Ireland: A Contemporary Poem on the Flight of the Earls (1607)

Fearghal Óg: The Downfall of the O’Donnells

I am sad for Mary and Margaret,
the flower of the lowly branches lives no more:
they have shed their leaves,
two nurses of care are they.

Truagh liom Máire agas Mairgrég,
ní beó bláth na n-umhailghég:
do chuir siad a nduilli dhíobh,
dá bhuime iad don imshníomh.

Alas, alas, grief hath left their hearts bloodless:
the two companions of the learned
of Ulster’s land, it is sad
that they have run dry.

Fa ríor, fa ríor, nocha nfhuil
braon ‘na ccroidhibh ón chumhaidh:
dá sheisi shuadh fhóid Uladh,
truagh mar táid ar ttiormughadh.

Their grief is the same as mine,
Hugh Roe was the first cause of our anguish;
Rury of Cabha torments us,
his departure is the cause of our ruin.

Ionand toirrsi dhamhsa is doíph,
Aodh Ruadh céd-damhna ar cciachbhróin,
Rughroidhe Cabha dár ccrádh,
mana turbhuidhe a thérnádh.

We are a poor flock without a sheperd.
Caffar, head of Erin’s honour,
lies beneath a gravestone –
what sadder fate? – Away in Italy.

This poem reveals the sadness felt by the poet at the passing into ruin of the princely house of O’Donnell, in the space of a short few years.

Four of the O’Donnell brothers have died and their two sisters have also gone to the continent. Ruaidhrí and Cathbharr both die in Rome in 1608. Aodh Rua is poisoned in Spain in 1602 and Maghnas is killed in a skirmish with his cousin and brother-in-law Niall Garbh Ó Dónaill. Niall Garbh is married to Fionnuala, the younger of the two O’Donnell sisters.

He deserts to the English in the hope of becoming chief of his clan but discovers too late that he has been used by the authorities and finally ends up in the Tower of London. His wife leaves with O’Neill and her two brothers in 1607 in their flight to the Continent. The poet is Fearghal Óg and the poem is in all probability written on the Continent in Louvain, where he suffers great misery and rejection at the end of his life.

See: BBC History Site – Dónall Ó Baoill, Professor of Irish and Celtic Studies at Queen’s University Belfast, explores the world of the bardic poet and recites a selection of poems that record their reaction to the Flight of the Earls and the subsequent Plantation of Ulster.…/index.shtml



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