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John Minahane

John Minahane
Making Ireland English: the Irish Aristocracy in the Seventeenth Century, by Jane Ohlmeyer, Yale University Press, 480 pp, £40, ISBN: 978-0300118346

The glories of our blood and state
are shadows, not substantial things,

said the Leveller poet. But not everyone has felt like that, and the titled rich have their fascinated following even at the present day. For the more historically-minded lord-watchers, Jane Ohlmeyer’s large volume will be a godsend. One can say right away that it is packed with information about the English-approved aristocracy of Ireland in the seventeenth century: what their pedigrees were, if any; who they married, and how they went about marrying; the problems of producing heirs (with the extinction of lines when they couldn’t); what contacts they had and how they exploited them; where they had lands, how many acres and of what kind, bringing in how large an income; what they acquired or lost at critical moments, particularly in the Cromwellian conquest and at the Restoration; how they educated their children, and how much it cost; what kind of mansions they had and gardens, and furniture and trappings; and how, worse than the gout or anything else, they were grievously plagued by debt – the author has interesting things to say on all these topics and many others.

The introduction begins with a description of a grand funeral in 1668, attended by earls, bishops, viscounts and ladies in great numbers, “the cream of Irish society”. But the chief orchestrator, father-in-law of the deceased, and highest-ranking man in the country, the Duke of Ormond, did not himself attend. One has to go to the fuller description near the back of the book to find out why: he had better things to do at the royal court in London. Political enemies had been attacking him there and, even though Ormond family funerals were usually quiet, private affairs, he needed a demonstration of just how much influence he commanded on the other island. His daughter-in-law’s funeral (including a much-appreciated banquet for “persons of quality” at four tables with thirty-five silver dishes, which were filled three times) was meant to make that point in London, where a pamphlet giving a full description of the occasion was published soon after.

Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork, the model of all upstart aristocrats, gave instructions that his funeral should be “without unnecessary Pompe or Ceremonys”, though “suitable to my Estate and Degree”. Three pompous tombs, however, had been prepared to receive him, depending on whether he died in Cork, Dublin or England. What worried the Earl was not so much excess of pomp at his obsequies: he had a horror of being disembowelled and embalmed, which would allow the body to lie in state and give more time to organise a grand display. (Lady Arran, Ormond’s daughter-in-law, had lain in state for a month.)

Ohlmeyer focuses on a tiny elite in Irish society, a small fraction even of those who would have claimed some sort of social eminence, for which “noble” might do as a description or a translation. This elite is the peerage, meaning earls, viscounts and barons. In 1628 – after a period of inflation of titles, with substantial New English increase – there were sixty-five such people resident in Ireland. They included members of all the main population groups: Gaelic Irish, Old English, New English and Scots.

The number of resident peers rose only slightly down to the time of King James II. What is more surprising is that the ethnic composition of the peerage scarcely changed at all. In 1628 there were 9 per cent Gaelic Irish, 34 per cent New English, 46 per cent Old English, and 9 per cent Scots; in 1685 there were 9 per cent Gaelic Irish, 33 per cent New English, 48 per cent Old English, and 7 per cent Scots. The figures for 1641 and 1670 are almost identical. More remarkable still, the Catholic-Protestant breakdown of the peerage scarcely changed between 1628 and 1685: the Catholic proportion rose very slightly, but at all times it was close to half and half. One might think that this was a very peaceful country with a great deal of social stability and no major upheavals.

But the contrary was true, and this gives immediate plausibility to Ohlmeyer’s argument: that the peers were “effective instruments” of English policy. They were, after all, an elite with English titles, awarded in the time of Henry VIII with the clearly stated purpose of anglicising Ireland. The dynamic energy of the improvising power in England was transmitted to them and through them. Terrible examples had been made of them, where necessary. To an extent they remained unsatisfactory. King James I told the Old English peers who refused to adopt his religion that they were both stupid and disloyal, “only half-subjects”; the two Charleses had powerful ministers who wanted to undermine the Catholic peers by attacking their landholdings. Yet perhaps, in a long perspective, these peers were the Stuart kings’ indispensable servants, ably advancing the aim of making Ireland English.

This is Ohlmeyer’s main argument. It’s only half the story, but as far as it goes it’s true. The 1640s show very plainly what a crucial contribution the peers could make. In 1641-2, throughout a great part of Ireland, the carefully built structures of English domination suddenly collapsed. It is possible Ireland might have slipped, temporarily at least, from England’s grip. If that had occurred, what would have followed is unclear – many things seemed conceivable in that confused time. But it is evident that in the greater part of Ireland, the English position was held principally due to the efforts of three peers: Murrough O’Brien, Baron of Inchiquin, who excelled as the military leader of the Munster Plantation; James Butler, Earl of Ormond, who led the pro-government resistance in Leinster and afterwards, as viceroy, wore down the Catholic Confederates in endless negotiations; and above all Donough MacCarthy, Viscount Muskerry, Ormond’s brother-in-law, who joined the Irish rebellion when it was too dangerous to do anything else, and subsequently worked with tireless energy and skill to tame the rebel movement and ultimately subordinate it to Ormond.

Ohlmeyer points out that there isn’t an adequate modern biography of Ormond. More interesting, to my way of thinking, and certainly much more difficult, would be a biography of his brother-in-law. Muskerry was in touch, as the over-anglicised Ormond could never be, with the other half of the story, the other Ireland. (Ohlmeyer includes a striking portrait of Muskerry, where he looks like what his whole career proclaimed him to be: a man in profound tension, possessed by a certain idea of honour. By contrast, the portrait of Ormond immediately calls to mind one of Dáibhí Ó Bruadair’s descriptions: “that fox …”) These men were not able, in the given circumstances, to save Ireland for England’s king. But they saved Ireland for England.

The Cromwellians were not entirely ungrateful. When Muskerry dramatically returned to Ireland as early as 1653 to face trial on charges of war crimes, he escaped with his life, which on several different counts he might have lost. Ohlmeyer shows how ready the Cromwellians were to make discreet arrangements with royalist peers, or with their wives as their representatives, so that they could get by. Lady Ormond, to take the prime example, was allowed to reoccupy some of the Ormond estates, on condition that she did not send money to her husband in France. She ignored this provision, of course, and a blind eye was turned. As for Cromwell’s principal Catholic collaborator, Lord Antrim, being a Catholic he could hardly have been spared the formal confiscation of his estates, but informally he seems to have remained in control of some of them, receiving their incomes. Though the Cromwellians made a structural change in Ireland (“the westward shift in Catholic landholding”, in Ohlmeyer’s elegant phrase), they ran out of energy and human resources fairly quickly. By the time the understanding Henry Cromwell came on the scene, one could say they were holding Ireland in trust for the Stuarts.

