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Tiny harp

On a Blind Harper—I

Flatha Ó Gnímh

Irish feast There is some uncertainty about the time when the author of the following poem lived. The O'Gnives are said to have been hereditary poets to the O'Neills of Clandeboy, and one of them accompanied Shane the Proud on his visit to the English court in 1562. This may be the reason why O'Reilly, in his 'Irish Writers', gives 1556 as the floruit of Fear Flatha Ó Gnímh. But the poem to which he refers—Mo thruaighe mar táid Gaoidhil ('Alas for the state of the Gaels')—implies that the Irish cause had been utterly lost, and other poems ascribed to him points to events of the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century. In O'Curry's copy of O'Reilly's work, now in my possession, there is a marginal note in O'Curry's hand correcting the date to 'About 1640. See his poem on Niclás Dall, the Harper'.

A Niocláis, nocht an gcláirsigh!
léig imtheacht don fhuaráin-sin;
seinn ilcheóla naoidhe anos,
faoidhe ó n-imtheógha m'fhiabhras.
Nicholas, uncover the harp!
Set free that cooling fountain.
Play now many a novel strain,
sounds that will dispel my fever.
Aisdrigh na slighthe seanma,
tráigh ar ttuile mímheanma,
coisgthe dheid d'eólchaire inn,
leig don cheólchroidhe cuílinn.
Travel the ways of music;
make my flood of depression to ebb;
keep me from melancholy;
let the pulse throb from music's heart.
Toigébhaid téda do chroinn
seól aigeanta d'aos mearbhaill;
lúth na healbha ót ocht méraibh,
socht ar meanma moisgélaidh.
The strings of thy instrument [A pun, also, "the ropes of thy mast"]
will hoist the sail of courage for those that are bewildered,
the vigour of the flock from thy eight fingers
will awaken the stupor of our spirit.
Mná ré n-iodhnaibh, aos galair,
codlaid léd chéol síodhamhail;
an tráth nochta an gcruit gcoraigh,
luit chircra ní cronaghair.
Women in travail and sick folk
sleep at thy fairy music;
when thou revealest the tuneful harp
no man complains of crimson wounds.
Ní thabhair aon dá aire
an nasg do-ní an sgallaire,
ré bruach bhar srotha seanma,
náid gotha cuach gCéiteamhna.
No man gives heed
to the tormentor's bond
on the brink of thy stream of melody,
nor to the voices of the cuckoos of May.
Cia an díthreabh nó an dionn folaigh,
cia an síodh trá a ttarrabhair
barr do chara ar an gceól gcrot,
nárbh eól dá rabha romhat.
In what wilderness or hidden fastness,
in what elfmound didst thou contrive,
to set a crown upon harp music
unknown to all before thee?
An í do mhúin díoghrais duit,
lámh Chraiftine an cheóil ordhruic,
siansa do mheóir ar mhodhaibh,
nó is d'iarsma cheóil Chaschoraigh?
Was it the hand of Craiftine, that famous minstrel [the harper in the tale of Labhraidh Loingseach]
that taught thee its secret,
the melody of thy finger in measures,
or is it come from the music of Caschorach? [Son of the minstrel of Tuatha Dé Danann.]
Nó an gcualabhair cuid dár sheinn
an tí rug ó dhoilbh Doirinn,
lér lean sibh an séis bportaigh
ó sin tar éis Ábhartaigh?
Or hast thou heard some of the playing
of him who by guile won Doireann,
whereby thou hast ever since followed
the tuneful strain since the time of Ábhartach? [One of the chiefs of Tuatha Dé Danann, famous for skill in music.]
Nó an é fós fuarais d'oide
rí an chiúil, céile Bhláthnaide,
dá gcoimhchreideadh an fáidh Fionn,
tar bháigh oirfideadh Éirreann?
Or was the teacher thou didst find
that king of music, Bláthnaid's mate, [Cnú Deireóil, the dwarf harper of the Fianna]
in whom Fionn the prophet put faith,
beyond love of all Erin's players?
Nó an tnúth oirfideach oile
dá raibhe a tTír Tarngaire
do chuir as na síodhaibh sibh,
a ndíoghail do chuir chaoinchigh?
Or was it the envy of all other players
in the Land of Promise
that banished thee from the elfmounds
in revenge for thy musical note?
Más don fhior as fhearr cridhe
gealltar an ghlóir ainglidhe,
fear do dhaigcridhe do dhligh,
neamh, a Chraibtine Chaisil.
If the angelical glory
is promised to him whose heart is best,
the man with thy good heart
has merited heaven, of Craiftine of Cashel!
Balsam cobhartha cédfadh,
liaigh don teidhm nach taisbéntar,
cosg fiabhrasa ré bél mbáis,
do mhér niamhdhasa, a Niocláis.
Balm to heal the senses,
physician of the hidden sore,
cure of fever at death's point—
such is thy finger, O Nicholas.

Osborn BerginCnú Deireóil, the dwarf harper of the Fianna
Irish Bardic Poetry
Dolmen Press, 1970
No. 25

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