Tag Archives: Dark Rosaleen

Club Manganese III

An occasional series of juxtaposed musical vignettes

For the high Milesian race alone
. Ever flows the music of her woe !

– Mangan


“My Dark Rosaleen”, which is doubtless Clarence Mangan’s most famous poem, was set to music by Alicia Adélaïde Needham circa 1890 ; the composition is sung here by The Count McCormack –


Shane MacGowan sings his dreaming vision of the poet Mangan in “The Snake With Eyes of Garnet” –


Symphony in G minor by E. J. Moeran, largely composed at Kenmare in the County Kerry ; the Hallé Orchestra is conducted by Leslie Heward –




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The Artist and the Citizen

“What is striking about his famine poems is that despite being a devotee of John Mitchel, there is little revolutionary confidence in Mangan’s poems. Indeed, there is a deep foreboding that the damage done to Irish society might weaken rather than enable political resistance. Consider, for example, the dramatic geographical metaphor by which Mangan reads Ireland as Siberia…” – Gerry Kearns, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Eye on the World

Limerick University’s Irish World Academy of Music and Dance celebrated its twentieth anniversary with three days of dance music and discussion, Academy20 Convocation. The event finished with a panel discussion on the Artist as Citizen, chaired by Vincent Wood and comprising director and author, Helena Enright, dancer and a PhD student in our own Department, Fearghus Ó Conchúir, curator Helen Carey, musician and composer, Nigel Osborne, poet, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, and myself. I spoke not about what artists should do but what artists can do and what some artists have done. There was also a radio discussion on this, again chaired by Vincent Wood, and for which Helen, Fearghus and I were joined by Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, the founding director of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance. It will be aired on Monday 24 November as Arts Tonight, and will be available at their webpage thereafter…

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Monuments to Mangan (The Irish Times)

A review article by the poet John Montague saluting Clarence Mangan in prospect of his bicentenary on May Day of 2003 ; published in The Irish Times on Saturday, April 26, 2003.


Another Veilèd Prophet utters a mystic speech,

To be translated only by a future age . . .

With his bicentenary on May Day, James Clarence Mangan rises up like some Gothic creature, glowing, from his grave. I am referring to the many volumes of The Collected Works, the four of poetry and the two of prose, which have been published by the Irish Academic Press, along with a fine biography, and bibliography. These are essential reading not only for departments of Irish literature, but also for Irish history as well, because Mangan was the most piercing voice of his epoch. Even the periodical publication of his poems and prose pieces, such as ‘The Woman of Three Cows’, published in an Irish Penny Journal of 1840, or the appearance of ‘Siberia’ and ‘Dark Rosaleen’ in The Nation, in the gloomy year of 1846, are testimonies to the survival of the creative spirit during the darkest days of our history.

Though sometimes he sounds like a voice from a shroud. His poems, especially in the 1840s, have an almost monotonous melancholy, which seems like the distillation from some weeping cloud crossing the stricken landscape of mid-19th-century Ireland. Or, to change the metaphor, a funeral bell knelling endlessly.

And towards the West at first they marched,

Then towards the South,

Those endless FUNERALS, till the sky o’erhead,

As one vast pall, seemed overarched

With blackness, and methought the mouth

Of Hades had cast up its Dead!

Published in the United Irishman in March 1849, ‘The Funerals’ might seem to sound some ultimate note of gloom, but Mangan haunts the same darkness in ‘The Famine’ a few months later, in the same periodical.

Despair? Yes! For a blight fell on the land –

The soil, heaven-blasted, yielded food no more –

The Irish serf became a Being banned –

Life-exiled as none ever was before.