But there was another Ireland besides the Ireland-being-made-English of this book. And early in 1642 it spoke fiercely to Muskerry:

Nár do mo thriath Mhusgroidhe
Gaill ag taisdiol a thíre,
an chuaine dhuaibhseach dhúrchroidheach
atá ag creachadh gach tire.

A shame for my lord Muskerry:
English traversing his country,
the gloomy hard-hearted wolf-pack
that plunders each territory!

The remedy proposed was drastic. In judging it, one must first of all understand that the poet, Diarmaid Óg Ó Murchadha, had learned the lessons of the 1598 rebellion. At that time the rebels quickly destroyed the plantation in rural Munster, but they ignored the towns, which later served as bases for reconquest. And secondly, one must assume that Ó Murchadha was aware of how English forces had dealt with Irish rebels in the second half of the sixteenth century and culminating in 1600-3, with deliberately organised famines and massacres of non-combatants (reviewed in my article “The English in Ireland and the Practice of Massacre”). The killing of women and children, boasted of in official correspondence, was carried out on a scale that has no parallel in contemporary Europe.

Córa duitse ná d’fhuirinn an Ghalla-Bhéarla
Fódla dhruidim ó iomar na h-aimiléise;
dóigh a dtighthe, a muillte ’s a mbailte daora
is tógfar tuirse don turas-sa d’fhearaibh Éirionn.

Fitter for you than for the English-language crew
to heave Fódla out of the trough of misery;
burn their houses, their mills and their squalid towns,
and sorrow will be lifted now from the men of Ireland!

I suppose we can carry on calling this Ireland the Hidden Ireland. Books such as Ohlmeyer’s don’t try very hard to hunt it out of concealment. By contrast, William J Smyth strives to make mental space for this other Ireland in Map-making, Landscapes and Memory. My criticism of Smyth would be that he has too much imposed on his theme the idea of “the vision of the vanquished”. Actually there was something in Gaelic Ireland that never knew when it was vanquished and could keep on springing surprises.

One of the obstacles to contact with this Ireland, prior to the Cromwellian conquest, is, oddly enough, Breandán Ó Buachalla. In Aisling Ghéar he did lasting service by focusing on the vast mass of Jacobite poetry and insisting that serious historians have to take it seriously. When writing about, say, the highly enterprising Clare poet, historian, grammarian, lexicographer and soldier of the early eighteenth century, Aodh Buí Mac Cruitín, he is excellent. Unfortunately, for the greater poets who were living in the time of King James I he had little understanding. He was too much tempted to simplify the complex pre-Jacobite culture so that there could be Jacobites right from the moment of King James’s accession.

Perhaps feeling that it’s hard to get much purchase on modern minds unless you address their teleologies, this enterprising scholar produced a Gaelic version of the romance of progress. From the time of King James, we are told, elite learned poets were being displaced by new kinds of poets and intellectuals. A Catholic Irish nation was beginning to coalesce, which tended to efface the distinctions between Gaels and Old English. And politically this nation was focused on the king of England. “The overall aim of Catholic Ireland’s elites was to come to terms with the King, since they realized that it was only through him that they and their cause could prosper.” Ó Buachalla boldly declares that this was a “new orthodoxy in Irish political thought. Central to that orthodoxy was the unassailable position of the Stuart kings and their unquestionable right to the Crown of Ireland. It was, I stress, an orthodoxy.”

Drawing on this influential article by Ó Buachalla, Ohlmeyer relates how “a Donegal poet, Eoghan Ruadh Mac an Bhaird” celebrated King James as legitimate monarch of Ireland in 1603. Here she is led astray by a strange blunder in her source. Ó Buachalla would not normally have confused Eoghan Ruadh with Fearghal Óg Mac an Bhaird, the author of the poem in question. What is interesting is that Eoghan Ruadh’s genuine poems show quite clearly that he wasn’t in touch with the alleged orthodoxy. And that immediately puts the orthodoxy in question, because Eoghan Ruadh was an impressive figure. He was one of Hugh O’Neill’s most trusted advisers in his later years; later on, adviser to the exiled O’Neill and O’Donnell heirs; and a man who was able to produce an Irish translation of a Latin book on military science. If an orthodoxy existed, such a man could hardly have failed to be part of it.

In Gaelic Ireland there were always competitive tensions. Commonly two or more lords of the same lineage would compete for power in the same or overlapping lordships. For centuries, the options one might have for advancing oneself politically had included cooperation with the English. To the visionary clerics and poets who had attached themselves to Hugh O’Neill as the Irish Catholic champion, this was of course deplorable. But even they understood that the collaborating lords were not mainly motivated by a traitorous spirit, rather they were responding to patterns deep in Gaelic tradition. It was necessary that these lords should continue to be welcomed and included in the complex culture they came from. They should continue to be praised in poetry and helped to see and respect themselves as men rooted in Gaelic tradition, even if currently they had gone so far as to turn Protestant.

“(The poets’) notions of honour were religiously charged and culturally exclusive,” Ohlmeyer says. Once again she is led astray by her sources, this time Marc Caball and Joep Leerssen. The poets were indeed overwhelmingly Catholic and, as Samantha Meigs pointed out some years back, their influence was crucial to securing the Catholic religion in Ireland. I believe that in the 1570s or so they must have held discussions on the English Queen’s claim to be head of the Church, and decided that it contradicted Irish tradition and could not be supported. But this did not imply that Protestant lords would be shunned (though the most dynamic of the early Counter-Reformationist preachers, the Ulster Franciscan poet Eoghan Ó Dubhthaigh, does seem to favour such a policy). In the early seventeenth century poetry was duly being produced for Protestant O’Briens, O’Neills, Barrys, FitzGeralds, and others, and explicitly at least, the religious issue was graciously overlooked.

Secondly, it is hardly fair to say that the poets were “culturally exclusive” simply because they wished to maintain their own culture and language. Were they supposed to accept the New English policy of destroying them and all that they stood for, and making Ireland so English, as John Davies put, that the only difference between England and Ireland would be the Irish Sea? As a matter of fact, the patient work they had done over several centuries with Burkes, FitzGeralds, Butlers and other Anglo-Norman settlers shows how far they were prepared to go to make space in their culture for others. The seventeenth century poets were ready, in principle and in practice, to continue doing so. To modern minds it has often seemed bizarre that poems were made for the likes of Nicholas Walsh, Dominic Sarsfield, or George Carew, who were judges, generals, governors of the aggressive New English power, and surely unlikely patrons of filíocht. But this was attempted cultural inclusion.

