Literature- sounds and patterns over the centuries-
Note: This is a page of class notes for oral presentation. Sources are provided in the related bibliography handout. Someday I will finish the punctuation check…..
To return to the course outline page click here
More examples of Irish Literature can be found here just clickit! (or to return to the literature and verse page...)
The Language, lyric and Sound Translating for Rhyme and for Content The Many Purposes of the Cycle and Epic (Bronze To Iron Age) The Romantic Fenians-More Iron than Bronze Knowledge Passed On-What to know and be.
More Bronze than Iron
A Modern Example
Pagan Christian Transition Monks find freedom and Nature The end of the Celtic Period- The eternal lament begins... Continuity and the Drake The Peasntry Save the Literature A Practical  Strand of the New Nationalism- Lady Gregory
Romantic Paeote Nationalist Thread-Yeats Revolt of the Cities-As bad as we want to be- Gogarty/Joyce Modern Fusion O'Brien The Comlexity Lives On
Aiden Mathews

The Sound and Lyric of it All
Official poetry of an oral tradition encouraged the development of rhyme which was a song in language later used by the monks.

Early 9th Century

Pangur  Bán

Messe ocus Pangur Bán
Cechtar natar, fria saindán
Bith a mennmasam fri seilgg
Mu menma céin im saincheirdd

Caraimse fos, ferr cac clú
Oc mu lebrán léir ingnu
Ni foirmtech frimm Pangur bán
Caraid cesin a macedán

Ó ru biam, scél cen scis,
Innar tegdais, ar n-óendis
Táithiunn, dichrichide clus,
Ni fris tarddam ar n-áhius

The Scholar and his Cat
I and white Pangur practice each of us his special art his mind is set on hunting my mind on my special craft

I love (it is better than all fame) to be quiet beside my book, diligently pursuing knowledge White Pangur does not envy me he loves his childish craft

When the two of us (this tale never wearies us) are alone together in our house, we have something to which we may apply our skill, an endless sport.

 -trans Murphy


Rhyme and Literal translations… and content

The Viking Threat
Is aicher in gáeth in-nocht

The wind tonight is biter,
It tousles the sea’s white hair
I have no fear that gentle seas
Will bring fierce warriors from Norway

Bitter is the wind tonight
It flings the froth-sea foam-white
No fear soothing seas today
Speed wild warriors of Norway


A Splendid Sword
Luin oc elaih

Blackbirds to swans
Ounces to heavy weights,
Forms of common women
To splendid queens
Kings to Donnall
A drone to choral music,
A rushlight to a candle
Swords to my sword

Ruth Lehman

Wren to eagle,
Ounce to quintal
Course peasant women 
To crowned queens simple
Czars to Donnall
Drone to clamor,
Candle to gleamingglaives to my glaive’s glamor


Imagry of the Epic
Political ancient tract
Abstraction and shape shifting
Values, road maps, multidimensional

The Quarrel of the Two Pig-Keepers and How the Bulls were Begotten
From The Táin (Kinsella Trans.) Ulster Cycle

What caused the two pig-keepers to quarrel?
It is soon told.

There was bad blood between Ochall Ochne, the king of the sid in Connacht, and Bodb, king of the Munster sid. (Bodb’s sid is the Sid ar Femen, the sid on Femen Plain; Ochall’s is the sid at Cruchan.}  They had two pig-keepers, called Fruich, after a boar’s bristle, and Rucht, after its grunt.  Fruich was Bodb’s pig-keeper, Rucht was Ocahall’s, and they were good friends.  They were both practised in the pagan arts and could form themselves into any shape, like Mongán mach Fiachna.

The two pig-keepers were on such good terms that the one from the north would bring his pigs down with him when there was a mast of oak and beech nuts in Munster.
If the mast fell in the north the pig-keeper from the south would travel northward.

