Text: “Cáit ar ghabhadar Gaoidhil?”

It is not certain who the author of this poem was, although it is often attributed to Lochlainn Ó Dálaigh (who flourished c.1596-1609). The poem was copied into many Irish manuscripts, indicating that it must have been found to be a powerful expression of Gaelic historical experience during the conquest of Ireland (the late 1500s and early 1600s).

The following text was translated by Michael Newton from the edition by William Gillies, “A Poem on the Downfall of the Gaoidhil.”


§ 1. Where have the Gaels gone? What has befallen the high-spirited crowds? There is no sighting of them in the green-soiled land of the Gaels.

§ 2. I cannot see the green-eyed crowd around the points set up for gatherings; I do not hear their commotion as I travel Ireland’s landscape.

§ 3. What can have happened to them? It surprises me; the heroes of the brightly shining fortresses; I have found the dwelling places of Banbha [Ireland] of Conn, but no groups of people to occupy them can I find.

§ 4. They have scattered away in all directions, the youth of Leinster, the warriors of Munster, the fierce- bladed people of Meave’s land [Connacht], and the noble people of ancient Emhain [Ulster].

§ 5. It is not the magical charm of the fairies, it is not the beguiling druid mist, that has completely hidden the aristocrats of the radiant residences of the Gaels from us.

§ 6. It saddens me that things have turned out for the worst for the defenders of the plain of Raoile: the sons of kings from the fair house of Brega [i.e., Tara] are being exiled.

§ 7. They have been sent out for accommodation elsewhere, far and wide, out of glittering Ireland; the sons of Míl are becoming the retinue of the houses of the eastern kings.

§ 8. What we have in their place is a pompous, polluted race of the blood of Gaill [non-Gaels] and Scots and Saxons.

§ 9. Now they divide Ireland between themselves – that land of the children of Niall – every single bit of that milk-rich plain of Flann being turned into “acres.” […]

§ 11. It is right to enumerate these: we have seen a swapping of norms in Ireland which would have stupefied people in any previous age in the land of Laoghaire of the pure dew.

§ 12. Heavy is the misery: the seats of assembly are emptied; foodstuffs rotting away; the hunting passes are becoming streets.

§ 13. The houses of saints are becoming meeting places for the peasants while the ministry of God happens under trees; priests’ clothing being used for cattle; mountain-sides being forced into planted fields.

§ 14. Public assemblies happening in hunting places, while (man-?)hunts happen in public paths; rows of hedges across the surface of the land but no place for (horse-)races.

§ 15. They destroy the professional hostels for aristocrats and replace them, with tyrannical verve, with lime-washed courts, all around Ireland’s wilderness.

§ 16. No Gael can see anything that raises his spirits; he cannot hear a voice that sounds sweet to him; och! what I describe is shameful. […]

§ 18. Their souls are stolen out of them by this despotic oppression; the (formerly) ferocious warriors of the garden of Lughaid [i.e., Ireland] have been reduced to half-dead corpses. […]

§ 25. May the Gaels of the bitter combats come to repent; may they leave their salvation with the maker of the elements, (in order to) avoid the wrath of God.

§ 26. The cause of all this – being colonized by the Scots and young crowds of London – is God’s vengeance – where have the Gaels gone?

About Michael Newton

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