One of the most important of the Ulster Gaelic lords who cooperated with the English, before and during the Plantation, was Turlough (Toirdhealbhach) Mac Airt O’Neill. He was the grandson of Hugh O’Neill’s great rival, Turlough Luineach. During the Plantation certain lands were given to him, though a great deal less than he thought he was reasonably entitled to expect. The pension he was supposed to receive remained unpaid because of funding difficulties, and despite his loyalty he was bullied and encroached upon by aggressive Protestant ministers and others. More than once Chichester warned that it was important that allies like this should be cherished. The poets too knew that it was important to cherish them. With a far longer perspective than anyone else, they did not fail to give such men their poetry.

Not long after King James’s accession Turlough O’Neill, then a teenager, went to London to offer his loyalty and ask for support. Eoghan Ruadh Mac an Bhaird made a poem for the occasion.

Rob soraidh an séadsa soir
’nar ghluais rí fhréimhe Eoghain

May his journey east be fortunate
for the king of Tyrone…

The king of Tyrone! He has gone east over the sea, we are told in the second verse – Turlough, the heir of Niall’s posterity, from the pleasant-wooded plain of Cairbre. He has crossed the sea to London, the poet reiterates in the third verse (and an undercurrent of irony isn’t too hard to catch), to receive his forbears’ heritage… over the powerful waves of the grey sea, away from the young men of the land of Ughaine.

That land, indeed, will be an orphan without him. But one hopes he will give a good account of himself over there:

Re headh iomagallmhu an ríogh
go mb’ionann d’ua na n-áirdríogh,

While conferring with the King,
may the High Kings’ descendant be equal …

 (equal in wisdom to Solomon, as it turns out, but that’s at the leisurely end of the verse). The hope is expressed that the king of England (rí Sagsan) will accept sweet words from Turlough. May that journey be the same, the poet continues, as the journey of Tuathal Teachtmhar, who once crossed the grey sea to the young men of Ireland as their youthful king! Very briefly, in a single verse, he raises terrible possibilities: may the warriors of London not express their hatred of Turlough, may he not be killed, or suffer some bloody and treacherous deed, or fail to secure his property! Because he is of the stock of Turlough Luineach, the most generous man in Ireland in his time; and he himself has been foretold by the prophets, he shall have command over all; royal blood of various vintages is flowing in his veins; he is the favourite of all Ireland, the lieutenant of Brian Boru …

I confess that I cannot see how this poem contributes to Jacobite orthodoxy. But I think it contributed something to the rebel colonel that Turlough Mac Airt, seemingly against the whole current of his adult life, became in 1641.

Eoghan Ruadh had a much closer relationship with Rory O’Donnell, brother of Red Hugh. When Red Hugh went to Spain in 1602 Rory took over leadership of the O’Donnells and became, as his brother had been, chief ally of Hugh O’Neill. Near the end of 1602, with government killing in Ulster reaching genocidal proportions and reports coming out of Spain that Red Hugh had died, Rory was offered an opportunity to submit by Mountjoy, the viceroy. The Four Masters tell us that his advisers were bitterly divided on how to respond. One group claimed that the reports of Red Hugh’s death were false, and they should hold on in the hope of help from Spain. Another group said the reports were true, and now was the time to make peace. Siding with the second group, Rory submitted to Mountjoy that December. With his main ally removed, Hugh O’Neill had little option but to make peace soon after.

I suspect that Eoghan Ruadh belonged to the anti-treaty faction. He has two riveting poems from the period which followed, addressed to Rory. The first of them must be from May or June 1603, when Rory was preparing to go to Dublin to discuss, or receive, the conditions on which he would become Earl of Tirconnell. The poem is extraordinarily charged and disturbing right from the first verse: … geall re hoighidh an eachtra, “the journey is like violent death” (and here I should say that Rory O’Donnell, as we learn from another poet, Eochaidh Ó hEodhusa, was a connoisseur of poetry). Its real message appears to be that only a fool can believe this peace process will produce anything good for Rory, Tír Chonaill, or Ireland. What is actually said (after a long series of verses relentlessly elaborating the opposite case) is that Rory, by his sheer personal importance, has changed the very nature of his English enemies. So anxious are they to have peace with him, they simply will not remember what he has done. Many gravestones have been raised on his account and many widows have mourned, but all will be forgiven, no vengeance will be sought. The English have exchanged their envious fury for sociability.

Tiad gnúisi giolladh ndorrdha
roimhe i reachtaibh searcamhla,
meanma goimheamhla Gall ndúr
le barr soimheanma ag siothlúdh.

Surly fellows’ faces
confront him in loving guises;
hard, venomous English hearts
making peace, in the heights of joy!

They have changed because they’re aware that once fear ionaid áirdríogh Éireann (the viceroy of the high kings of Ireland) makes things up with them, they can simply relax thereafter. When Rory submits, that’s a statement of every man’s will: every Irishman’s knee will bow.

In September of that same year (1603) Rory became the first earl of Tirconnell. Eoghan Ruadh addressed a very intense personal poem to him at some time after that. Here I can only touch briefly on its political aspect. I am dissatisfied with the king’s youth, Eoghan Ruadh begins. The king is Rory, and the memory of his youth plagues the poet, who was then a great favourite, loved and richly rewarded, and highly influential. That state of affairs has changed, though it surely could be restored. “All would say that it isn’t hard for you to control me, king of Tirconnell!” And again: “I renounce all my right if you say the word, king of the Erne!”

At present, however, king and poet are alienated. The poem has astonishing twists, it’s nothing if not cryptic. But one gathers that the cause of alienation has something to do with the earldom.

An gairm iarlachta fuair sin,
éigean d’oide an úird gaisgidh
a chiall do choimhfheacadh dhi,
roidheacair riar na righe.

The rank of earl that he received,
(master of the order of heroism),
he must bend his intellect to that;
it’s difficult to manage sovereignty.

Which seems to mean: it’s hard being a king and an earl at the same time. (It was, undoubtedly, and the new administration intended to make it impossible. Chichester’s law of 1605, proclaiming that everyone was directly subject to King James, was directed towards this end.)

A few years later Rory fled to Europe with Hugh O’Neill, and Eoghan Ruadh went with them. When Rory died (1608, of a fever), the poet produced a long and elaborate elegy, which includes a historical outline. In three thousand years of Milesian history the clan of Conall, we are told, has always been the most steadfast. They were the key problem for the English invaders who had arrived over four centuries previously. The English, in fact, had never had a single day in secure possession of Ireland, rather they had been constantly plagued by war. Queen Elizabeth realized that the foreign army would never have Ireland in its power until Clann Chonaill was crushed: the true faith would not be destroyed, the Crown would not have power to rule as it wished, nor would the warriors of Ulster be depressed. And therefore, bloody war was waged upon Ulster. Though the Ulstermen fought gloriously, in the end the kingdom was left in a dreadful state, with the land and its leaders crying out in anguish. After fifteen years O’Donnell could no longer bear the state of his country, and so he took his leave of life. The poet actually presents a parade of great classical suicides: Cato the Elder, who killed himself with his own sword after political defeat; Brutus, who rode his horse into a precipice, which then closed over him; Codorus, king of Athens, who rushed through the ranks of an enemy army, forcing them to kill him, because it had been prophesied that if he were killed the enemy would lose the battle. O’Donnell’s death was not quite the same, yet it was offered in a similar sacrificial spirit. Unfortunately, far from making his country’s condition better, it has only made it still worse.