There were some who tried to make trouble between them.  People in Connacht said their pig-keeper had the greater power, while others in Munster said it was theirs who had greater power.  A great mast fell in Munster one year, and the pig-keeper from the north came southward with his pigs.  His friend made him welcome.
Is it you? He said. They are trying to cause trouble between us Men here say your power is greater than mine.

It is no less anyway, Ochall’s pig-keeper said.
That’s something we can test, Bodb’s pig-keeper said. I’ll cast a spell over your pigs.  Even though they eat this mast they won’t grow fat, while mine will.

And that is what happened.  Ochall’s pig-keeper had to bring his pigs away with him so lean and wretched that they hardly reached home.  Everybody laughed at him as he entered his country.

It was a bad day you set out, they said. Your friend has greater power than you.

It proves nothing, he said. We’ll have mast here in our own turn and I’ll play the same trick on him.

This also happened. Bodb’s pig keeper came northward the same time next year into the country of Connacht bringing his lean pigs with him, and Ochall’s pig-keeper did the same to them and they withered.  Everybody said then tat they had equal power. Bodb’s pig-keeper came back from the north with his lean pigs and Bodb dismissed him from pig-keeping.  His friend in the north was also dismissed.

After this they spent two full years in the shape of birds of prey, the first year at the fort of Cruchan, in north Connacht, and the second at the sid on Femen Plain.  One day the men of Munster had collected together at this place.

Those birds are making a terrible babble over there they said.  They have been quarrelling and behaving like this for a full year now.

As they were talking they saw Fuidell mac Fiadmire.Ochall’s steward coming toward them up the hill and they made him welcome.
Those birds are making a great babble over there he said.  You would swear they were the same two birds we had back north last year.  They kept this up for a whole year.

Then they saw the two birds of prey turn suddenly into human shape and become the two pig-keepers.  They made them welcome.

You can spare your welcome, Bodbh’s pig keeper said.  We bring you only war-wailing and a fullness of friends corpses.

What have you been doing? Bodb said.
Nothing good, he said. From the day we left until today we spent two full years together in the shape of birds. You saw what we did over there.  A whole year went like that at Cruchan and a year at the sid on Femen Plain so that all men north and south, have seen our power.  Now we are going to take the shape of water creatures and live two years under the sea.

They left and each went his own way.  One entered the Sinann river, the other the river Suir, and they spent two full years under water.  One year they were seen devouring each other in the Suir, the next in the Sinann.

Next they turned into two stags, and each gathered up the other’s herd of young deer and made a shambles of his dwelling place.

Then they became two warriors, gashing each other.
Then two phantoms, terrifying each other.
Then two dragons, pouring down snow on each other’s land.
They dropped down then out of the air, and became two maggots. One of them got into the spring of the river Cronn in Cuailnge, where a cow belonging to Dáire mac Fiachna drank it up.  The other got into the wellspring Garad in Connacht, where a cow belonging to Medb and Aihill drank it. From them, in this way, sprang the two bulls, Finnbennach, the white-horned, of Ai Plain, and Dub, the dark bull of Cuailnge.

Rucht and Friuch were their names when they were pig-keepers Ingen and Ette, Talon and Whing, when they were two birds of prey, Bled and Blod,, Whale and Seabeast when they were two undersea creatures, Rinna and Faebur, Point and Edge, when they were two warriors Scáth and Sciath, Shadow and Shield , when they were two fantoms and Cruinniuc and Tuinniuc when they were two maggots.  Finnbennach Ai, the White, and Donn Cuailnge, the Brown, were their names when they were two bulls.

This was the Brown Bull of Cuailnge—
Dark brown dire haughty with young health
Horrific overwealming ferocious
Full of craft
Furious fiery flanks narrow
Brave brutal thick breasted
Curly browed head cocked high
Growling and eyes glaring
Tough mained neck thick and strong
Snorting mighty in muzzle and eye
With a true bull’s brow
And a wave’s charge
And a royal wrath
And the rush of a bear
And a beast’s rage
And a bandit’s stap
And a lion’s fury.
Thirty grown boys could take
Their place from rump to nape
--a hero to his herd at morning
foolhardy at the herd’s head
to his cows the beloved
to husbandmen a prop
the father of the great beasts
overlooks the ox of the earth.

