Gaelic court poetry has been used in many articles and books as a source for insight into what has been called 'the Gaelic mind.' It is seen as a window into a culture and society which left little written record of itself, and as such the sources are very valuable. However, it must be taken in the context in which it was written; most of the poems were written by professional poets who depended on patronage for a living. This meant that there was an intentional slant to each poem written, so that it might please the patron for whom it was written. This, in turn, meant that the poet's true opinions might be masked in any given poem, in the poet's interest of earning money. But once this is understood, the poetry can be a rare look at the Gaelic Irish world before, during, and to some extent, after, the English colonisation efforts in Ireland.
In Irish history, a commonly accepted idea is that the Protestant Reformation was inextricably linked to the anglicisation of the native Irish people. When considering the poetry written during the time of the Reformation, it is readily apparent that there is a good deal of religious influence in the text, though most of the traditional style of previous centuries has been preserved. But given the link between religion and politics in areas of Irish culture other than poetry, it seems pertinent to examine the poetry in this context, to see if anglicising elements and influence are present in the poetry.
Canny argues that the poets in Ireland were largely unaware of continental goings-on, and this also should be examined; the Reformation, and even more so the Counter-Reformation, were based on the continent of Europe; after the Henrician Reformation, the Lutheran Reformation also began to influence religious reform in England and Ireland.
Determining what poetry to examine for such a topic is obviously crucial. First, the time period to be worked with must be determined; but this must go hand in hand with the poet or poets chosen. In the interest of specificity, I have decided to work with one poet, Dáibhí Ó Bruadair, who is a 'poet of transition' from formal court poetry style to poetry affected by personal experience, and during a transitional time for Gaelic poetry. In the 1630s and 1640s, 'new attitudes and new forms of identity' appear for Gaelic poets in Ireland. This was the time during which Ó Bruadair was being educated and trained as a poet. This led to the development in and by Ó Bruadair of a 'pragmatic approach' to expressing in 'passionate verse ... the anguish of colonialism.' Also, he lived (c. 1625-1698?) in a time during which, according to O'Riordan, and contrary to Canny's argument, there was 'contact and cultural interchange' between Ireland and continental Europe to an extent that there had not been before. His lifetime saw a great deal of change, from before the Confederation of Kilkenny through the Protectorate, to the Restoration, and the Popish Plot, and beyond.
BACKGROUND ON THE POET
Born between 1625 and 1630 in County Cork, Ó Bruadair was trained in a classical 'liberal education' style, including study of Greek and Roman mythology and legend. His principal source for Irish history was Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, by Seathrún Céitinn, known to the English-speaking world as A History of Ireland, by Geoffrey Keating. Ó Bruadair's respect for him can be seen in his poem 'Love of Sages,' a tribute to Keating, in which he praises 'Geoffrey Keating, whose code above all others I extol.' Mac Erlean writes that Ó Bruadair's 'poems form a running commentary upon all the principal political processes of his day.'
This implies, of course, knowledge of those processes, and an educated mind to opine about them. Canny's argument that poets were unaware of things continental during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has a bit of common ground with the seemingly directly opposed argument by O'Riordan that there was more contact between Ireland and the continent during that same period; Ó Bruadair seems to have a grasp on continental goings-on in his earlier poetry, and this continues through his later writings, though his focus becomes more and more on religious issues (particularly those related to Catholicism) as time passes, and then moves into a final phase which could be seen as the 'last words' of the Gaelic poets in Ireland. The references to Catholicism are partly out of an adherence to Gaelic poetic tradition, partly out of personal experience (which affects Ó Bruadair's poetry deeply), and partly out of a sense of urgency as Catholicism, a bastion of the Gaelic world, is endangered by the English efforts in Ireland. All of these relate to his own personal attitudes and experiences as a poet in a collapsing Gaelic world. It is evident that his outlook changes as he gets older, and as the English influence continues in Ireland.
Ó Bruadair's early poems include few references to things outside Ireland, and are his most purely traditional poems, without even religious references (which are to be common in later poetry) in some poems.