Anois d’aimhdheoin fhear Uladh,
gan chogadh gan chathughadh,
féaduidh a rá rí Sagsan
Clár Dáth í na thiodal-san.

Now, in spite of the Ulstermen,
without war or conflict,
the king of England can say
he has title to Ireland.

Today the English in Ireland relax, the poet continues; they boast of coming into their own, they tread Ireland underfoot. Tír Chonaill is subjected to oppressions of all kinds. New plantations are made. A fog has obscured the faith, and an ugly company of heretics are in God’s vineyard. We have many reasons to weep.

We see that some of the key ideas of Philip O’Sullivan Beare’s Compendium of the History of Catholic Ireland, published in Lisbon in 1621, are already expressed in this poem. And it is obvious that the poet’s view of King James is the same as O’Sullivan’s: he has no more legitimacy than Elizabeth had. The Stuarts are simply continuing the Tudors’ work.

Mac an Bhaird was part of a current of opinion whose strategic genius was Flaithrí Ó Maolchonaire, Archbishop of Tuam from 1609. Dynamic though it was, this was not the only political opinion in Gaelic Ireland. If we go south to Clare, we can find its polar opposite. The Fourth Earl of Thomond, Donough O’Brien, believed that his lordship could prosper in tandem with English policy, and he was committed to full cooperation with the government against rebels, especially rebels from the North. This policy, set in the framework of the O’Briens’ history and traditions, was expounded by the Mac Bruaideadha poets. But it predated James’s accession by a good twenty years and merely carried over smoothly from Tudor times to Stuart. To call it “Jacobite” would be meaningless.

As for the two poems addressed to King James, supposedly made on his accession in 1603: in my opinion, neither of them were. Fearghal Óg Mac an Bhaird addresses a “young prince”, which would describe not the mature king of Ireland in 1603 but the immature king of Scotland in the early 1580s. There is a record of Fearghal Óg receiving a hundred pounds from the Scottish court in 1581, which is very suggestive. Other expressions in the poem suggest that “young prince” is not merely some sort of flattery. The poet’s vision is future-orientated, towards a prophesied coronation, and there is a reference to Queen Elizabeth (one princess between James and the English crown) which would be ridiculous if James had already inherited her throne.

The other poem, by Eochaidh Ó hEodhasa, is indeed addressed to James as the crowned king of Ireland. But it appears to be written at a moment when James’s administration has had time to make a visible difference. War has ceased and agriculture has got going. And the intriguing statement, Atá libeirte a labhra / ag an anbhfann agallmha (“the weak party in dispute / has freedom of speech”) would seem to refer to Chichester’s law of 1605, which proclaimed that everyone was directly subject to the king, and thus encouraged litigation among Gaels. I suspect that this poem was written in 1609-10, and that it has something to do with the lands – compensatory lands, presumably – which Eochaidh received in the Plantation.

The poem praises not only James but his administration’s policy; to call it a poem in praise of the Ulster Plantation would hardly be going too far. Nonetheless it is an accomplished piece, and I don’t know why Ó Buachalla said that its language was “stilted”. Years before, in reply to unreasonable charges by one of the O’Rourkes, Eochaidh had declared that he never made bad poems: even if he were to make a poem for “Ireland’s enemies”, it would be a good one. He was true to his word. The offering to King James is part of the tragedy of this brilliant artist’s life. Though this poem, which undoubtedly must have been commissioned, is carefully made, its author’s personal tragedy is between the lines, and briefly, during the last few verses, more or less on the lines. Mór theasda d’obair Óibhid, “Ovid left a lot out (of his Metamorphoses)” is fascinating, but I think one cannot draw general conclusions from its content.

In my opinion, the first time we meet with something like Jacobitism in Gaelic literature is in Seán Ó Criagáin’s poem, written early in 1648, to Lord Inchiquin, calling on him to abandon the treasonous Parliamentarians and come over to the side of his legitimate king. The Jacobite or pro-Stuart ideology really took root only after the catastrophe of the 1650s. At that time it was natural to hope that, if the king could be restored against his enemies, other enemies of the king’s enemies would be restored too. As Ohlmeyer shows, in the actual restoration the Catholic peers did not do badly. MacCarthy of Muskerry, newly created an earl, had his holdings doubled. Even Antrim, the indestructible, held onto most of what he’d possessed in 1641. However, the peers were only a tiny fraction of those Catholics who had lost lands. The Act of Settlement made it brutally clear to those others that they were going to remain dispossessed.

At the same time, outright Cromwellians like Roger Broghill and good friends of the Cromwellian regime such as Coote, Clotworthy, King, turned up in the peerage, among the winners. It wasn’t only the Catholic dispossessed who thought this outrageous. Cormac MacCarthy (son of the Earl Donough, the greatest Catholic gainer) expressed his disgust. He asked why lands had to be given to “the scum of Cromwell’s army, and its adventurers that advanced their money against the king”. When Ormond heard of this, he spelled things out plainly in a letter to Donough MacCarthy. Your son, he said, is “very assiduous in consultations held by such as would be thought much to favour the Irish (which may be allowed him considering his birth and relations, though it might also consist with prudence in him to decline the orientation of it) but that his zeal hath transported him to reviling and opprobrious language of the English in this kingdom …” Young MacCarthy had better be aware that an Irishman who wants to prosper in Ireland “will the more or less attain to it, as he is the more or less believed or esteemed by the English”. This is a lightning-flash that illuminates the mind, career and historic function of Ormond, and one is grateful to Ohlmeyer for having captured it.

Much thought had been given to the moulding of Muskerry’s MacCarthys as English peers. On the whole, and despite the continuing efforts of their poets, they were one of the new order’s success stories. Throughout much of the early seventeenth century they were encouraged by the example made of another MacCarthy who was over-bold and over-talented. This was Finghín or Florence, the lord of Carbery. In 1589 he eloped with the only daughter and heir of the first MacCarthy earl, based near Killarney. This presented the prospect of an enormous territory in South Munster controlled by the Gaelic power which had dominated that region in pre-Norman times, and headed by a man who was known to have mastered the Spanish language – and this only a year after the Armada! The English authorities promptly abducted Florence and kept him a prisoner in London. He was briefly reintroduced to West Cork in 1600, because it was hoped he would act as a counterweight to Hugh O’Neill. When he was seen to be cooperating insufficiently, he was soon re-abducted and afterwards held continuously in London, endlessly appealing, until his death in 1640. One can assume that the Muskerry MacCarthys often reflected on this cautionary example and that it helped in their learning process.

