death the poet laments, was the son of Dónall Ó Néill, a constable and linen merchant who lived in Annagad near Crossmaglen. Both are buried in Creggan in a marked grave. His mother was Bríd Uí Néill, who lived in Annagad until her death in 1798 The gravestone can be seen near the O’Neill vault. Art Óg Ó Néill’s uncle, his father’s brother, was General Féilim Ó Néill (1720-96) who fought with Bonnie Prince Charlie in the battle of Culloden and was his companion as he fled from battle. He was a general of the Spanish army. His son Juan (Eoghan), who was a cousin of Art Óg Ó Néill, was a lieutenant general as well and fought in the Spanish army against the forces of Napoleon. He settled in Majorca, and it was from him that one branch of the O’Neills descended. Another branch of the family settled in Seville and their descendants are still in Spain. Art Óg, who left no heir, was the last of the O’Neills chieftains of the Fews.

Creggan O'Neill family tree

The Creggan O’Neill chieftains of Glasdrumman Castle. Family tree by Tomás Ó Fiaich. © An Clóchomhar

The fall of the Clann Uí Néill as chieftains of the Fews in south Armagh, and as patrons of the poets in the area, was a great source of sorrow to the poet Mac Cumhaigh, and the subject of many of his songs.

 © Oriel Arts 2017

Transmission

It is worth noting that this grave-lay, which was written for the last of the O’Neills who died in 1769 had also survived in the songs of the people until c.1900, despite its great length. The survival of these grave-lays, in the songs of the people, suggests that they were originally composed to be sung (AHU p. 270-1) probably by the poets themselves at the time of burial, and having been sung on more than one occasion (i.e. at the funeral), later became incorporated into the mainstream oral tradition of the locality.

Mrs Mary Harvessy with her daughter Mary.

Máire Uí Arbhasaigh Crossmaglen, source of Art Mac Cumhaigh’s songs and daughter Máire. © Oriel Arts and A Hidden Ulster 2017.

Versions were collected by Lorcan Ó Muirí in Crossmaglen from Máire Uí Arbhasaigh, who claimed direct family relationship with the poet, and who was the local custodian of many of his songs. The McKeown and Hearty families from Lough Ross near Crossmaglen were also sources of the elegy for collector Luke Donnellan. They sang sections of the song under different titles – of phrases in verses (AHU 433-35).

Singer Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin sourced the words and music and reassembled a section of the long 43 verse elegy by reconnecting lyrics to music.  She recorded it on the Gael Linn An Dealg Óir CD 2003 with accompaniment from Liam O’Flynn on uileann pipes and whistle and Steve Cooney on keyboards. It is that version version which is on the video above. It is recorded on Ceoltaí Oirialla – Songs of Oriel CD 2017

 

 

© Oriel Arts 2017

Words

Sources:

  • Ar Mhullaigh Dhrom Bhídh: Lorcán Ó Muirí, Amhráin Chúige Uladh (1937) 37– from Mary Harvessy.
  • Tuireamh Airt Óig Uí Néill: B. Ó Buachalla, Nua Dhuanaire (1976)
  • Marbhna Airt Óig Uí Néill: T. Ó Fiaich, Art Mac Cumhaigh – Dánta (1973)

Marbhna Airt Óig Uí Néill

I ndiaidh mo shiúil thríd chúigibh Éireann;
Is ar mhullaigh Dhroim Buí a shuíos im’ aonar,
San áit ar mhian liom scíste a dhéanamh,
Fuair mé dubh-lón ar shnua na spéire.
Bhí mé mar Oisín ag iarraidh na Féinne,
Tráth chuala(idh) mé an ainnir ba bhinne ná téada.

‘Mise an Feadh gan cheann, gan chéile,
’Bhí lá go haoibhinn faoi mhac Éinrí,
Go ngoireadh na húdair dúthaigh Uí Néill díom,
Mo gháirdín cumhra i lúb shliocht Féinis;
Iarlaí is prionsaí is cionn na cléire
In mo chaisleán ard le taobh Dhún Réimhe.