A white head and white feet
Had the Bull Finnbennach
And a red body the colour of blood
As if bathed in blood
Or dyed in the red bog
Or pounded in purple
With his blank paps
Under breast and back
And his heavy mane and great hoofs
The beloved of the cows of Ai
With ponderous tail
And a stallion’s breast
And a cow’s eye apple
And a salmon’s snout
And hinder haunch
He romps in rut
Born to bear victory
Bellowing in greatness
Idol of the ox herd
The prime demon Finnbennach.

Super heros and action….
Cúchulainn (Ulster Cycle)

Seen in art, special effects…..shape shifting…natural images

The first warp spasm siezed Cúchulainn, and made him into a monstrous thing, hideous and shapeless, unheard of.  His shanks and his joints, every knuckle and angle and organ from head to foot, shook like a tree in the flood, or a reed in the stream.  His body made a furious twist inside his skin so that his feet and shins and knees switched to the rear and his heels and calves switched to the front.
The balled sinews of his calves switched to the rear and his heels and calves switched to the front of his shins, each big knot the size of a warrior’s bunched fist.  On his head the temple-sinews stretched to the nape of his neck, each mighty, immense, measureless knob as big as the head of a month- old child.  His face and features became a red bowl, he sucked one eye so deep into his head that a wild crane couldn’t probe it onto his cheek out of the depths of his skull, the other eye fell out along his cheek. His mouth weirdly distorted: his cheek peeled back from his jaws until the gullet appeared, his lungs and liver flapped in his mouth and throat, and his lower jaw struck the upper a lion-killing blow, and fiery flakes large as a ram’s fleece reached his mouth from his throat.  His heart boomed loud in his breast like the baying of a watch-dog at its feed or the sound of a lion among bears. Malignant mists, and spurts of fire the torches of the Badb—flickered red in the vaporous clouds that rose boiling above his head so fierce was his fury.  The hair of his head twisted like the tangle of a red thornbush stuck in a gap if a royal apple tree with all its kingly fruit were shaken above him scarce an apple would reach the ground but each would be spiked on a bristle of his hair as it stood up on his scalp with rage.

The Later Fenian Romantic Tradition
Dairmuid and Grainne
Outlaws in the middle spaces….
Man beasts.go betweens….

Who is that freckled sweet-worded man, upon whom is the curling dusky-black hair and the two red ruddy cheeks, upon the left hand of Osin the son of Finn?
That man is Diarmuid the grandson of Dubne, the white toothed, of the light-some countenance, that is, the best lover of women and of maidens that is in the whole world.

Wilt thou receive courtship from me, O O’ Duibne, since Oisin received it not from me?
I will not, said Diarmuid, for whatever woman is betrothed to Oisin I may not take her, even were she not betrothed to Finn.
Then said Grainne, I put thee under taboos of danger and of destruction, O Diarmuid, that is, under the taboos of mighty druidism, if thou take me not with thee out of this household tonight, ere Finn and the king of Erin arise out of that sleep.
Evil bonds are those under which thou hast laid me, O woman, said Diarmuid.

After that Diarmuid arose and stood, and stetched forth his active warrior hand over his broad weapons, and took leave and farewell of Oisin and of the chiefs of the fian, and not bigger is a smooth-crimson whortleberry than was each tear that Diarmuid shed from his eyes at parting with his people. Diarmuid went to the top of the stronghold, and put the shafts of his two javelins under him, and rose with an airy, very light, exceeding high, bird-like leap, until he attained the breath of his two soles of the beautiful grass-green earth on the plain withoiut, and Grainne met him.  Then Diarmuid spoke, and what he said was. I believe O’ Grainne, that this is an evil course upon which thou art come,
For it were better for thee to have Finn mac Cumail for a lover than myself, seeing that I know not what nook or corner, or remote part of Erin I can take thee to now, and return again home, without Finn’s learning what thou hast done.
It is certain that I will not go back, said Grainne, and that I will not part from thee until death part me from thee.
Then go forward O Grainne, said Diarmuid.