But then this “piercing wail”, while indeed a lament for all Ireland, also has its source in Mangan’s own psyche. An early poem, composed in competition with other Dublin wags, begins: “Come get the black, the mourning pall . . .” And one of his few prose pieces of first intensity, his fragmentary Autobiography, reprinted by the Dolmen Press in 1968, describes a blighted childhood: “In my boyhood I was haunted by an indescribable feeling of something terrible”. This text was probably the germ for Tom Kinsella’s fine gloomy poem on Mangan: it is as if, as a child, Mangan had suffered the kind of “vastation” of the spirit to which Ted Hughes ascribes the genius of Emily Dickinson.

Mangan depicts his father terrorising his wife, and gleeful that his children try to flee like mice at his approach. This was a father who squeezed the life out of his entire family, “a human boa-constrictor”. Mangan sought refuge in books and solitude: “I isolated myself in such a manner from my own nearest relatives that with one voice they all proclaimed me mad.” Yet these early methods of escape – solace in books and a disdain for the outer world – were clearly not completely successful, for Mangan also describes a “feeling of impending calamity”.

It was in his boyhood “that the seeds of that moral insanity were developed within me which afterwards grew up into a tree of great altitude”. Convinced of his waywardness and eccentricity, but compelled to seek work as a scrivener, at which he laboured long hours for low pay, the coarseness of his colleagues afflicted him: “My nervous and hypochondriacal feelings almost verged upon insanity.”

Once again the serpents seethe: “I seemed . . . to be shut up in a cavern with serpents and scorpions . . . which . . . discharged their slime and venom over my person.”

Perhaps his greatest poetry came when his blasted psyche was mirrored by a blighted landscape, when political and personal suffering finally met in his verse.

From the sordid scrivener’s life, Mangan sought relief in scribbling. The buffoonery of his early constitutional satire, ‘Our Quackstitution’, with its gross word play – “the House of Hangover”, and “Longdulldreary” for Londonderry – seems tedious, like the whimsy of ‘A Treatise on a Pair of Tongs’. Such prose could be seen as an ancestor of the exuberant linguistic lunacy of writers like Myles. But it does not seem as natural to Mangan’s psyche as his ventures into the Gothic, especially The Man in the Cloak, which is already a version of a story of Balzac, intended as a sequel to Melmoth the Wanderer. And of course Mangan worshipped Maturin. As a child, he followed Maturin along the streets, and later would consider that haggard, solitary, oddly dressed figure an alter ego in eccentricity, and perhaps also in genius.

There is a curious moment in The Man in the Cloak where one of the bank secretaries is described as “a flippant litterateur, who translated German poetry and wrote German stories for the magazines . . .” How much German did Mangan really know, and where, indeed, had he learnt it? He certainly knew enough to act as tutor to some pretty Dublin ladies. And his voluminous Anthologia Germanica produced the only book published in his lifetime, German Anthology: A Series of Translations (1845).

When I was compiling my Faber Book of Irish Verse, I included poems which I then took to be original, but now discover were copied from the German. For instance, the wonderfully dolorous ‘Siberia’, which must be one of the great protest poems of the world –

In Siberia’s wastes

The Ice-wind’s breath

Woundeth like the toothèd steel . . .

– turns out to be based on an obscure German poem about Polish leaders sentenced to Siberia after the 1830 revolution.

An autobiographical aside here: the first poem of Mangan that I read was not one of his political/historical visions. I was, after all, brought up in the North of Ireland, so British war poetry was more likely to be on the syllabus; echoes of that early training can still be heard in much Northern Irish poetry. Whereas my Southern contemporaries were subjected to dirges like ‘O’Hussey’s Ode to the Maguire’ and, of course, ‘Dark Rosaleen’. Those visionary poems are extraordinary; a lurid light plays over an often arid landscape, and the language is infected with a hectic glitter, as if the poet were drunk or drugged. But I fell in love with a love poem, as I trudged through the woods of south Dublin, chanting to myself: “I saw her once, one little while, and then no more:/ ‘Twas Paradise on Earth awhile, and then no more./ Ah! what avail my vigils pale, my magic lore?”

