Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill


?1743-?1800; b. Derrynane, Co. Kerry, one of the 22 children of Dómhnaill Mór Ó Conaill; aunt of Daniel O’Connell; married at 15 to an O’Connor of Iveragh, an old man who died six months after; then m. Art Ó Laoghaire (1747-73), of Rathleigh [var. Raleigh House] near Macroom, Captain in the Hungarian Hussars, against against her family’s wishes in 1767, with whom 3 children, incl. 2 sons who were sent to Paris for their education; Ó Laoghaire proclaimed ‘notoriously infamous’ by High Sheriff of Cork, Abraham Morris - charges successfully [?rebutted] in court; his mare beat Morris’s at Macroom races, 1773; refused to sell to Sheriff’s offer of five guineas [£5.5.0]; shot at Carriganimmy [Ir. Carrig an Ime; var. Carriganima] by Abraham’s henchman after an attempted ambush on Morris at Millstreet, his blood-drenched mare returning to Rathleigh; according to her poem, Eibhlín Dubh rode back to Carrig an Ime to declaim the first parts of the Caoineadh over her husband, and drink his blood; Ó Laoghaire was re-buried in Kilcrea Abbey in inscribed tomb; the Caoineadh written down from oral tradition. DIB OCIL
Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill is known in Irish literary history and folk tradition as the author of the 390-line Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire [“The Keen over Art O’Leary”, 1773], purportedly an ex tempore lament in the tradition of mná caointe - though probably a literary production.

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  • Seán Ó Tuama, ed., Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire (1961);
Translations in
  • Frank O’Connor in Kings, Lords and Commons (1962);
  • Ó Tuama and Thomas Kinsella, eds, An Duanaire, Poems of The Dispossessed (1981);
  • Malachi McCormick, Lament for Art O’Leary, new translation with an introduction (NY: Stone Street Press 2011), 60pp. [full-length 390-line version; bound with Japanese 4-hole binding].

Note: McCormick has also issued an edition of The Land of Cockayne [The Irish Utopia], by Michael of Kilda[i]re, 1305.

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  • Rachel Bromwich, ‘The Keen for Art O’Leary’, in Éigse, V (1945-47);
  • Brendan Kennelly, ‘Poetry and Violence’, in History and Violence in Anglo-Irish Literature, ed. Joris Duytschaever & Geert Lernout [Conference of 9 April 1986; Costerus Ser. Vol. 71] (Amsterdam: Rodopi 1988), pp.5-27 ;
  • Declan Kiberd, ‘Eibhlín Dhubh Ní Chonaill: The Lament for Art Ó Laoghaire’, in Irish Classics (London: Granta 2000), pp.161-81.
  • Declan Kiberd, "In Praise of Eibhlín Dhubh Ní Chonaill", in The Irish Times (2 March 2015) [see infra.]

See also Sarah E. McKibben, Endangered Masculinities in Irish Poetry 1540-1780 (UCD Press 2010), 208pp. [quotes ‘D’umhlaidís Sasanaigh (dhó) le haon chorp eagla / The English used to bow (to him) for sheer terror’].

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Seán Ó Tuama speaks of Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire as ‘liric mhór chorraitheach [a great moving lyric]’ and ‘cáipéis chruinn fasnéise [accurate documentary narrative]’ (cited in Declan Kiberd, review of Repossessions, 1996, in Times Literary Supplement, 17 Sept. 1996.)

Declan Kiberd, "In Praise of Eibhlín Dhubh Ní Chonaill", in The Irish Times (2 March 2015) - with photo-ill. of the grave of Art O Laoghaire.

If ever a woman spoke across the centuries in tones of authentic love, that is Eibhlín Dubh in her lament for her murdered husband Art Ó Laoghaire in 1773. Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire is rightly regarded as one of the great elegies of European culture, an amazing combination of tradition and the individual talent - moving through moods of shock, tenderness, nostalgic reverie, personal outrage, vengeance and (in the end) immense dignity.

It is a cry of passion by a woman who is before and beyond “gentility”, a true aristocrat of the emotions. The ferocity of her language is exceeded only by the awesome control of language, every word etched, indelible, incontrovertible. The lines are spoken in a rhythm of such throbbing intensity as to suggest that a culture capable of this utterance can never die. And how right Eibhlín Dhubh was – her tribute has called forth some amazing translations, none better than that by Eilís Dillon.