Lists: Atrtributes, bahavioral guides societal expectation…the Fili Remind

From the Instructions of King Cormac
O Cormac grandson of Conn said Carberry
What are the dues of a chief and of an ale house?
Not hard to tell, said Cormac
Good behaviour around a good chief,
Lights to lamps
Exerting oneself for the company
A proper settlement of seats,
Liberality of dispensers,
A nimble hand at distributing
Attentive service
Music in moderation
Short story-telling
A joyous countenance
Welcome to guests
Silence during recitals
Harmonious choruses
Trans:Kuno Myer

Of Colum of Terryglass

He was no branch of a withered tree,
Colum, the holy son of Nanid,
Grandson of Nastar of noble deeds,
Lofty descendant of Crimthan the Little,
Son of Echu, son of Oengus,
Distinguished son of Crimthan the Noble,
For they were of the stock of a true prince,
Trees sprung from the root of a forest sanctuary
The fair heirs of Cathair,
A great harvest with fruit of many tastes
Above a multitude of branches.

Trans Kuno Myer

Instant Information compressed knowledge-truth…..transitions…..

What I am afraid may be said to me I had better say first myself

Whoever the cap fits takes it

A good word at court is better than a coin in one’s purse

Friendship is good though absence from friends is painful

Three things betokening trouble:  holding plough land in common, performing feats together, alliance in marriage.
Three nurses of theft, a wood, a cloak, night
Three false sisters perhaps, maybe, I dare say
Three timid brothers hush stop listen
Three sounds of increase the lowing of a cow in milk the din of a smithy the swish of a plough.
Trans:Kuno Myer

Ranns Complexity concentrated

I hope and pray that none may kill me,
Nor I kill any, with woundings grim
But if ever any should think to kill me
I pray thee, God, let me kill him

Avoid all stewardship of church or Kill,
It is ill to be much in the cleric’s way
Lest you live to see that which with pains you save,
Like foam on the wave float far away

I mind not being drunk, but then
Much mind to be seen drunken
Drink only perfects all our play
Yet breeds it discord always

Like a fire kindled beneath a lake,
Like a stone to break an advancing sea,
Like a blow that is struck upon iron cold,
To the wayward woman thy counsels be

If you hope to teach, you must be a fool
A woman, a porker, or a mule.

Trans: Douglas Hyde

Modern Relevance- listing Continuity

Flan O’Brien/Myles na gCopaqleen, Brian O’Nolan

From The Catechism of Cliché

Yes More of it
What happens to blows at a council meeting?
It looks as if they might be exchanged.
What does pandemonium do?
It breaks loose.
Describe its subsequent dominion
It reigns.
How are allegations dealt with?
They are denied.
Yes, but then you are weakening Sir Come now, how are they denied?
What is the mean temperature of an altercation therefore?
What is the behaviour of a heated altercation?
It follows.
What happens to order?
It is restored.
Alternatively, in what does the meeting break up?
What does the meeting do in disorder?
Breaks up.
In what direction does the meeting break in disorder?
In what direction should I shut?

The Romantic Look Back…..

The Praise of Fionn

Patrick you chatter too loud
And lift your crozier too high,
Your stick would be kindling soon
If my son Osgar stood by.

If my son Osgar and God
Wrestled it out on the hill
And I saw Osgar go down
I’d say that your God fought well,

But how could the God you praise
And his mild priests singing a tune
Be better than Fionn the swordsman.
Generous , faultless Fionn?

Just by the strength of their hands
The Fenians’ battles were fought,
With never a spoken lie,
Never a lie in thought.