Such a traditional poem is 'Erin Lives Not After Donogh,' in which the topics are confined to Irish families and goings-on in Ireland. It is a lament for the death of Donogh MacCarthy, and proclaims that Erin (Ireland) is defenceless and has no further purpose in life. In the traditional style, Ireland is referred to as 'Tuathal's isle,' and the heredity of the land held by the MacCarthys is traced to the ancient kings of Munster.
This is a move back to traditional poetry, following the earlier poem 'A Fateful Wound Hath Made of Me.' This poem has traditional elements and references, such as to Brian Ború, and to the Danish (or Norse) captors of Ireland. However, it does discuss religion, anglicisation, and the Counter-Reformation among the traditional influences.
In rann xx, Ó Bruadair condemns those who took part 'in ... deceitful treason,/ by trying to oppress the Pope, the heir of Peter.'. This is a clear reproachment of protestants, particularly those actively pursuing the Reformation. He continues his commentary against the protestants in rann xxiv, line 3, calling them 'clownish upstarts.'
Following these is a plea to 'ye clans of Gaedheal Glas' to listen to 'our zealous priests' entreaties,' an attempt to support the priests advocating the Counter-Reformation to the Catholic Irish. And at the end of the poem, Ó Bruadair finishes with a prayer to Jesus, addressing him as 'Son of Mary Virgin,' which is a typically Catholic form of address, as the protestant tradition has not as much emphasis on the Blessed Virgin Mary as does the Catholic tradition. Ending poems with a prayer is a pattern into which Ó Bruadair falls more and more with time; in later poems, as shall be seen, he even includes multiple prayers within single poems.
But he does not limit his scope to religion, and indeed the date of 'A Jingling Trifle' is only able to be determined from a reference to the English occupation of Dunkirk. This poem includes one other reference to European events, in rann vi, when he notes that 'powder as a rule is by the kaiser's troopers carried,' showing that knowledge of the German army's ability is known in Ireland, even by those who are not involved with the military. In this same rann, Ó Bruadair mentions the demise of the 'coign and livery' system ('Crafty, lazy rascals love to lurk in the woods for plunder') and the persecution of priests ('pious, prayerful men are oft confined in chains to prison'). This poem also ends in a prayer, continuing the pattern.
A final example of Ó Bruadair's early work is 'Woful is the Death of Éamonn,' which includes influences of Ó Bruadair's classical education in mythology and legends of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as references to religion that have a pro-Catholic slant. It laments the death of Éamonn Cam Mac Gearailt, 'who gave no cause for sorrow to St. Peter's council,' and was concerned with protecting churches. Respect for the Catholic religion is an addition to the traditional list of positive qualities of a subject of a poem. This theme is used widely in Ó Bruadair's poetry, and beginning in 'Woful is the Death of Éamonn,' it begins to take a very obvious precedence over other, more traditional qualities to be praised or lamented.
'Woful' mentions Mars, Venus, Bacchus, and Morpheus, the Roman gods of war, love, wine, and dreams, a figure from Greek legend, and the Muses, but there is more weight given to religious influence than to these ancient topics.
Rann xix refers to the 'Son of God's resentment' against the Irish people, and the Fitzgeralds, a powerful family in the sixteenth century who fell from power at the English intervention. There is mention of Catholic priests praying for the soul of Éamonn, and of Adam and Eve in the following rann.
In rann lxxvii, Ó Bruadair discusses prayers in a tone which suggests that perhaps Ó Bruadair is himself following the monastic timetable for daily life. The next rann begins a prayer inside the poem, rather than merely at the end; this prayer for the salvation of Éamonn is directed to the Apostles, to Mary, to Jesus Himself, both directly and as part of the Holy Trinity. In rann lxxx, Ó Bruadair again emphasises the unstraying faith of Éamonn, and beseeches God for his entry into Heaven.
From rann c to cv, a further prayer for salvation of Éamonn includes details of his other laudable qualities, such as his likeness to a lion. But at the end of rann c, a very interesting line appears: 'And save our dear departed ones, unless they be, like hollow nuts, salvation-void.'
