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John O'Dwyer of the Glen
Posted by: IanB (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 27, 2005 05:39AM

I came across this striking poem translation in a book 'Bards of the Gael and Gall' by Dr George Sigerson, published in 1907. The book contains his translations of hundreds of Irish gaelic poems, and a lengthy introduction in which he says that Ireland, insofar as it remained unconquered by the Roman empire, was 'the sole representative in literature of that great world, which lived and thrived outside the classic camp'. He says that 'so far as the native expression and development of the intellect in [the subject nations of that empire] was concerned, Roman rule meant a massacre of mind'.

He dates this poem A.D.1651. A note in the book says that Colonel John O'Dwyer was a distinguished officer, who, in 1651, commanded in Tipperary and Waterford, and subsequently left Waterford for Spain with five hundred followers. (It was a time when Cromwell's army was rampaging in Ireland and laying waste some of the great estates, including that of the O'Dwyer clan).

Interestingly, and perhaps relevant to the recent thread started by Hugh relating to the use of complex rhyme in Adam Lindsay Gordon's poem on the Loamshire Hunt Cup, Sigerson credits Irish poetry with inventing rhyme and introducing it to English poetry, though of course much earlier than the 17th Century.

Seán O’Duibhir a’ Ghleanna

Oft, at pleasant morning,
Sunshine all adorning,
I’ve heard the horn give warning
    With bird’s mellow call––
Badgers flee before us,
Woodcocks startle o’er us,
Guns make ringing chorus,
    ’Mid the echoes all;
The fox run higher and higher,
Horsemen shouting nigher,
The maiden mourning by her
    Fowl he left in gore.
Now, they fell the wild-wood:
Farewell, home of childhood,
Ah, Seán O’Duibhir a’ Ghleanna
    Thy day is o’er !

It is my sorrow sorest,
Woe,–– the falling forest !
The north wind gives me no rest,
    And Death’s in the sky:
My faithful hound’s tied tightly,
Never sporting brightly,
Who’d make a child laugh lightly,
    With tears in his eye.
The antlered, noble-hearted
Stags are never started,
Never chased nor parted
    From the furzy hills.
If peace came, but a small way,
I’d journey down on Galway,
And leave, tho’ not for alway,
    My Erinn of Ills.

The land of streamy valleys
Hath no head nor rallies––
In city, camp, or palace,
    They never toast her name.
Alas, no warrior column,––
From Cloyne to peaks of Colum,
O’er wasted fields and solemn,
    The shy hares grow tame.
O ! when shall come the routing,
The flight of churls and flouting?
We hear no joyous shouting
    From the blackbird brave;
More warlike is the omen,
Justice comes to no men,
Priests must flee the foemen
    To the mountain cave.

It is my woe and ruin
That sinless death’s undoing
Came not, ere the strewing
    Of all my bright hopes.
How oft, at sunny morning,
I’ve watched the Spring returning,
The Autumn apples burning,
    And dew on woodland slopes !
Now my lands are plunder,
Far my friends asunder,
I must hide me under
    Branch and bramble screen––
If soon I cannot save me
By flight from foes who crave me,
O Death, at last I’ll brave thee
    My bitter foes between !

The poem title (pronounced 'Shaun O Dyer a glanna') means John O'Dwyer of the glen. I have seen different versions of how the Gaelic is spelled, and even in Sigerson's book it is rendered inconsistently. I have standardised it, and am happy to be corrected by anyone who speaks Gaelic (I don't!).

Otherwise I have reproduced the poem as in Sigerson's book, including his slightly eccentric punctuation. I wonder whether there are mistakes in the old type-setting. For instance I have seen a modern musician's handwritten version in which, in the first stanza, line 9 reads 'The fox runs high and higher', and the last line reads 'Thy day it is o'er' (both of which sound better), and in which 'sunless' (which seems more logical) replaces 'sinless' in the second line of the last stanza.

There's a slightly different version of Sigerson's translation, as well as another, quite different translation, and what purports to be the original Gaelic version, on this site:


Although the original has evidently always been a song lyric, I'm surprised that Sigerson's memorable translation hasn't been included in modern anthologies of translated Irish verse.


Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 12/27/2005 04:04PM by IanB.

Re: John O'Dwyer of the Glen
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 27, 2005 12:37PM

Well, Erin mavournin! That certainly has the same feel as the others mentioned, assuming one changes the stanzas to,

Oft, at pleasant morning, sunshine all adorning,
I’ve heard the horn give warning with bird’s mellow call––
Badgers flee before us, woodcocks startle o’er us,
Guns make ringing chorus, 'mid the echoes all;

The meter has more of a trochaic feel, instead of the iambic/anapestic beat of the others, but the rhythm is clearly there. Three internal rhymes with femining endings and the masculine rhymes where the stanzas pause with a dash, semicolon or full stop.

That the original has similar rhymes is not immediately apparent, but with the translations, one can see the similarities:

Ar m'éirighe dhom ar maidin,
Grian a' tsamhraidh 'g taitneamh
Chuala 'n uaill dá casadh,
'Gus ceol binn na n-éan;
Bruic is míolta gearra,
Creabhair na ngob fada
Fuaim ag a' macalla
'Gus lamhach gunnaí tréan

Thanks, Ian. I will keep the 1651 date as the earliest example seen so far!

Re: John O'Dwyer of the Glen
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 27, 2005 12:45PM

Yuck. That posted twice for some reason, and the format didn't cut and paste right. Well, anyway, one can see the right stuff on Ian's link.

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