The dispossessed made their own comments on the Act of Settlement. As a representative response one can quote a fine poem by Geoffrey O’Donoghue of Killaha, near Killarney. He does not say a word against Charles II, whose legitimacy he accepted and to whom he felt loyalty. He simply points out that this Act is the work of the kind of people who killed the king’s father:

Is deacair a mheas go raibh i gcéill don during
ceapadh na n-acht do thabhairt d’aon mhac Goill,
go bhfeacadar breath na bhfear ar Shéarlas Cing,
gur scaradar, neart gan cheart, ó chéile a bhoill.

It’s hard to imagine that people really intended
to allow some Englishman to frame the Acts,
or that they had seen King Charles judged by those men,
when – might without right! – they tore him limb from limb!

O’Donoghue didn’t consider that such a settlement could have any validity. He looked forward to future upheavals, when it would be overturned:

Cé neartmhar an tan-so ar chlannaibh Gaedheal na Goill,
is cé rathmhar a staid le seal i bpréamhaibh Floinn,
de dheascaibh a gcast ní ghabhaid géilleadh an fhuinn;
fearfaidh na frasaibh fearg Dé na ndruim.

Though the English are powerful now over the Gael,
and they’re prospering this while in Flann’s domain,
the land won’t be yielded to their trickery;
God’s anger will pour down upon their backs!

O’Donoghue was looking forward, one may say, to 1689. “When the peers had an opportunity in the 1689 Jacobite Parliament to unravel the Restoration land settlement, they – like the king himself – proved reluctant to interfere with it,” Ohlmeyer says. – But of course! “Pressure to reverse it came instead from the MPs in the lower house, who were the landed gentlemen who had lost out.” Such people had not become extinct, and now (with Geoffrey O’Donoghue’s son, incidentally, prominent in their ranks) they proved they were still able to threaten upheavals. Clarendon’s personal secretary reported that Ireland’s English were all in a funk: “The Irish talk of nothing now but of recovering their lands and bringing the English under their subjection.” In poems by Dáibhí Ó Bruadair and Diarmaid Mac Seáin Bhuidhe Mac Carthaigh one can overhear that conversation. So then, part of Eoghan Ruadh Mac an Bhaird’s contention remained true: though the colonists might no longer be faced with incessant warfare, they still never had a moment’s true peace or security.

One could easily show that the Gaelic Jacobites of the eighteenth century, down to Eoghan Ruadh Ó Súilleabháin and Tomás Ó Míodhcháin, lived constantly in the hope of such upheavals. Their hope was that through the conflict of the legitimate king with his enemies and his ultimate triumph, a situation would be created where the colonial incubus could be heaved off the country’s back and Ireland could cease being made English. Take these lines from a poem by Ó Súilleabháin, which sit perfectly well in the same piece:

Gach allmhúrach coimhightheach
tá ’na suidhe i mbroghaibh Banban
beidh scaipeadh ortha timcheall
is díbirt i gcéin …

Tá Prionnsa na Coróinneach,
a sceolta mar innstear
i ndóchas trí ríoghachta
’s guidhidh leis buaidh shéin …

(Every foreign interloper / seated in Ireland’s mansions / will be scattered round about / and banished abroad…           The Crown Prince, / as the news is reported, / is expecting three kingdoms, / so pray for his victory!)

In the time of King Charles II there was also a milder Jacobitism, which is one of the strains in Dáibhí Ó Bruadair and led Ó Buachalla to call that poet “literary Ireland’s royalist par excellence”. The description is a little overblown. What one discovers, reading the poems which Ó Buachalla refers to, is that Ó Bruadair hopes King Charles II will counter the influence of his bigoted ministers. More generally, there were always possibilities that the Crown, having broader interests, would come into conflict with its Irish colony, and then it was obvious where one’s sympathies should lie. We can find the same thinking among other colonised peoples who had suffered heavy defeats, for example in Latin America. “From the very dawn of the colonial period, therefore,” the Colombian historian Juan Friede says, “the interests of the Indians, once they lost hope of regaining political independence, were strongly linked to the protection of the (Spanish) Crown. This link, of great historical significance, persisted throughout the colonial period and helps explain the favour the royalist cause generally enjoyed among the Indians during the wars of independence.” One might add that the closest Peruvian equivalent to Keating’s history, The First New Chronicle and Good Government by Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala, was composed as a letter to King Philip II.

But let’s return to the earlier period in Ireland. For the majority of the “Gaelic and Gaelicised” the reigns of King James I and King Charles I were a disaster. Here I make no class distinctions and I do not separate the fate of the lords from that of lower-class Gaels, because nothing in Irish-language testimony tells me I ought to. It is only the manifestly interested colonial authorities who proclaim such divisions, do their best to inflame them, and demonstratively take the side of “the weak party in dispute”. When someone like Chichester, a recent practitioner of genocide, becomes a zealot for social justice, I think one’s response should be guarded.

Summary accounts of the reigns of the first two Stuarts are given in some of the long poems of narrative commentary, written probably between 1641 and the late 1650s, which were published by Cecile O’Rahilly. No less than three of those poems express contempt for Kings James and Charles. From the earlier period one could find two dozen poems or more which confirm the general picture: widespread dispossession, with the constant threat of more to come, and generally a profound humiliation of “Gaelic and Gaelicised” Ireland. Taking the opposite view to Eochaidh Ó hEodhasa, Muiris Mac Dáibhí Dhuibh Mac Gearailt declared that society was now at its worst. It had reached the last of the stages of decline from the Golden Age, as described by Ovid:

Tuig an saoghal iarainnse
do chan an údar romhainn,
is é sin an bhliadhainse
’s a bhfuil dá samhail chugainn.

Understand, the Age of Iron
prophesied by Ovid:
that’s this present year
and what we have before us.

There is no substantial counter-testimony in Irish-language writings. Granted, Geoffrey Keating expresses the royalism of his Old English forbears. But insofar as he is in dialogue with Ireland-being-made-English (and mainly he is in dialogue with the other Ireland), I don’t see where he says that Ireland is happy and blooming. There are poems attributed to him which say precisely the opposite. In the introduction to his history of Ireland he opposes the campaign of cultural aggression which was very much a part of the New English conquest: disparagement of Gaelic society, culture and tradition. (Catholics as well as Protestants had contributed to this propaganda, and Keating impartially trounces them all.)

As for the Four Masters, whom Ó Buachalla also casts as Jacobites, sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. They drew their materials faithfully from several sources, and the result seems to be a spectrum of political attitudes, some supporting the rebels O’Neill and O’Donnell, and leaning more to Spain, while others are pro-O’Brien and pro-Elizabeth. The Four Masters’ condemnation of the Earl of Desmond for his disloyalty to Queen Elizabeth has often been noted. One assumes that they took it verbatim from the annals compiled by O’Brien’s historian, Maoilín Óg Mac Bruaideadha.