This seems to be an allusion to the protestant doctrine of predestination; indeed, upon review of 'Woful,' another reference to this idea appears: 'that fate without escape hath been determined.' Additionally, the opening line of rann cv sounds almost like a quote from the Bible: 'May the beneficial services of the wounds of God the Father's only Son.' Given the distinctly protestant idea of individual availability to the text of the Bible, this is certainly an interesting inclusion.
What can be made of this, with so little information on Ó Bruadair's life? Very little, it appears: we have no idea, at the present time, of whether Éamonn himself or his family were protestants, which also would have led to the inclusion of protestant concerns over salvation in a mourning poem (though the poem lamenting Éamonn's death does testify to his devout Catholicism). The other reason that Ó Bruadair would have included such ideas would be that he himself was a protestant, or wanted to create an impression that he was. We can, in truth, only assume that he was a Catholic, though his later poetry does return to a Catholic ethos; however, one of the poems collected by Mac Erlean into part II of Duanaire Dhaibhidh Uí Bhruadair contains a strange duality that may reflect a brief questioning of faith in Ó Bruadair.
'O God of the Universe,' the first poem in part II, is this poem of dual allegiance. It begins with a pan-denominational lament that there are so many sinners on earth. However, Mac Erlean mentions in his footnote that the word Ó Bruadair chooses to say 'sinners' also means 'debtors' and 'transgressors of the laws.'
In light of the poverty and economic oppression of the Catholics that took place during the Reformation, and of the laws preventing practice of Catholicism, this could be a lament that there are so many Catholics still extant in Ireland. Indeed, in rann ii, Ó Bruadair points out that those priests who break their oaths are traitorous, referring to the trend among Catholic priests to take the Oath of Supremacy to keep their offices under the protestant Established Church, and yet to continue to preach Catholicism.
Yet, in the third rann, Ó Bruadair turns around and rebukes Luther for 'forsak[ing] his obedience vowed,/ And plagu[ing] every fringe of the world with invidious bickerings.' Then, in a show of clever insight, Ó Bruadair wonders if the protestants will be able to reckon directly with God at the Day of Judgment. He asks if the Archbishop of Dublin, Sir 'Robert the smooth-gowned' Talbot, will be able to 'match [God] in subtlety' in his version of religious truth. Or, Ó Bruadair asks, will soldiers arrive at the Hill of Sion (the venue for the Last Judgment in the Irish tradition) to fight with God rather than accept His judgment?
Increasing the flurry of his invective, Ó Bruadair then proposes that the protestants are an 'un-Irish ... renegade forger-clique/ Banefully swerved from the loyalty due' to Christ. Ó Bruadair wonders at the 'lunatic raving, who tries to persuade us all' with 'lying hypotheses' that protestantism is better than Catholicism. Further, Ó Bruadair writes that protestants are denying their baptism (for most people, at that time, had been baptised Catholic), and says that he is waiting for the rise of the Catholics against their protestant oppressors and the destruction created by the protestant 'cabal.'
He continues this diatribe against protestantism in 'Thou Whom Penance Once Didst Practise,' talking about 'gloomy Calvin,' which could be Calvin in sadness or Calvin without light and unenlightened. In either case, it does not portray Calvin as a great leader, which surely a protestant poet would have done. Rather than being a true religion, Ó Bruadair notes, protestantism is a human invention, 'what ... all arts ingenious by inventive wit devised.' He goes on, in this very short poem, to ask what protestants are if they do not follow the true religion, leaving the question unanswered by ending the poem.
'The Chaos Which I See'  answers this question, though that that was its intent is doubtful. Ó Bruadair describes the servility and second-class conditions to which the Catholic population are reduced; in this, he includes himself with the Catholic population. He describes protestantism as a religion which cannot be good because it creates conditions under which he, a 'weaver' of words, cannot even buy a pair of shoes.
This focus on religion is punctuated once by 'Gone is Bounty' which does not include much mention at all of religion, but instead the most apparent topic, on which is spent an entire rann, was learned by Ó Bruadair in his classical history - out of four lines, three mention classical figures of military might: Philip of Macedon; his son Alexander the Great; and George Castriot, an Albanian raised in Islam and known by his Turkish name Scanderbeg, who deserted from the Turkish army, converted to Catholicism, and raised a revolt in Albania against the Turks.
