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Monk, step further off



Went to see Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Bill Manhire and Adam Zagajewski reading at the Poetry Now festival in Dún Laoghaire. Ní Dhomhnaill gave an undertstated but quietly powerful reading, which included her versions in modern Irish of the poems of Gormfhlaith (died 947), the medieval Irish woman poet to whom twenty or so poems are attributed, and even though some of them are dated after her own life, there is a strong tradition of Gormfhlaith as a poet. She was the daughter of the Uí Néill king Flann Sinna and was married to three men, all of whom she outlived: Cormac Mac Cuilenneáin the king-bishop of Cashel, Cerball mac Muireacáin and the Uí Néill king Niall Glúndubh who was killed in battle and for whom she wrote the poem below, ‘Beir a mhanaigh leat an chois’. It’s published in Osborn Bergin’s Irish Bardic Poetry and Thomas Kinsella provides a translation in The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse, 1986), which I also give below. I’m not sure if Nuala’s versions have been published but I’m looking forward to reading them. What I heard in Dún Laoghaire was powerful.

Beir a mhanaigh leat an chois,
tóccaibh anos do tháobh Néill:
as rothrom chuireas tú an chré
ar an tú re luighinn féain.

Fada a mhanaigh atáoi thíar,
acc cúr na críadh ar Níall nár;
fada liom é a ccomhraidh dhuinn,
‘snach roichid a bhuinn an clár.

Mac Aodha Finnléith an óil,
ní dom dhéaon atá fa chrois;
sín ar a leabaidh an leac,
beir a mhanaigh leat an chois.

Fa Chloinn Uisnigh dob fearr clú
do bhí Deirdre mur tú anois,
a croidhe ina cliaph gur att -
beir a manaigh leat a ccois.

As me Gormlaith chumas rainn,
deaghinghean Floinn ó Dhúin Rois;
trúagh nach orom atá an leac -
beir a mhanaigh leat an ccois.

‘Monk, step further off.
Move away from Niall’s side.
You settle the clay to heavy
on him with whom I have lain.

You linger here so long
settling the clay on noble Niall:
he seems a long while in the coffin
where his soles don’t reach the boards.

‘Aed Finnliath’s son, of the drinking feasts,
under a cross – it is not my will.
Stretch the slab upon his bed.
Monk, step further off.

Over Uisnech’s famous family
Deirdre stood as I do now,
till her heart swelled in her side.
Monk, step further off.

‘I am Gormfhlaith, maker of verses,
Flann’s noble daughter from Dún Rois.
My grief that slab is not above me!
Monk, step further off.’


I love the proud imperiousness of that ‘beir a mhanaigh leat an chois’ or ‘beir do chos leat, a mhanaigh’ as Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill has it in Modern Irish (mura bhfuil dul amú orm).

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