Ó Buachalla’s strongest card is a passage in Pairliment Cloinne Tomáis. “When King James ascended the throne, as a result of his graciousness and goodness, Ireland was filled with peace and prosperity for a long time and Clann Tomáis set about sending their children to school and to study for the priesthood.” This is strong and impressive counter-testimony, indeed – provided one can take it at face value. But let us note the effect of King James’s virtues: because of his goodness and graciousness Clann Tomáis, the detestable race of upstarts (who were ruined, we are told, in O’Neill’s wars), have flourished as never before! Living in English-ruled Kerry, the author of Pairliment Cloinne Tomáis – none other than Muiris Mac Gearailt, the same man who announced the Age of Iron (he enters the Pairliment as a character, on which cue another character says that this man has written a book on Clann Tomáis) – could not express himself with full freedom. There are times when he treads gingerly, whereas Philip O’Sullivan Beare, at a safe distance in Spain, says precisely what he thinks. But I believe that those prudent words in the Pairliment are no more meant as genuine praise of King James than the scorching passage in O’Sullivan’s Compendium where he describes the ascent of Richard Boyle, and how “Ireland’s miseries out of misery make wealthy and honoured men”.

However, even in this period most poems were not about the evil state of the country. Poetry remained, as ever, locally focused, and there was a great deal of it still. In 2010 an anthology was published, A Bardic Miscellany, which gives one a clearer view. Reviewing the Miscellany for the Dublin Review of Books, I estimated that it included over one hundred poems, addressed to Irish lords in their capacity as lords, from the first half of the seventeenth century. Putting these together with what had been published previously, we find that poetry was still being produced for patrons all over Ireland, North, South, East, West and Central, peers and non-peers, Gaelic and Old English, Catholic and Protestant.

Prior to 1641, this poetry was not rebellious in the sense of direct open incitement. It was rare even for a poet to convey the message to a lord that he was a pitiful hireling of an alien power, as in Fear Flatha Ó Gnímh’s ferocious poem to Turlough O’Neill. More usually, the poets were at pains to be understanding of anyone who still had some sort of official status or public functions. Affirmative language would be found for his doings, however ambiguously it might ring. One couldn’t do things by halves: the Mac Bruaideadha poets had taken support for their lord to the limits, and others composing for Barrymores, Dillons or whoever understood that they had the right to do likewise.

But although the poets focused on praising lords, their work was not mere flattery. Such praise was meant to be the spur to a strenuous life. The poets sometimes point out, and may even make this the major idea of the poem, that nobility cannot be taken for granted, it isn’t just something certain people are born to, it has to be proved or earned. And this theme is implied even when not openly stated. Whether they are legendary or historical, the persons a given lord is compared to are known models of courage and character. The lord must often have felt that his praises were given to him on credit, or that they were a kind of prophecy which his life was supposed to fulfil.

The poets took enormous pains with people like Sir Henry O’Neill, lord of the key territory of Clandeboye in south Antrim and north Down. In 1617 this English-educated, Protestant lawyer succeeded his father, Seán. Evidently he was quite a young man when he did so, and concerns may have been expressed about his youth. This is the context of a strenuous poem (one can’t believe that Henry always found it easy to follow) by Gofraidh Mac an Bhaird, who compared wealth to a temperamental horse:

Ní chongmhann inmhe acht oirbhert,
da marcach as mór-chroibh-nert,
anamhain suil tí ara thoil
’sí ara haradhain d’iarroidh.

Meinic choras a cairpthech,
an inmhe is each fíorchaillteach;
ni haoinréim dha heurma soin
taoibhléim deunmha ’na deaghaidh.

Nothing keeps hold of wealth except noble conduct:
to her rider that gives great strength of the hand,
to stay mounted till she settles to his will,
even as she strains against the rein.

Often she flings her rider off,
wealth is a horse that loses many indeed;
successful horsemanship is not
jumping aside after she is gone!

The argument is elaborated in further verses, and a clear warning is given: wherever there’s wealth without noble conduct, there’s a sign of reversal over strength. But then the poet points out that his youth need in no way prevent Henry from meeting the demands of his role. There are many famous examples of younger men who succeeded because of their merit. Pompey was older than Julius Caesar, but it was Caesar who rose to the top in Rome. Of the two sons of Milesius, Éireamhóin was younger than Éibhear, yet he won more distinction; and so on. Henry, one believes, is a young man with a will to perfect himself, who has courage for demanding situations,

líaigh foirnirt na fine ór fhás,
cridhe an oirbhirt ré n-uathbhás.

healer of the oppression of his people,
a heart for noble deeds in the face of horror!

Henry’s the rider on the destiny of Leath Chuinn (Ireland’s northern half), the poet says. He’ll be good, no doubt, at punishing outlaws, and so on. But he needs to beware of trying to manage his wealth purely in his own personal interest. Indeed, many people come into power and wealth who would be far better off if they turned their backs on it all. Managing worldly increase, it’s a game that’s not without its risks; there’s an evil portent with the prosperity one gains: the heart will be torn trying to hold onto it. A writer who has important things to say about this is Cicero, who said that within the human being there was a spark of divinity.

Sighén bháis ara mbí neimh
nach oir gan altrum crithir,
sdiúir cumhacht don dté da dtoir:
dob é udhacht an fheallsoimh.

A sign of death, brilliant but venomous,
is directive power for anyone
who does not cultivate the spark:
so the philosopher declared.

Only at this point, after twenty-six verses, does the poet get down to sustained and full-blown praise of Henry. It is praise that will be heard through the echoes of what has gone before.

One might ask whether all this work done on Henry, by Gofraidh Mac an Bhaird and other poets besides, was not wasted. By all accounts, he was a timid fellow who never looked much like being the physician for Ireland’s ills. In the 1630s he was too shy to make a personal approach to the Earl of Strafford, the overbearing viceroy, and Strafford’s secretary mockingly remarked that Henry was like a Papist approaching the Divine Presence: he required an intermediary. There are times when Fear Flatha Ó Gnímh comes close to telling Henry that he’s a hopeless case, that his soft and cosseted life and complacent materialism do not meet the exacting standards of the O’Neills. However, the point is not that in certain cases the poets’ work appeared to have little moral effect: the point is that the work was actually done. And it was being done all over Ireland. Men were being encouraged to consider themselves, as their forbears had done, princes from a long royal bloodline; descendants of heroes, who might become heroes themselves. They were invited to find their bearings in a rich and attractive culture that far preceded Henry VIII and his artificial “civility”. One cannot regard such activity as anything other than hostile to the project of making Ireland English. The poems, as I argued in my review of the Miscellany, are documents of spiritual resistance.