We know little enough about Eibhlín – almost as little as we do about Homer. She is believed to have spoken some of the lines over the dead body of her slain husband, whose blood she symbolically drank. After expressing her great pain, a formal feeling comes – and she invents a new tense, neither past nor present, which is a kind of “women’s time”, rejecting all ideas of authority, power and deference. In doing as much, she generates what Peter Levi has called “the greatest poem written in these islands in the whole eighteenth century”. It seems somehow appropriate that we have no picture of her.

Available at The Irish Times (2 March 2015) - online.

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Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire /The Lament for Art O’Leary (trans. by Thomas Kinsella,
in The Poems of the Dispossessed (Dolmen 1981 & Edns.)


Mo ghrá go daingean tu!
L á dá bhfaca thu
ag ceann tí an mhargaidh,
thug mo shúil aire dhuit,
thug mo chroí taitnearnh duit,
d'éalaíos óm charaid leat
i bhfad ó bhaile leat. 

Is domhsa nárbh aithreach:
Chuiris parlús á ghealadh dhom,
rúrnanna á mbreacadh dhom,
bácús á dheargadh dhom,
brící á gceapadh dhom,
rósta ar bhearaibh dom,
mairt á leagadh dhom;
codladh i gclúmh lachan dom
go dtíodh an t-eadartha
nó thairis dá dtaitneadh liorn. 

Mo chara go daingean tu!
is cuimhin lem aigne
an lá breá earraigh úd,
gur bhreá thiodh hata dhuit
faoi bhanda óir tarraingthe;
claíomh cinn airgid,
lámh dheas chalma,
rompsáil bhagarthach –
ar námhaid chealgach –
tú i gcóir chun falaracht
is each caol ceannann fút

D'umhlaídís Sasanaigh
síos go talamh duit,
is ní ar mhaithe leat
ach le haon-chorp eagla,
cé gur leo a cailleadh tu,
a mhuirnín mh'anama.... 

Mo chara thu go daingean!
is nuair thiocfaidh chúgham abhaile
Conchúr beag an cheana
is Fear Ó Laoghaire, an leanbh,
fiafróid díom go tapaidh
cár fhágas féin a n-athair.
'Neosad dóibh faoi mhairg
gur fhágas i gCill na Martar.
Glaofaid siad ar a n-athair,
is ní bheidh sé acu le freagairt.... 

Mo chara thu go daingean!
is níor chreideas riamh dod mharbh
gur tháinig chúgham do chapall
is a srianta léi go talamh,
is fuil do chroí ar a leacain
siar go t'iallait ghreanta
mar a mbítheá id shuí 's id sheasarnh.
Thugas léim go tairsigh,
an dara léim go geata,
an triú léim ar do chapall. 

Do bhuaileas go luath mo bhasa
is do bhaineas as na reathaibh

chomh maith is bhí séagam,
go bhfuaras romham tu marbh
Cois toirín ísil aitinn,
gan Pápa gan easpag,
gan cléireach gan sagart
do léifeadh ort an tsailm,
ach seanbhean chríonna chaite
do leath ort binn dá fallaing –
do chuid fola leat 'na sraithibh;
is níor fhanas le hí ghlanadh
ach í ól suas lem basaibh. 

Mo ghrá thu go daingean!
is érigh suas id sheasamh
is tar liom féin abhaile,
go gcuirfeam mairt á leagadh,
go nglaofam ar chóisir fhairsing,
go mbeidh againn ceol á spreagadh,
go gcóireod duitse leaba
faoi bhairlíní geala,
faoi chuilteanna breátha breaca,
a bhainfidh asat alias
in ionad an fhuachta a ghlacais.

English trans. by Thomas Kinsella:    

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.`

Available at Irish Culture and Customs - online.

Katie Donovan, A. N. Jeffares, and Brendan Kennelly, eds., Ireland’s Women (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1994), adds that the soldiers who shot him were transported, while Morris was shot by O’Leary’s brother; there are various eds. of the Caoineadh.

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Eilís Dillon: a translation of Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire by Dillon, with comments drawn from Peter Levi in an inaugural lecture at Oxford, 1984, are cited in P. J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland (1994), p.176-67.

Bob Quinn made the film Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire (1975) in the Irish-language, using Brechtian techniques and written in collaboration with John Arden. The film, commissiooned by Official Sinn Féin, and was the first independently-produced Irish language film in Ireland since 1936. (See Conor McCarthy, Modernisation, Crisis and Culture in Ireland, 1969-1992, Four Courts Press 2000, p.181ff.)

Dermot Bolger modelled his play The Lament for Arthur Cleary, dealing with contemporary Dublin, on the Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill.

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