This of course is from the original German of Rückert. In addition to gently purloining original German poems, Mangan sometimes signs his ostensible translations “Selber”, a variant of “Self”. As when he refers to his translations of the Persian poet, Hafiz, jokingly since he knew little or no Persian, as being “Half-His”. Mangan’s Oriental translations can be seen as part of the fascination with Arabia which led to Goethe’s Westöstlicher Divan and, of course, Moore’s ‘Lalla Rookh’. Of our living Irish poets, only Desmond O’Grady has inherited some of this scholarly passion for the East, translating some of the great Arabic odes. Mangan worked from the available scholars, yet his version of a poem by Jami, ‘The Hundred-Leafèd Rose’, has a gorgeous symmetry. But then this gaunt, golden-haired spectre had a thing about roses, as in his beautiful translation from the Turkish, ‘The Time of the Roses’. And also his haunting, nostalgic poems of youth lost and time passing: “Remember/ The days of roses but as a dream.”

Although the posthumous Poets and Poetry of Munster is a landmark in our literary history, there is the question as to how much Irish Mangan actually knew. Douglas Hyde tells how it was Mangan’s “custom to stretch his body halfway across the counter, while John [O’Daly] would translate the Irish song to him and [he] would versify it . . .” Some of his versions, or “perversions”, are quite beautiful, and again when I was looking for some O’Rahilly for my Faber anthology, I chose Mangan over even Austin Clarke.

Now that we have the mass of Mangan, nearly 1,000 poems, re-evaluation can begin. The more or less official Selected winnows these, with a thoughtful introduction by Terence Brown of Trinity College, whose Dublin University Magazine sustained the poet for years. Brown links the failing fortunes of post-Union Dublin to those of Mangan, his attraction “to the romantic trope of ruination”.

And the dirge still draws us, from Kinsella to Durcan, and beyond. Another, slimmer Selected has been edited and introduced by David Wheatley, a gifted young poet whose own volumes, Thirst and Misery Hill, surely entitle him to write with authority on Mangan’s “landscape of grandeur and desolation”. Brown and Wheatley sometimes see him as a Borges-like “shape-changer”. But while Mangan may lack the length and breadth of his fellow 19th-century Irish poets, Ferguson and Allingham, the nervous intensity of his best lyrics are unique mediumistic masterpieces.

The entire Irish Academic Press series, comprising nine volumes, is also a monument to the tireless general editorship of the late Augustine Martin.




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James Clarence Mangan: His Selected Poems (Miss Guiney’s book in facsimile)

“Ever yours faithfully, J. C. Mangan”





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A carpet page of Manganiana

A survey of publications and images touching the world of James Clarence Mangan studies, remembrance, and attraction.














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The ten most read Irish authors [part 2]

—Do you understand what he says? Stephen asked her.
—Is it French you are talking, sir? the old woman said to Haines.
Haines spoke to her again a longer speech, confidently.

—Irish, Buck Mulligan said. Is there Gaelic on you?
—I thought it was Irish, she said, by the sound of it. Are you from the west, sir?

—I am an Englishman, Haines answered.
—He’s English, Buck Mulligan said, and he thinks we ought to speak Irish in Ireland.

—Sure we ought to, the old woman said, and I’m ashamed I don’t speak the language myself. I’m told it’s a grand language by them that knows.
                                            – Ulysses, James Joyce


A friend asks : “How many of these works were translated into Erse ?”

Lacking an actual number count, here is one answer (and stick around for the story of Uiliséas below).

To begin conversely, one of the writers in the list of favourites (in the preceding post) was the blind bard Anthony
Raftery (1784 – 1835), a fiddler and poet who composed his rhymes in Gaelic (Erse) ; but some widely read versions of him are English translations, and amongst Ireland’s youngest pupils he is recited in both tongues :


Mise Raifteirí an file,
  I am Raftery the poet

Lán dóchas is grádh,
  Full of hope and love,

Le súile gan solas,
  Eyes without light,

Le ciúnas gan chrá.
  Silence without torment.