There never sat priest in church
A tuneful psalm to raise
Better spoken than these
Scarred in a thousand frays.

Whatever your monks have called
The law of the King of Grace
That was the Fenians’ law
His home is their dwelling place.

If happier house than Heaven
There be, above or below
‘Tis there my master Fionn
And his fighting men will go

Ah, priest, if you saw the Fenians
Filling the strand beneath
Or gathered in steamy Naas
You would praise them with every breath

Patrick, ask of your God
Does he remember their might,
Or has he seen east or west
Better men in a fight?

Or known in his own land
Above the stars and the moon
For wisdom courage and strength
A man the like of Fionn?

-Christianity preserves/ Edits- Frank O’Connor Kings, Lords and Commons.

Christianity liberates the author from set tasks…nature creativity come in

Writing in the Wood
Dom-farcai fidbaide fál

A hedge of a wood-thicket looks down on me
A blackbird’s song sings to me
(a message not concealed)
above my little book, the lined one
the twittering of birds sings to me

The clear-voiced cuckoo calls to me, a lovely speech,
In a grey mantle from bushy dwellings
God’s Judgement! The Lord befriends me!
I write fair under the great wood of the forest.

Overwatched by woodland wall
Merles make melody full well;
Above my book-lined, lettered—
Birds twittered a soothing spell.

Cuckoos call clear-fairest phrase-
Cloaked in grays, from leafy leas
Lord’s love, what blessings showring
Good to write ‘neath tow’ring trees



The Weary Scribe
Is scith mo chorob On scribainn

My hand is tired from writing
My great sharp point is not stout
The pen, a slim beak, spurts
A beetle –dark draught of bright blue ink

A steady stream of wisdom flows from
my good brown hand, neat and handsome
It pours on the page its draught
Of ink of grey barked holly

I sent my little dripping pen
Across the collection of books of great beauty
Without pause, on the property of the skilled,
And so my hand is weary from writing.

-Ruth Lehman

My hand from writing, weary
Not smeary my quill right new
Pen with its beaked point slender
Spurts dark splendour –ink bright blue

A stream of wisdom steady
Springs ready from hand fine skilled
It pours its ink of holly 
No folly!) on page lined filled.

I send my small pen dripping
Skipping o’er books of query,
To grace great artist’s dow’ry
My hand from writing weary 
My hand


The Bard as Perpetuator of the eternal lament

Last Lines
Because like himself O’Rahilly seemed the last voice of feudalism. Yeats used the final line of this poem for one of his own…

I shall not call for help until they coffin me-
What good for me to call when hope of help is gone?
Princes of Munster who would have heard my cry
Will not rise from the dead because I am alone.

Mind shudders like a wave in this tempestuous mood,
My bowels and my heart are pierced and filled with pain.
To see our lands, our hills, our gentle neighbourhood,
A plot where any English upstart stakes his claim

The Shannon and the Liffey and the tuneful Lee,
The Boyne and the Blackwater a sad music sing.
The waters of the west run red into the sea—
No matter what be trumps, their knave will beat our king

And I can never cease weeping, these useless  tears
I am a man oppressed, afflicted and undone
Who where he wanders mourning no companion hears
Only some waterfall that has no cause to mourn.

Now I shall cease, death comes, and I must not delay
By Laune and Laine and Lee, diminished of their pride.
I shall go after the heroes, aye, into the clay—
My fathers followed theirs before Christ was crucified
-Egan O’ Rahilly
Trans: Frank O’ Connor Kings, Lords and Commons.

Another bit of continuity……

May his pipe never smoke, may his teapot be broke
And to add to the joke, may his kettle ne’er boil,
May he keep to the bed till the hour that he’s dead,
May he always be fed on hogwash and boiled oil,
May he swell with the gout, may his grinders fall out,
May he roll howl and shout with the horrid toothache,
May the temples wear horns, and the toes many corns,
Of the monster that murdered Nell Flaherty’s drake.