Ó Bruadair's later poems show a return to a focus on Ireland and things Irish. There is a brief resurgence of religious content concurrent with the accession of James II, but for the most part he returns to more traditional themes and topics. He writes 'Summary of the Purgatory of the Men of Ireland,' which is what its title suggests: a review of events in Ireland and England from 1641 to 1684, a period at the beginning of which Ó Bruadair was old enough to have intelligent, educated perceptions of the events, and during which Ó Bruadair was active in society as a poet.
He begins the poem with the murder of King Charles I, describing it as betrayal, rather than the triumph of the people or of the Parliament, as a Cromwellian sympathiser might have done.
Later, he says that the Act for the Settlement of Ireland, partitioning Ireland for colonisation by English settlers, has 'broken their [the Irish people's] backs,/ And left them all cloakless and shirtless in poverty,' not a very positive outlook upon what the English had been after all along. In 'Summary' he includes a prayer in the text, begging the all knowing God for forgiveness for the 'crimes' of the Irish people, because they have already suffered so much under protestant rule.
About three years later, Ó Bruadair wrote 'The Triumph of James II,' which was part of the initial Irish excitement at the accession of a Catholic king to the English throne. Ó Bruadair echoed the vision of hope early in the poem: 'the Stuart King James, bright star of royalty,/ That hath risen under God to succour us.' Through James as a defender of the faith, the Catholics were given a chance to repent; all the people who are 'not Cromwellian' gave their allegiance to him.
Ó Bruadair praises James for rearming the Catholics, and permitting them to defend themselves against the protestant aggressors. Ó Bruadair notes that now the Catholic priests, called God's 'true clergy,' will live well and the 'clerics of Calvin' are kept quiet. Ó Bruadair notes the important new development that now officials who have Irish are put in charge of courts, giving the Irish people, who have little (if any) of 'the lip-dry and simpering English tongue,' a chance to testify and make their case understood.
Ó Bruadair sees hope for himself now that a Catholic and Gaelic king is on the throne; he hails the rebirth of Gaelic culture: 'Glory on high! free from straits is my plight,/ Since the hosts of Fál's men are now serving the king.' At the same time, however, Ó Bruadair humbly begs James not to be too harsh on the protestant 'villains, ... rebels and traitors.'
Ó Bruadair also incorporates religion into a traditional tribute: in tracing James's lineage, Ó Bruadair goes back to Mary, Queen of Scots, and says that her 'wine-blood ... flows through his veins,' an allusion to the Holy Eucharist, but also the Catholic ideal of the Real Presence rather than the protestant idea of representational ritual; the use of the word 'wine-blood' implies that the wine has somehow actually become blood.
Another poem celebrating James's accession and the coming renaissance of Gaelic culture is 'A Hundred Thanks to God.' In the first rann, James is celebrating Mass, 'surrounded by priests as a bodyguard.' Ó Bruadair discusses the rearmament of the Catholics, the downfall of the Presbyterians, and calls the protestants 'Fanatics.'
He haughtily remarks that 'John has now no red coat on him' and is not standing guard anymore; Ralph (an epithet for the protestants) no longer has royal writ to plunder. Ó Bruadair rejoices that now the Irish can insult the English (which they do in English, so the 'Cromwellian dogs' will be able to understand them) and that the challenge of the sentry and the password are given in Irish.
In a moment of brutal joy, Ó Bruadair proclaims the speed of change: 'Tadhg, who was last year being whacked by a Fanatic,/ Is flaying and rending this year his posterior.' He heralds the arrival of a king who will no longer force the Irish to flee their homeland in search of freedom and opportunity, and voices God's happiness with the Catholics who stayed and resisted protestantism. But the view of James as the promised saviour soon quiets, and Ó Bruadair returns to praise poems and secular ideas.
In 'Weary Is My Mind for Certain,' Ó Bruadair tells of the movement of the Irish army to Flanders, and describes them in the traditional analogic fashion as 'mighty lions' and great warriors, but laments that they are not in power 'near me [Ó Bruadair]', in Ireland. In his closing rann, Ó Bruadair prays to the 'Great Omnipotent, by whom/ in former times the haughty hordes of Babylon were struck dumb,' asking with his analogy that the protestants be struck dumb also, and more specifically asking that the old Gaelic order be restored, at the expense of the English 'cruel robber.'
