Feature Articles

FILÍ AGUS DEALBHÓIRÍ: WHALT WHITMAN AND MISE ÉIRE by Sorcha Ní Bhriain

(Poetry Ireland News, May/June 2003)

Situated on Cnocán na gCaorach, outside the Courthouse in Killarney, is a memorial on the spot where Piaras Feiritéir (1610-1653) was hanged for leading the fight against Cromwell in Kerry. Feiritéir's best known poem is the courtly love lyric: 'Léig dhíot th'airm, a mhacaoimh mná'. Under the statue, 'Spéirbhean' by Séamus Murphy, is the dedication to four Kerry poets:

Sáir-fhilidhe Chiarraighe,
Piaras Feiritéir a crocadh 1653
Seafraidh Ua Dhonnchadha d'éag 1677
Aodhagán Ua Rathghaile d'éag 1728
Eoghan Ruadh Ua Sœilleabháin d'éag 1784.

'Aoghagán, Séafraidh, Piaras, Eoghan
Ceathrar cuach le suairceas beoil
a bhréag ár sinsear croidhamhail romhainn
's in am a gcruadhtan d'fhuascail d—ibh.'
- An tAth. P. Ua Duinnín, 1940

The 'Spéirbhean', by Séamus Murphy, would not be out of place in a church as the Virgin Mary, if she left her harp outside the door.

In the Thirties the Kerry Poets Memorial Committee had originally asked Jerome Connor to create a suitable sculpture. He proposed an image of Ireland based on Walt Whitman's poem 'Old Ireland'. There was no written agreement and Connor undertook to work without a fee, costs of production to be covered. He prepared wax and plaster and presented the model in Killarney. A faction on the Committee demanded that a religious symbol be included. Connor refused.

The work was considered pagan and rejected. (The pious members cannot have read the poems. If they had done so, the poets also would have been rejected.) The Committee sued for the return of the advance. Connor, overstretched financially because of his work on the Lusitania memorial, was declared bankrupt and lost his studio.

Long after Connor's death Éire was cast in bronze in Dublin. She is in Merrion Square, a scowling sultry Marianne. She is unnamed, and seems to have been dumped in a corner of the lawn. She has no plinth. The bushes grow up against the inscription at the back that reads 'This statue was presented by Joseph Downes and Son Ltd. in Dec. 1976 to commemorate the centenary of the ButterCrust Bakery, Dublin...' The letters of the inscription were full of liquid when I saw them. Not miraculous tears. Target practice.

Might Piaras Feiritéir's loss be the gain of the neglected poets of Dublin? When Dean Swift was in St. Patrick's, a literary revival, as Gaeilge, led by the Ó Neachtain family, was underway in the surrounding Liberties.* There was a wonderful ferment of talent and activity. One of the strange things to emerge was the literary form known as 'Trí Rann agus Amhrán', the only literary form in Irish that prescribes the length of the poem.

There is no memorial in Dublin to any of the poets or scribes of this renaissance, no plaque to record that they lived and worked around Meath St., in Coles Alley, South Earl St., Pimlico, the Black Dog Prison, Marsh's Library. In St. Patrick's Gardens, Dublin Corporation has a 'literary parade' to 'honour some of our distinguished sons of literature'. Not a single Dublin writer who wrote in Irish - male or female - is honoured. Wouldn't it be poetic justice if Jerome O'Connor's neglected Éire could be rescued and a memorial constructed, around her, to those who wrote as Gaeilge, san Ardchathair?

*See Alan Harrison's 'Ag Cruinniœ Meala, Neassa Ní Shéaghdha' in Eighteenth-Century Ireland (1989). There are biographical notes on the poets in the relevant volumes of Beathaisnéis by Máire Ní Mhurchœ and Diarmuid Breathnach.

Rugadh Sorcha Ní Bhriain sa Bhreatain Bheag i mbliana foilseoidh Coiscéim leabhar dá cuid ar ghnéithe de stair na healáine in Éirinn.

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