‘Ó tháinig ar sáile ón Spáinn go hÉirinn
Trí mhic álainn ard Mhiléisius,
Cha raibh mise uain nó uair le féile,
Nach raibh leon dá bpór don bhréagnú
Nó go ndeachaigh faoi fhód Art Óg Ó Néill uaim,
Scathán na Fódla is lóchrann Ghaelaibh.

‘An mac sin Dhónaill fuair ór is éadáil,
Eachraí óg sa ród ag léimnigh;
Imirt is ól is ceol ’na dhiaidh sin;
Seilg is meidhir is seinm ar théadaibh;
Dá maireadh sé beo go cróga in éideadh
Char bhaol don chóige seo brón nó buaireamh.

‘Chuaigh an iomad de Ghaelaibh, faraor, as Éirinn,
Chun na Spáinne ag ardú a gcéime,
Toirealach mac Aodha Buí, croí na féile,
Feilimidh Óg is Eoghan ’na dhiaidh sin,
I ndúil ’s go dtógfadh brón de Ghaelaibh,
’S nach bhfuigheadh ’n chlann fuafar sú mo chléibh-se.’

‘A Chreagáin na húire, lubhra ’s léan ort!
Is faoi do choim tá na prionsaí tréitheach:
Tugadh mac Einrí ’s ’níon Uí Néill dhuit,
Caitlín ’níon Aodha Buí ’s croí an Athar Féilim;
Tugadh duit Eoghan mac Airt Óig, ’s a chéile,
Is dar liom ba leor do do lóistín a’ méid sin.

‘Tá Contae an Dúin faoi chumhaidh ’na dhiaidh sin,
Contae Thír Eoghain, dár ndoigh, ’s ní hionadh;
Contae Ard Mhach’ go cráite buartha;
Duthaigh an Fheadha dá easba gan oidhre,
Gruaim is tuirse ar a maireann de Ghaelaibh,
Ó thaobh Shliabh gCallánn go Cábhán Uí Raghallaigh.

‘Tá an Ghlasdromainn buartha ’s a ghéaga ag críonadh,
Is ualaí an éisc ag éag le híonadh;
An caisleán ard ’bheith ar lár ’na phíosaibh;
An choill gan bhláth is fásach tríthí,
Fá bhás gach bile de shíol na ríthe,
Sliocht Feilimidh Ruaidh na gcrua(idh)lann líofa.’

Tá an Chros faoi ghruaim is gan cúirt Uí Néill ann,
Nó taithí na n-uaisle gach uair chum féasta,
Dís ó Lú is triúr ón Éirne;
An iomad ón Mhí is ó íochtar Éireann;
Ag imirt ’s ag ól as cornaibh gléigeal,
Mar ollamh Fódla go mbíodh an t-óg á réiteach.

Da maireadh na baird bhí i stát sa chrích seo,
Bheadh Séamus Mac Cuarta go stuama a’ cur síos duit;
Bheadh Pádraig Mac ’ioll‘ Fhiondáin ag rannsú gach líne,
Randall Dall Mac Dónaill le heolas dá mhíniú;
Ach(t) ó chuaigh faoi fhód níl beo led’ chaoineadh
Ach(t) mise, mo bhraon scartha a’ dréim leis an dílinn.

Go cúirt Airt a choíche, faraor, cha dtéimse,
Ag dúscadh a’ ceoil fá bhordaibh gléigeal,
Aige Bacchus mar mbínn seal míosa i ngéibhinn,
Ó mheisce gach fíon, ’s gan íota ar aon ann.
’Sé bás a’ Ghuaire bheir gruaim ar éigsibh.
Tá ualach mar ghual dubh fá bhruach mo chléibh-se.

Elegy for Young Art O’Neill

Having walked through Ireland’s provinces,
On top of Drumbee I sat by myself,
Where I longed to take a rest.
I saw dark clouds cross the sky’s face.
I was like Oisín seeking the Fianna,
When I heard a maiden sweeter than harpstrings:

‘I am the Fews without spouse or chieftain,
Who was once happily ruled by Mac Éinrí,
The writers would name me Ó Néill’s country,
My fragrant garden of the race of Venus,
Earls and princes and heads of clergy In my tall castle near Dunreavy.