When he writes 'A Lection to Cure,' in 1693, Ó Bruadair completes his return to tradition and writes a poem in praise of Sir John Fitzgerald, the winner of the battle of Landen at Brahant in Flanders. Ó Bruadair uses the traditional motif of prediction and forsees that when Sir John returns, people will need his help, who refused to aid him in his campaign in Europe. He writes that when Sir John returns to Ireland, all will be well on the island, and there will be joy in the people as they welcome him home.
This is Ó Bruadair's dream: that the people will be permitted to herald the coming of a new age, one which brings back the wonder of Gaelic culture, and restores the poet to his former glory. However, this was not to be. In 1698, the date at which Mac Erlean places the poet's death, the Gaelic world was long gone, and was never to return.
Though he does not express much joy in the matter, Ó Bruadair does bear witness to the death throes of a society of which we have little written record. As such his poetry is a valuable insight on the past. He is an educated poet, and punctuates his poetry with references that give evidence of this. As well, the evolution of his poetry across the seventeenth century is a visible record of changing attitudes and opinions in his mind, and in his world.
He begins in tradition, is overcome by the force of the confrontation with the English settlers and protestant missionaries (who are often both in the same person), and for a bit begins to adopt some protestant themes in his work; he later recovers, and resigns himself to the loss of the world of whose heritage he was learned and in whose footsteps he followed. This return of Ó Bruadair to tradition is interrupted by a brief flash of joy that both his religion and his culture may again be saved, by James II, but soon is dashed by the consequences of James's anti-Catholic activities. Ó Bruadair then resumes his traditional styles of writing, possibly trying to preserve for posterity the fading lofty traditions of the Gaelic court poets.
Dáibhí Ó Bruadair and his poetry reflect the changes undergone by Irish society in the seventeenth century at the hands of English protestant influence. His poems leave a record of this metamorphosis, and leave to us now the job of discovering what it was he came from, and what it was he and his contemporaries really went through. But this task is not to be undertaken unaided: we are given the hope and assurance that we, and Ireland, 'will surely get help at the promised time.'
Nicholas Canny, 'The Formation of the Gaelic Mind: Religion, Politics and Gaelic Irish Literature 1580-1750,' Past and Present xcv (1982).
T.J. Dunne, lectures, University College Cork, 'HI 239: Poetry and the Gaelic Mind,' autumn semester, 1993-1994 academic year.
T.J. Dunne, 'The Gaelic Response to Conquest and Colonisation: The Evidence of the Poetry,' Studia Hibernica xx (1985).
Alan Ford, The Protestant Reformation in Ireland, 1590-1641 (Frankfurt-am-Main, 1985).
Rev. John C. Mac Erlean, S.J. (ed. and trans.), Duanaire Dhaibhidh Uí Bhruadair, part I, Irish Texts Society, vol. xi (London, 1910).
Rev. John C. Mac Erlean, S.J. (ed. and trans.), Duanaire Dhaibhidh Uí Bhruadair, part II, Irish Texts Society, vol. xiii (London, 1913).
Rev. John C. Mac Erlean, S.J. (ed. and trans.), Duanaire Dhaibhidh Uí Bhruadair, part III, Irish Texts Society, vol. xviii (London, 1917).
Michelle O'Riordan, The Gaelic Mind and the Collapse of the Gaelic World (Cork, 1990).
Derick Thomson, An Introduction to Gaelic Poetry (London, 1974).
Most notable among these articles are Nicholas Canny, 'The Formation of the Gaelic Mind: Religion, Politics, and Gaelic Irish Literature 1580-1750,' Past and Present xcv (1982); T.J. Dunne, 'The Gaelic Response to Conquest and Colonisation: The Evidence of the Poetry,' Studia Hibernica xx (1985) (hereafter 'Dunne article'); and Michelle O'Riordan, The Gaelic Mind and the Collapse of the Gaelic World (Cork, 1990).
