(Translated from the original Irish of John O’Cullen, a native of Cork, who died in the year 1816.)

+++++++++++++“Oidhche dhámh go doilg, dúbhach.”

++++I wandered forth at night alone
Along the dreary, shingly, billow-beaten shore ;
Sadness that night was in my bosom’s core,
++++My soul and strength lay prone.

++++The thin wan moon, half overveiled
By clouds, shed her funereal beams upon the scene ;
While in low tones, with many a pause between,
++++The mournful night-wind wailed.

++++Musing of Life, and Death, and Fate,
I slowly paced along, heedless of aught around,
Till on the hill, now, alas ! ruin-crowned,
++++Lo ! the old Abbey-gate !

++++Dim in the pallid moonlight stood,
Crumbling to slow decay, the remnant of that pile
Within which dwelt so many saints erewhile
++++In loving brotherhood !

++++The memory of the men who slept
Under those desolate walls— the solitude— the hour—
Mine own lorn mood of mind— all joined to o’erpower
++++My spirit— and I wept !

++++In yonder Goshen once— I thought—
Reigned Piety and Peace : Virtue and Truth were there ;
With Charity and the blessed spirit of Prayer
++++Was each fleet moment fraught !

++++There, unity of Work and Will
Blent hundreds into one : no jealousies or jars
Troubled their placid lives : their fortunate stars
++++Had triumphed o’er all Ill !

++++There, knolled each morn and even
The Bell for Matin and Vesper : Mass was said or sung.—
From the bright silver censer as it swung
++++Rose balsamy clouds to Heaven.

++++Through the round cloistered corridors
A many a midnight hour, bareheaded and unshod,
Walked the Grey Friars, beseeching from their God
++++Peace for these western shores !

++++The weary pilgrim bowed by Age
Oft found asylum there— found welcome, and found wine.
Oft rested in its halls the Paladine,
++++The Poet and the Sage !

++++Alas ! alas ! how dark the change !
Now round its mouldering walls, over its pillars low,
The grass grows rank, the yellow gowans blow,
++++Looking so sad and strange !

++++Unsightly stones choke up its wells ;
The owl hoots all night long under the altar-stairs ;
The fox and badger make their darksome lairs
++++In its deserted cells !

++++Tempest and Time— the drifting sands—
The lightnings and the rains— the seas that sweep around
These hills in winter-nights, have awfully crowned
++++The work of impious hands !

++++The sheltering, smooth-stoned massive wall—
The noble figured roof— the glossy marble piers—
The monumental shapes of elder years—
++++Where are they ? Vanished all !

++++Rite, incense, chant, prayer, mass, have ceased—
All, all have ceased ! Only the whitening bones half sunk
In the earth now tell that ever here dwelt monk,
++++Friar, acolyte, or priest.

++++Oh ! woe, that Wrong should triumph thus !
Woe that the olden right, the rule and the renown
Of the Pure-souled and Meek should thus go down
++++Before the Tyrannous !

++++Where wert thou, Justice, in that hour ?
Where was thy smiting sword ? What had those good men done,
That thou shouldst tamely see them trampled on
++++By brutal England’s Power ?

++++Alas ! I rave ! . . . If Change is here,
Is it not o’er the land ? Is it not too in me ?
Yes ! I am changed even more than what I see.
++++Now is my last goal near !

++++My worn limbs fail— my blood moves cold—
Dimness is on mine eyes— I have seen my children die ;
They lie where I too in brief space shall lie—
++++Under the grassy mould !

++++I turned away, as toward my grave,
And, all my dark way homeward by the Atlantic’s verge,
Resounded in mine ears like to a dirge
++++The roaring of the wave.

++++++++++++++[J. C. Mangan, The Nation, 8 August 1846]


Teach Molaga (pronounced “t’yakh mol-ah-gheh”) : literally “House of Molaga” (now Anglicised as Timoleague) ; this was the Abbey of St. Molaga in Cork, a Franciscan Friary grand in scale and celebrated for hospitality, which once stood on the site of the ancient hermit’s cell by the seashore