‘Since they crossed the sea from Spain to Ireland –
The three tall lovely sons of Milesius,
I was never at times of pleasure
Than a hero of their line would pursue me,
Until Art Óg Ó Néill was taken from me

The cynosure of Ireland and the light of the Gaels.
‘That son of Dónall given gold and riches;
Young steeds on the highway leaping;
Playing and drinking, music making;
Hunting, hounds yelping, and playing on strings.
If he were to live on, valiant in uniform
This province would have no grief or concern.

‘Sadly too many of the Gaels left Ireland,
To go to Spain advancing their rank:
Toirealach son of Aodh Buí, the heart of kindness
Feilimí Óg and Eoghan thereafter
Hoping to raise the sorrow of the Irish
So the wretched tribe would not suckle my breast.

‘Creggan of graves, disease and woe on you:
Under your waist are the noble princes:
You were given Enrí and Ó Néill’s daughter –
Caitlín, daughter of Aodh Buí, and the heart of Friar Féilim;
You were given Eoghan, son of Art Óg and his spouse,
To lodge with you – I deem that enough.

‘County Down is lonesome without him;
County Tyrone as well – no wonder;
County Armagh broken in sorrow;
The Fews abandoned, without an heir
Bleakness and sadness on the Gaels who live on
From the slopes of Slieve Gallen to O’Reilly’s Cavan.

‘Glasdrumman is troubled and her branches drooping;
The shoals of fish in distress are dying;
The tall castle is fallen in pieces;
The wood overgrown and without blossom;
For the loss of each limb of royal blood:
The tribe of Féilimí Rua of the sharp tempered swords.’

Crossmaglen is in sorrow, without Ó Néill’s house,
Where the nobility frequently feasted:
Two from Louth, three from the Erne;
A great many from Meath and from Ireland’s north,
Playing and drinking from shining goblets;
The youth would gather, as Ireland’s poets.

If the bards who once were in state survived,
Séamus Mac Cuarta would account on you wisely;
Padraig Mac Giolla Fhiondáin would exact each line,
Randall Dall Mac Dónaill would give learned discourse,
But since all have died there is no one to keen you
But me – an isolated drop contending with the deluge.

To Art’s court, alas, I will go no more,
Making music at bright delightful tables,
With Baachus where I’d spend months in bondage,
Drunk from each wine and all thirst quenched.
This generous man’s death brings desolation to poets
And a burden like black coal lies beneath my breast.

Translation: Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin

© Oriel Arts 2017

Music

This song was collected under various titles including Creagán an Úir which suggests that singers would select to sing sections of the lengthy elegy. All the other versions of the air that were written down were close variants of the same basic air which suggests that they all may have been variants of one original air.

Though very little is known of the airs that accompanied the older form of elegies or death-lays, this song is not a song air is not a typical air in the songs of the people, but is closer to chant, or recitative-type airs associated with older lays and heroic songs. In both cases the songs are of great length. They are possibly the last surviving remnants in Ulster of a tradition which echo the older bardic tradition of ex tempore death-lays written in syllabic verse up to the seventeenth century which were performed after the internment by ‘the favourite bards of the family seated on the grave or sepulchre performed the Connthal or elegy; which they repeated every new and full moon for the first three months and afterwards generally once every year for persons of distinction’ (AHU p. 271).

This song is in a keening song metre, as are two other laments in this collection An Bhean Chaointe and Séamus Mac Murfaidh.

The air was transcribed without any words. When interpreting the air vocally, Ní Uallacháin referred, also, to the other versions collected in south Armagh by Donnellan and Ó Muirí, adapting it where necessary to accommodate the assonantal stresses and metre of the poem.

Creagan an Úir: Don. Box 1, 9/3 from James Mac Keown Lough Ross Crossmaglen. A Hidden Ulster p. 271 By kind permission National Folklore Collection UCD © 2017

© Oriel Arts 2017