May his spade never dig may his sow never pig
May each hair on his wig be well thrashed with a flail
May his door have no latch, may his house have no thatch,
May his turkey not hatch, may the rats eat his meat
May every old fairy, from Cork to Dunleary,
Dip him snug and airy in river or lake,
Where the eel and the trout may feed on the snout
Of the monster that murdered Neill Falheerty’s drake

The mouths of Peasants save a tradition via the after dinner entertainment of the elite…..

Paddy the Piper

The only introduction I shall attempt to the following “extravaganza”  is to request the reader to suppose it to be delivered by a frolicking Irish peasant, in the richest brogue and most dramatic manner.

I tell you, sir, a mighty quare story, and it’s as thrue as I’m standin’ here, and that’s no lie:-
It was in the time of the ruction,  whin the long summer days, like many a fine fellow’s precious life, was cut short by raison of the martial law—that wouldn’t let a dacent boy be oiut in the evenin’, good or bad, for whin the day’s work was over, divil a one of uz dar go to meet a friend over a glass, or a girl at the dance, but must go home, and shut ourselves up, and never budgge, nor rise latch, nor dhraw boult, antill the morning kem agin.
Well to come to my story:--‘Twas afther nightfall,
And we wor sitin’ round the fire, and the praties wor bilin’, and the noggins of buttheermilk was standing’ ready for our suppers, whin a knock kem to the door.

Recording, extending,creating interest preserving….

The Essence- The Structure of the Peasant Mind- How many topic sentences can you have?

The Battle of Clontarf

Clontarf was on the head of a game of chess.
The generals of the Danes were beaten at it, and they were vexed, and Cennedigh was killed on a hill near Fermoy.  He put the Holy Gospels in his breast as a protection, but he was struck through them with a reeking dagger.  It was Brodar, that the Brodericks are descended from, that put a dagger through Brian’s heart, and he attending to his prayers.  What the Danes left in Ireland were hens and Weasels.  And when the cock crows in the morning the country people will always say. It is for Denmark they are crowing. Crowing they are to be back in Denmark.

Shortening The Road

Himself and his son were walking the road together one day,
And the Goban said to the son. “shorten the road for me.”. So the son began to walk fast, thinking that would do it, but the Goban sent him back home when he didn’t understand what to do.  The next day they were walking again, and the Goban said again to shroten the road for him, and this time he began to run, and the Goban sent him home again.  When he went in and told the wife he was sent home the second time, she began to think, and she said,”When he bids your shorten the road, it is that he wants you to be telling him stories.” For that is what the Goban meant, but it took the daughter in law to understand it.  And it is what I was saying to that other woman, that if one of ourselves was making a journey, if we had another along with us, it would not seem to be one half as long as if we would be alone.  And if this is so with us, it is much more with a stranger, and so I went up the hill with you to shorten the road, telling you that story.

The Queen of Breffny

Devorgilla was a red-haired woman, and it was she put the great curse on Ireland, bringing in the English through MacMurrough, that she went to from O’Rourke.  It was to Henry the Second MacMurrough went, and he sent Strongbow, and they stopped in Ireland ever since. But who knows but another race might be worse, such as the Spaniards that were scattered along the whole coast of Connacht at the time of the Armada.  And the laws are good enough. I heard it said the English will be dug out of their graves one day for the sake of their law.  As to Devorgilla,
She was not brought away by force, she went to MacMurrough herself.  For there are men in the world that have a coaxing way, and sometimes women are weak.

The Tradition Launches a Nation of the shreds and patches of the old remains
Together with a bit of the romanicism of Zoro!

The Host
The host is riding from Knocknarea,
And over the grave of Clooth-na-bare
Caolte tossing his burning hair,
And Niam calling, Away, come away,

And brood no more where the fire is bright,
Filling thy heart with a mortal dream
For breasts are heaving and eyes a-gleam
Away, come away, to the dim twilight

Arms are a-waving and lips apart,
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart

The host is rushing twixt night and day
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caolte tossing his burning hair,
And Niam Calling Away, come away.