Their power of subversion was evident to Matthew de Renzi, a German adventurer who settled in Laois in the 1600s. A gifted linguist, he took to learning Irish, and in due course undertook advanced study with the Mac Bruaideadha, the most pro-English of all the poets. Afterwards, he offered his insights to the viceroys and other officials of the Irish administration in a series of letters written in 1613-20. In effect, he concluded that someone needed to do for Ireland what Diego de Landa had done for Yucatan: that is, destroy the natives’ books. The culture of Milesian lordship, and the chroniclers who maintained it, was like a cancer. Previous English governments had been too soft and careless, and this negligence had undone all their conquests. It was necessary that the Gaelic landowners be expelled, or at least reduced to tenants; the poets and chroniclers should be forced to abandon their professions and hand over their books; and everyone should be made to learn English. Otherwise the lords “will ever be plotting to come again which their antecessors had, and to disturb and subvert the conquest”. As for the books, it would be best if they were “drowned as near as it were possible, whereby they might not know in time from whence they came”.

If traditional culture even as produced by the “rebel in deep cover” Tadhg Mac Bruaideadha can be seen as spiritual resistance, all the more is this true of the great laments on the state of Ireland. When Eoghan Ruadh Mac an Bhaird, lamenting Rory O’Donnell, declares that Ireland is in a hopeless condition and the king of England may claim title to it now, the poet does not regard this as the definitive final word. (We might gather as much from his life: he was involved in plans for the reinstatement of the Ulster earls or their heirs for decades to come.) Extravagant statements of despair are part of a process of grieving. They are not meant, however, to leave their hearers morally prostrated for ever more.

About thirty years ago some academic writers began to find mere passivity and pessimism in the great laments of Fear Flatha Ó Gnímh. The first instance is probably Brian Ó Cuív in the Oxford New History of Ireland (“We find the note of despair very clear …”) It is unfortunate that Breandán Ó Buachalla, who was capable of better, for “Jacobite” purposes associated himself with this thinking. The absolute nadir of Aisling Ghéar is the page where he discusses Ó Gnímh and tries to sweep aside his dánta dorcha dólásacha éagaointeacha. Granted, it was frustrating to see the poet single-handedly destroy the case which the scholar was attempting to construct: that for Gaelic Ireland overall King James’s reign was a time of advance and renewal.

“An early seventeenth century Ulster poet, Fear Flatha Ó Gnímh, whose family had served as the hereditary poets to the O’Neills, wrote a lament (‘Pitiful are the Gaels’) that described Ireland as ‘a new England in all but name’,” Ohlmeyer tells us. At which point one throws up one’s hands in despair. The fault is not, of course, principally Ohlmeyer’s; she has worked enormously hard in the areas that interest her, and in her brief attempts to give some account of the other Ireland she has shown goodwill towards the official guides. Unfortunately, the inadequacy of those guides is manifest. If somebody were to write, “In Shakespeare’s Hamlet the hero, aware that he has no other option but suicide, declares, ‘How not to be: that is the question’”, such an author would hardly escape ridicule. But comparable absurdities can be published about the greatest Irish poet of his time without anyone batting an eye.

What Ó Gnímh actually says is conditional. It comes after a series of verses where he compares the state of Ireland to catastrophes of Irish, Greek and Hebrew tradition. The Irish are like the afflicted Tuatha Dé Danaan, like the defeated Trojans, and like the people of Israel in Egyptian bondage. There is need, he says, for a new Lugh Lámhfhada. Again, if only we had another Hector to fight the Saxon tribe! And then, directly addressing God: I grieve, King of Heaven, that when we came to be in bondage, a new Moses has not rescued us! Continuing the address to God, he asks if this people will remain in banishment, or will we have joy again? Or will there be fulfilment of what was foretold about the grim-hearted invaders by the prophet and patron saint of Ireland, Columcille?

Má thug an deónughadh di
Saxa nua dan hainm Éire,
bheith re a linn-se i láimh biodhbhadh,
don innse is coir ceileabhradh.

If it be decreed by Heaven
to New-Saxony, once named Eire,
to continue in the hands of the enemy,
’tis time to take a final leave of the country.

(I use Nicholas O’Kearney’s translation.) This is followed by the final verse: the Irish must put their trust in God, or they will have nothing that can be left to their posterity.

A summary such as this can give no idea of the poem’s power. It is one of the greatest poems ever written in Ireland. We can call it a lament; more or less equivalent words have been used to describe it since the early seventeenth century. However, it conveys more than lamentation. Until the late twentieth century that much, at least, was clear. But since then, if we judge by those who write about Ó Gnímh, the poem has gone out of range. Its registers of language and thought are too demanding. Access to those registers would appear to have been lost.

One must turn for assistance to some of the older, more attuned readers. Patrick Ward, of the Mac an Bhaird family of poets, was the architect of the Louvain programme of preserving Irish history and antiquities, to which we owe, among other things, the Annals of the Four Masters. He mentioned this poem by Ó Gnímh in a work he completed in 1631. Arguing about the use of the word “Scotia”, he cited “Fear Flatha Ó Gnímh, chief poet of the O’Neills of Clandeboye, a man of the highest gifts of mind and poetic genius, in that elegant threnody or metrical lament for the suppressed nobility and splendour of the Irish, Mo thruaighe mar táid Gaoidhil, on account of which he was in peril of his life among the oppressors …”

As seen by Ward, then, this poem is a lament, but of a peculiar kind. It is a lament for which the author might have been killed. A century later Charles O’Conor of Belnagare was of the same opinion. He chose this poem specifically to illustrate “how active these bards have been, to stir up their patrons to rebellion”, while acknowledging that the “bold and spirited” original must evaporate in his own English prose. “The author of this declamation preserved himself from punishment, by remaining constantly in the Irish quarters; and the English were far from being mistaken when they allotted the severest penalties for these incendiary bards; a race of men, who were perpetually stirring up the natives to rebellion; and as constantly giving rebellion another name, nothing less than the rights of the nation, and the spirit of liberty.” (O’Conor would have liked to be an eighteenth century Muskerry, but this time leading the Catholic body away from their Jacobitism to loyal conformity under the Hanoverians. He was far removed from Ó Gnímh in temper, though the poem stirred his feelings into strange conflicts. But his ear was good.)