‘Dul siar ar m’aistear
  Going west on my journey

Le solas mo chroí
  With the light of my heart

Fann agus tuirseach
  Weak and tired

Go deireadh mo shlíghe.
  To the end of my days.

Féach anois mé,
  Look at me now,

Is mo chúl le bhfalla
  With my back to the wall,

Ag seinm ceoil
  Playing music

Do phócaí folmha.
  To empty pockets.


Then again, there is “Dark Rosaleen” and several other poems from the pen of James Clarence Mangan (1803-1849) that are his English translations of earlier authors who wrote in the Irish language (note that Mangan’s Englished Irish and German works are real translations, unlike his fanciful Oriental upsettings “From the Ottoman”). The Gaelic original of “Dark Rosaleen” bears the synonymous title Róisín Dubh (literally, “Dark Little Rose”), being a sixteenth-century allegory on Ireland’s own plight.

“the self-orientalization of Ireland as we see it in Mangan” –

A collection of Mangan’s poetry –

Some of the plays of O’Casey and Synge have had Gaelic put on them (the idiom is cuir Gaedhilge air sin – “translate that” or “put Irish on that”), and in some cases have even been staged in that form at a festival at Dingle in County Kerry.

The Plough and the Stars = An céachta ‘s na réaltaí

Riders to the Sea = Chun na farraige síos (the title’s literal retranslation is “Down to the Sea”)

More recent labours in the field are Gabriel Rosenstock’s Irish translation of his countryman Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1997 (its first rendering into Irish since that of Seán O Cuirrín in the year 1933 when Seán Mac Maoláin did the same for Carleton’s Fardorougha, the Miser), and then just last year the publication of Luaithreach Angela, which is a translation by Pádraic Breathnach (Ir. Breathnach, a Briton, a Welshman, cf. Brythonic, and surnames Branagh, Walsh[e], Wallace) of Frank McCourt’s memoir of Limerick, Angela’s Ashes.

But the book that took the cake for its heroical Irish translation saga (“That takes the solitary, unique, and, if I may so call it, recherché biscuit !”), was James Joyce’s Ulysses. That edifying, Ersifying, Augeian project was commenced when a medical officer named James Henry decided to use his years of retirement from the Royal Air Force in putting Gaelic on the formidably mock-Homerical creation ; and just as Joyce’s book may itself be said to comprise a microcosm of the quidditas Eblanensis (Dublin’s very whatness, if you will), so the act of transmuting it, painstakingly, by turns aided and alone, chapter by chapter, into the Gaelic idiom (which is not at all a Dublin speech phenomenon, hence your first problem), is a process that tells its own tale of the deep scholarly passions, high obstacles, financial pitfalls and strategical blind turns that make up Ireland’s publishing world.

While any translator of Ulysses faces enormous problems, the Irish translators, somewhat paradoxically, faced a number of problems not faced by, say, the French, German, Italian, or Spanish translators. For while each of the latter had the option, to take just one example, of translating the modern urban slang of ‘Oxen of the Sun’ by the appropriate urban sociolects of their own language, in Irish no such urban slang exists, so the translators had to invent it. The results are frequently hilarious, as the agricultural hinterland of Joyce’s Dublin is given its linguistic due – ‘taking coals to Newcastle,’ for example, emerges as ‘ag cuimilt sméire do thón na muice’ (literally, more or less, ‘rubbing muck on a pig’s rump’). ‘Oxen of the Sun’ provided a more general challenge, however, in that the politically interrupted development of Irish as a literary medium during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries deprived the language of an equivalent range of historical styles, and the translators were forced to limit themselves to a much more restricted stylistic palette in Uiliséas, imitating first the style of Old Irish narrative, then those of late-medieval Fenian romances, seventeenth-century historiography, and finally modern Irish narrative.
Polyglot Joyce: Fictions of Translation by Patrick O’Neill