Much of my background material has been taken from lectures given by T.J. Dunne at University College Cork in the class 'HI 224: Poetry and the Gaelic Mind,' given in the autumn semester of the 1993-1994 academic year (hereafter 'Dunne lectures'). Where possible the date of the relevant lecture will be given.
For a discussion of Gaelic, though mostly Scots and only a bit of Irish, poetry through the nineteenth century, see Thomson.
Dunne article, 21-22.
For further information on the Protestant Reformation in Ireland, see Alan Ford, The Protestant Reformation in Ireland, 1590-1641 (Frankfurt-am-Main, 1985). Ford's bibliography is very good and provides more sources for further reading.
Dunne lecture, 2 Dec 1993.
Dunne article, 17.
For a full account of what is known of Dáibhí Ó Bruadair's life, see Rev. John C. Mac Erlean, S.J. (ed. and trans.), Duanaire Dhaibidh Uí Bhruadair, part I; Irish Texts Society, vol. xi (London, 1910). His introduction to this volume, first in the three part series of the life work of Ó Bruadair, is an excellent (and rare) source of insight into the poet's life.
Dunne article, 22.
See note 5 above, and corresponding text.
O'Riordan, 240. She is careful to note, and the reader should be also, that there was always contact between Ireland and the continent, but that there was an increase of this in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (see page 240).
See Ó Bruadair's poem 'Summary of the Purgatory of the Men of Ireland,' in Rev. John C. Mac Erlean, S.J. (ed. and trans.), Duanaire Dhaibhidh Uí Bhruadair, part III; Irish Texts Society vol. xviii (London, 1917), 12-23. It is what its title suggests: a poem describing and discussing the events in and pertaining to Ireland, from 1641-1684.
A much more complete version of this can be found in Mac Erlean, Duanaire, part I, in the introduction, as noted above. As this is the fullest source available, as well as the only readily available source, I have relied upon it for facts regarding the Ó Bruadair's life.
Mac Erlean, Duanaire, part I, xix and xxi.
'Love of Sages' (written 1682) in Rev. John C. Mac Erlean, S.J. (ed. and trans.), Duanaire Dhaibhibh Uí Bhruadair, part II; Irish Texts Society, vol. xiii (London, 1913), 264-287. Quote in text from rann II, lines 1 and 2.
Mac Erlean, part I, xlviii.
Canny notes this emphasis on Catholicism: Canny, 102.
Dunne lecture, 2 December 1993.
I have used Mac Erlean's division of Ó Bruadair's life into three parts: until 1666, 1667-1681, and 1682-1698; this is partly for ease in reference (each section of his life corresponds to a single volume of Mac Erlean's collection) and also because there are trends within each of these time periods that are distinct from the others.
part I, 118-121; written 1665.
'Erin lives not after Donogh,' (written 1665) ranns i and ii. (Hereafter, ranns will be identified by lowercase Roman numerals, and relevant line numbers will follow in Arabic numerals.)
v, 1; vi, 1.
iii, 2; iv, 1-2; vi, 2.
written 1652 and available in Mac Erlean, part I; from a handout in a Dunne lecture, 2 Dec 1993.
part I, 70-79; written c. 1659.
part I, 138-183; written c. 1667.
ix, 2-4; xlviii, 1.
xix, 3; see Mac Erlean's note on the term 'Greco-Gael.'
lxxviii, 1-4 and lxxix, 1-4.
c-cv, all lines; lion reference in cii, 2.
Those in part II of Mac Erlean's collection, dating from 1667-1681.
part II, 2-9; written 1666-1670.
Mac Erlean, page 3, footnote 1.
part II, 32-33; written c. 1675.
written 1674 and available in Mac Erlean, part II; from a handout in a Dunne lecture, 6 Dec 1993.
part II, 176-205.
Those in part III of Mac Erlean's collection, dating from 1682-1698.
part III, 12-23.
See Mac Erlean's introduction to part I for further information on Ó Bruadair's life.
part III, 76-95; written 1687.
written c. 1687/a and available in Mac Erlean, part III; from a handout in a Dunne lecture, 6 Dec 1993.
part III, 220-221; written c. 1693.
part III, 222-225; written 1693.
iii, 1-8.'A Hundred Thanks to God,' part III, xxiv, 2.