-WB Yeats
(Don’t forget Maude Gaune!)

As bad as we  WANT to be but still Irish!

What should we know,
For better or worse,
Of the Long Ago
Were it not for Verse
What ships went down
What walls were razed
Who won the crown
What lads were praised
A fallen stone,
Or a waste of sands
And all is known of Art-less lands
But you need not delve
By the sea –side hills
Where the Muse herself
All Time Fulfils
Who cuts with his scythe
All things but hers
All but the blithe

To the Maids Not to Walk in the Wind

When the wind blows, walk not abroad,
For, Maids, you may not know
The mad, quaint thoughts which incommode
Me when the winds do blow.

What though the tresses of the treen
In doubled beauty move,
With silver added to their green
They were not made for Love

But when your clothes reveal your thighs
And surge around your knees,
Until from foam you seem to rise,
As Venus from the seas…

Though ye are fair, it is not fair!
Unless you will be kind,
Till I am dead and changed to AIR,
O walk not in the wind!

(After Reading Tolstoi)

I will live in Ringsend with a red-headed whore,
And the fan-light gone in
Where it lights the hall-door
And listen each night
For her querulous shout,
As at last she steels in
And the pubs empty out

To soothe that wild breast
With my old-fangled songs,
Till she feels it redressed
From inordinate wrongs,
Imagined outrageous,
Preposterous wrongs,
Till peace at last comes,
Shall be all I will do,
Where the little lamp blooms
Like a rose in the stew;
And up the back garden
The sound comes to me
Of the lapsing, unsoilable,
Whispering sea.

-Oliver Saint John Gogarty

The Grand Fusion O’Brien

Chapter 1

Having placed in my mouth sufficient bead for three minutes’ chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression.  I reflected on the subject of my spare-time literary activities.  One beginning and one ending for a book was a thing I did not agree with.  A good book may have three openings entirely dissimilar and inter-related only in the presence of the author, or for that matter one hundred times as many endings.

Examples of three separate openings-the first: The Pooka MacPhellimey, a member of the devil class, sat in his hut in the middle of a fir-wood meditating on the nature of the numerals and segregating in his mind the odd ones from the even.  He was seated at his diptych or ancient two-leaved hinged writing-table with inner sides waxed.  His rough long-nailed fingers toyed with a snuff –box of perfect rotundity and through a gap in his teeth he whistled a civil cavatina.  He was a courtly man and received honour by reason of the generous treatment he gave his wife, one of the Corrigans of Carlow.

…..Relate further for us, said Conán.
It is true that I will not, said Finn.
With that he rose to a full tree-high standing, the sable cat-guts which held his bog-cloth drawers to the hems of his jacket of pleated fustian clanging together in melodious discourse.  Too great was he for standing.  The neck to him was as the bole of a great oak, knotted and seized together with muscle-humps and carbuncles of tangled sinew, the better for good feasting and contending with the bards.   The chest to him was wider than the poles of a good chariot, coming now out, now in, and pastured from chin to navel with meadows of black man-hair and meated with layers of fine man-meat- the better to hide his bones and fashion the semblance of his twin bubs.  The arms to him were like the necks of beasts, ball-swollen with their bunched-up brawnstrings and blood-veins, the better for harping and hunting and contending with the bards.  Each thigh to him was to the thickness of a horse’s belly, narrowing to a green-veined calf to the thickness of a foal.  Three fifties of Fosterlings could engage with handball against the wideness of his backside, which was wide enough to halt the march of warriors through a mountain-pass.