Our critic O’Neill might have added that Dublin was founded, builded and maintained by Norsemen, then conquered, circumscribed and secured under the mailed fist of Anglo-Norman rule, and by 1904 (the year in which Ulysses is set) was a city wholly foreign to the cadence of Gaelic speakers ; nor was Dublin of a mindset or an idiom in its Londonward-looking urbanity that would earn any cultural sympathies “beyond the Pale” in Ireland’s greater Gadelophony.
Incidentally, it was a bit surprising that the Post‘s “Top 10” list gave no mention of Yeats, yet Friel is included. Perhaps it was more a matter of how many “hits” an author got on the linked Questia resource in a “snapshot” profiling of a certain period of time with the counting restricted to a specified subset of users (Georgetown English grad students ?- who knows ?), this as interpreted by The Washington Post in the context of Carolyn Blackman’s compiling their St. Patrick’s Day list for this particular year. Thus Yeats might well have got the heave-ho and Hail O’Duffy. Still, such supposed injustices are an opportunity to plunge in and offer a “Top 100” of Irish authors so as to retip the balance.


Probably the most read Irish author of all, in his day, going word for word count and eyeballs to column inches, was Oliver Goldsmith, not least because he was a prolific poet and journalist (“The Citizen of the World” and a lot of jobbing) and he produced some widely distributed, immensely popular and very influential books of history and natural science : This included An History of the Earth, and Animated Nature (1st ed. 1774), a work in eight volumes which graced the libraries of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Jane Austen. As notable for its engaging narrative tone as for its broadly applied learning, Goldsmith’s “huge compendium of zoological lore” (- M. K. Danziger) was in general use for many decades after the time of its first publication (which was the year of the author’s death, in fact).

But beyond those seemingly skewed (Yeatsless) Questia results, another puzzle was this Joycean critic O’Neill’s notion that “carrying coals to Newcastle” constituted urban slang (it’s a proverbial English idiom of several centuries’ vintage), and then his subsequent inference that ag cuimilt sméire do thón na muice (“smearing muck on the pig’s arse”) could have constituted a Gaelic equivalent of urban slang that was “invented” for the purpose by the translator of Ulysses, Dr. James Henry. It is almost as though the reader were missing a sentence that O’Neill (or his editor) had dropped unintentionally. Incidentally, the buried sense of ag cuimilt sméire do thón na muice is that a person is even taking the trouble —at all— to crush a staining fistful of blackberries (sméire) and rub the resultant mess onto a pig’s already filthy arse (thón, as in póg mo thóin, i.e. K.M.R.I.A.). To be sure the style of imagery is comical, and it is apt as an Irish equivalent replacing the useless task of the coals, but was it ever part of an “appropriate urban sociolect” ?- O’Neill is on safer ground in saying that that piggish instance of metaphorical spilopygia is borrowed from “the agricultural hinterland of Joyce’s Dublin” — a very big cabbage garden. So we are left wondering and waiting for the promised examples of urban slang that were purportedly “invented” to suit Uiliséas. Perhaps Dr. Henry should have brought in Anthony Burgess as a consultant, but what a noble achievement nonetheless !



Eavan Boland
Eva Gore-Booth
Joseph Campbell (no, not the mythologist and Wake scholar)
Douglas Hyde
P. W. Joyce (onomastics)
F. S. L. Lyons (history)
Rev. Francis Mahony (“Father Prout”)*
Thomas Moore (Melodies)
Moira O’Neill** (Songs of the Glens of Antrim) was the nom de plume of Agnes Nesta Shakespeare Higginson (later Mrs. Skrine) ; she was the mother of Molly Keane (née Mary Nesta Skrine, whose own nom de plume was “M. J. Farrell” – a name she borrowed from the sign on a public house to spare her the scandal amongst her kind of being identified as a female novelist)
Theobald Wolfe Tone (diarist)***
Katharine Tynan


*The Final Reliques of Father Prout


** Moira O’Neill –


***Tone’s memoirs –



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