Translated : the Gaelic poem, which dates from around 1800, bore the title Machtnamh an Duine Dhoilghíosaigh (“The Melancholy Mortal’s Reflections”) ; or, Caoineadh ar Mhainistir Thigh Molaige (“Lament Over the Monastery House of Molaga”)

the original Irish of John O’Cullen : this Munster poet lived from about 1754 to 1817 ; note that Seághan Ó Cuilleáin (or Seán Ó Coileáin), the Gaelic form of the name of this “Silver Tongue of Munster”, is sometimes instead rendered with the Anglicisation John Collins

Oidhche dhámh [dom] go doilg, dúbhach : “One night I was sad, dejected” – the opening line of O’Cullen’s Gaelic original that Mangan interpreted

yellow gowans : referring to the flower or weed known as the Yellow Ox-Eye, Corn Marigold, or Yellow-Bottle

brutal England’s power : an added blatancy, this, not found in O’Cullen’s original Gaelic poem ; ostensibly Mangan is indicating the despoliation of the abbey and expulsions therefrom carried out by the Puritans (Cromwell’s forces under Lord Forbes) in the year 1642 ; the phrase is historically applicable fore and aft, especially for oppressions under the Tudors and Hanovers ; and politically, spiritually and allegorically as applied to the poet’s vision

1846 : a Famine year in Ireland





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  1. Dawn writes :

    Powerful words, especially in the last fourth of the poem.
    Was Mangan more well-known in his day for translation or for his own poetic works?
    I don’t know a lot about the languages of Ireland. What is the difference between Gaelic and Irish?
    Also, how easy is it to translate from Irish to English and maintain poetic structure? Are their syntax structures similar?

    Quite so, Dawn, it is one of Mangan’s mightiest productions (and by the way, the final stanza is pure Mangan, which he added on).
    Clarence Mangan’s verses —both the genuine translations and those poems original to him including the invented “hoax” translations— were renowned and beloved in Ireland, slightly anthologised while largely unknown in Victorian Britain, and widely read among the literary circles and Irish diaspora of North America where his friend John Mitchel disseminated his works ; additionally, they were somewhat familiar to lucky Australian readers due to the good offices of his old colleague and editor of The Nation, Charles Gavan Duffy, who had settled as a barrister in Melbourne and later served as Premier of the Colony of Victoria. Most of this high renown was but posthumous glory for poor Mangan, who perished in a Famine year, 1849, where he was laid out in the Meath Hospital. A nurse was ordered to tidy away his scattered papers as so much unsanitary rubbish : that, we suspect, was the tragic loss of the final, fatal scribblings.
    The Irish language is sometimes known as “the Gaelic” (Ir., An Ghaedhilge, the Celtic speech of the Gaedhil, associated tribes of Ireland and Scotland). In the memorable mutterings of the Plain People of Ireland (as per Myles na Gopaleen, alias Flann O’Brien) –

    Very guttural languages the pair of them the Gaelic and the German.

    The terms Irish and Gaelic mean the same thing in the context of language, as they are the same speech synonymously, linguistically, transnationally. You see, even when Scotland is being included in the discussion, Scots Gaelic is perhaps 97% the same language as Irish Gaelic, and only a few differences of spelling and nuance in the various dialects may be said to distinguish them appreciably. There are even Gaeltachtaí (Gaelic-speaking communities) in parts of Canada, such as Cape Breton in Nova Scotia.
    As to your last question, the subject of a translator’s interpretation is a highly technical one, but it is fair and true to say that Mangan was impressionistic in his Irish adaptations. Then again, writing so soon after the Young Ireland uprising of 1848 he inserts into the present poem the phrase “brutal England” — though it is an entity which was never named in O’Cullen’s Irish lament.
    Mangan himself —a short-lived, life-long Dubliner, situated within the Pale in the Anglophone metropolis, a man whose time on Earth spanned the years from 1803 to 1849— was by no means fluent in Irish (a tongue far removed from the character, form, phonology and syntax of English). In fact, he had to rely upon friends to forge the English translations that he would then turn into finished gold. By contrast, his direct oversettings from the German (a Continental tongue that he knew to a nicety) tend to reflect their sources more closely, and poetic English can lend itself to this in being rather Germanic itself ; tellingly too, one of his renderings of “Dark Rosaleen” from the Irish consists almost entirely of words of Anglo-Saxon derivation, suggestive of a conscious transference of a notional purity as being attributed to the language out of which the poet is making his version. In any event, Clarence Mangan most often aimed to capture the spirit, rather than retain the structure, of his poems that draw from the original Irish.


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