I am a bark for buffeting, said Finn,
I am a hound for thorny paws.
I am a doe for swiftness
I am a tree for wind – siege
I am a windmill
I am a hole in a wall

I am the breast of a young queen, said Finn,
I am a thatching against rains
I am a dark castle against bat-flutters
I am A connachtman’s ear.
I am a harpstring
I am a gnat

-Flan O’ Brien
At Swim Two Birds

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Modern Literature continues the complexity and layercake slicing heritage….

All in a Day’s Donkey-Work
From Lipstick on the Host
Aiden Mathews
Harcort Brace 1992
Aidan Mathews was born in 1956 in Dublin. His published work includes the  poetry collections Windfalls (Dublin, The Dolmen Press, 1977); Minding Ruth (Loughcrew,The Gallery Press, 1983); and According to the Small Hours (London, Jonathan Cape, 1998); Three of his plays have been produced, including The Diamond Body (the Project Theatre Dubin, and Entrance, Exit (The Peacock Theatre, Dublin); two collections of stories, Adventures in a Bathyscope (Secker & Warburg, London, 1988), and Lipstick on the Host (Secker & Warburg, 1992); and a novel, Muesli at Midnight (Secker & Warburg, 1990).  He has received several  prizes, including The Irish Times Award, 1974; The Patrick Kavanagh Award in 1976; the Macauley Fellowship in 1978-9 and an Academy of American Poets Award in 1982.  He reached the shortlist for the first GPA Book Award in 1989.  He lives in County Dublin.


“It was so late when the younger donkey stepped down into the field that it was almost early morning.  The sky had gone grey in the face.  In a matter of minutes, the rooster would throw a tantrum on the hen-coop, and the sparrows would begin their jittery whisperings, like bandits using bird-calls as a signal. Then it would be daylight.
Dawn, said the older donkey.  After all, it’s not every day that the sun rises. Usually it just gets bright.
He had been tethered again, but he drew the rope behind him with great dignity, like a chain of office.
The years are falling off me, he said, I thought it was mange,
But no, I’m shedding a winter coat.  That’s what it is.  I’ve phlegm enough for the Negev, if I had to cross it.
A horse-fly settled on the snout of the younger donkey, and he let it.  There might have been a time when he crawled into the sloughed skin of an adder, and drowsed, and dreamed he was a ladybird, luck on the thumbnail of a pigtailed toddler, and then awoken, or awaked, or woken up, to the blinding midday sun that made light of his night-crossing.

My father’s father went down in history for that forty miles to the field hospital, said the older donkey.  The soldier in splints, the quill from a kestrel.  Its travelled, that one has.  Travelled the world. Ephesus, Athens, Rome. Yes, Rome herself.
Itself, said the younger donkey.  Why don’t you say itself?
But the older donkey wasn’t listening.
The point is he said that a man with two sprained ankles writing mush to his mistress, even if the mush was in meters, doesn’t amount to a legend.  Not now. Not in my lifetime.  It isn’t even an exploit.  Or a deed.  Because he didn’t deed it, he just did it.  When you’ve reached the time of my life, you’ll have learned that the road from doing to deeding crosses a wasteland without wells in it.
The rooster sat among the droppings of his wives, and started to crow at the world.  The greyness had gone out of the sky.  It was turning as white as a sheet.

Bonnets and bearskins, said the older donkey.  Rice on my muzzle, rice raining down.  At my hooves, at my feet, the scent of squashed flowers like the smell of snuffed candles.  Shawls thrown from the turrets hovered above me like hawks.  Palm after palm, the palms piled up, as if they were feeding a fire.  I came close, I admit it.  I came very close to passing out with dignity. It came over me like a fainting fit.  Because I was doing something my father had never done, and that, you see, is a working definition of happiness.  I., who had been a baggage animal, am no longer baggage. I am an animal. I, who had been a beast of burden, am no longer burdened In every atom of my being I am pure beast.
The sun blazed a trail towards them, towards the older donkey who stood shaking and the younger donkey who shook, standing.

I wish I could hear myself talking said the pure beast.  But my ears are still ringing from all those hosannas. I don’t think they’ll ever

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