Patrick Ward, Charles O’Conor, Joseph Walker, Thaddeus O’Flanagan, Walter Cox, James Hardiman, Nicholas O’Kearney, Patrick Pearse, TF O’Rahilly: those are some of the people, from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, who have felt this poem’s power. I have much regard for O’Kearney, a poet and literary historian who prepared an edition of the poem for the Celtic Society, though it was never published. He was over-fanciful sometimes and intellectually a bit desperate (but those who can imagine the mid-nineteenth century will forgive much); he also had deep insights. In the Fews of Armagh he found some sort of tradition that this poem of Ó Gnímh’s had been morally sustaining for the Ulster Gaels during a period of harsh oppression. “This tradition was usually expressed by old folks thus: Budh é duan Mheic Gníomha do léir-shoillsidh agus do chomhcheangal macnaoi Ulaidh do chéile. It was the poem of Mac Gníomh that enlightened and united the clans of Ulster.”

O’Kearney (following other people’s blunders) was hazy about chronology and thought that the period in question must have been that preceding Hugh O’Neill’s Nine Years War. However, it is not at all implausible that there was some tradition of this poem being a sustaining force, an outstanding work of spiritual resistance. But the period referred to must be later: between the Plantation of Ulster and 1641.

Here I should say that several poems which belong to the 1641 rebellion have not been published by the professional Gaelic scholars, others have been published but not recognised for what they are, most have not been translated, and the literature of 1641-2 has never been surveyed. The 1641 rebellion is much written about, of course, but without taking any account of what was said in the language of the main actors. Ormond was hardly more scornful of “the Irish” than our modern academics. This is one more instance of the stupefying effect of positivism on Irish intellectual life and its peculiarly appalling effect on the Institute of Advanced Studies. It is assumed that the poets, because they are poets (Geoffrey Keating might as well never have uttered his protest!) and not producers of State Papers, can have nothing to say of political, historical, or general cultural consequence. Let them stay in their philological reservation! Or at best they can belong to “literature”: an arbitrary game for pedants, fenced off from life.

If a poet like Fear Flatha Ó Gnímh is confined to somebody’s reservation, if he isn’t a valued part of Irish culture, discussed on numerous levels and potentially interesting to all, what this means is that we’re fast in the grip of the “monoculture”, as Claude Levi-Strauss called it, and there isn’t much hope for us henceforward. Anyhow, one can hear echoes of Ó Gnímh in the poetry of the great rebellion. The challenge he presented to the Gaels,

Tugsad a dtréine ar thaise,
tugsad maise ar mhíomhaise,
tugsad meanma ar mhaoith mheirtnigh,
laoich fheardha nach aithintir.

They have exchanged their might for debility;
they have exchanged their beauty for deformity;
they have exchanged their valour for degeneracy,
the men who once were brave, but are now undistinguished!
(O’Kearney’s version)

seems to be answered by Gofraidh Óg Mac an Bhaird in 1641:

Do tógbhadh meanma mac ríogh,
do reacadh tlás ar thréinbhrígh,         
ciodh ach guaisbhearta gníomh dte,
díon na huaisleachta an eirghe.

The valour of princes has been roused,
weakness has been changed for strength and vigour;
what now but the adventures of hot battle?
Nobility rescued by the uprising!

Ohlmeyer, of course, has a chapter on the rebellion. As in all such accounts (and Ó Buachalla’s isn’t really much better), we find that it “broke out”, it “gathered momentum”, it “took hold”, it “spread”. Details are thrown in liberally, but the details all together don’t add up to very much sense. We gather that the “common sorts” got out of control (after much reflection on the French Revolution, we know that this can happen). The Earl of Clanricarde, at the pinnacle of the anglicised elite, looked out across Ireland to see who was rebelling, and he didn’t see anyone quite at the height of his own nose. He reported that “no man of quality, either of English descent or ancient Irish” was involved, and this is considered significant and duly quoted. And what about those who thought that precisely by rebelling they were giving proof of their quality (the uprising, as Gofraidh Óg said, was their nobility’s salvation)? Well, but they belong to the other Ireland, they don’t need so much to be noticed!

Ohlmeyer is an outstanding representative of our official history, with remarkable command of conventional sources. She specialises in seventeenth century Ireland. And yet she can make no more sense in human terms of the century’s main event than if it were a series of earthquakes.

Circumstance and detail do have importance, of course. But if one wants to explain why rebellion prospered, why it didn’t just blaze up suddenly and then sputter out, one will have to acknowledge that the other population wasn’t simply inert. Éire iathghlas oiléanaigh, / críoch do shean is do shinnsior, “Ireland, green-meadowed, islanded, / land of your kin and forbears” (Diarmaid Óg Ó Murchadha) – why was this Éire so wedded to her special existence, so sure of her divine spark, so loath to become New-Saxony? The question could do with exploring.

Note on sources

“Effective instruments”: Ohlmeyer p. 475. – King James, “half-subjects”: Conor O’Mahony, An Argument Defending the Right of the Kingdom of Ireland, tr. J. Minahane (Aubane 2010) p. 29. – Ó Bruadair, “that fox”: Duanaire Dháibhidh Uí Bhruadair Part II ed. J. C. MacErlean p. 7. – “The westward shift”: Ohlmeyer p. 334. – Nár do mo thriath: The Poems of Geoffrey O’Donoghue ed. J. Minahane (Aubane 2008) p. 76. – “The English in Ireland and the Practice of Massacre”: Published in Church and State October 2012.

“The overall aim”: B. Ó Buachalla, “James Our True King: the Ideology of Irish Royalism in the 17th Century”. In: Political Thought in Ireland since the Seventeenth Century ed. D. George Boyce et al., p. 14. – “New orthodoxy”: ibid. p. 22. – “A Donegal poet, Eoghan Ruadh”: Ohlmeyer p. 137. – Ó Buachalla’s confusion of poets: Ó Buachalla, ‘James’ p. 10. – “(The poets’) notions of honour”: Ohlmeyer p. 68. – Shunning Protestants… Eoghan Ó Dubhthaigh: Dán na mBráthar Mionúr I ed. C. Mac Craith pp. 139ff. , i.e. An Chliar Ghliogair vv. 48ff. 

Turlough O’Neill and the state: cf. CSPI 1615-1625 pp. 12, 24, 447; CSPI 1625-1632 pp. 73, 96, 681. – Rob soraidh…: Duanta Eoghain Ruaidh Mhic an Bhaird ed. T. Ó Raghallaigh p. 258. – Re headh iomagallmhu: ibid. –  Rí Sagsan: ibid. p. 260 (v. 6). –Turlough Mac Airt 1641 colonel: Analecta Hibernica No. 3 (1931) p. 8. – Geall re hoighidh: Duanta Eoghain Ruaidh p. 88. – Táid gnúisi: ibid. p. 92. – Fear ionaid: ibid. p. 90 (v. 18). – “All would say”: ibid. p. 102 – “I renounce”: ibid. p. 104. – An ghairm iarlachta: ibid. p. 98. – Elegy for Rory: ibid. pp. 170ff. – Anois d’aimhdheoin: ibid. p. 198.

O’Sullivan Beare’s Compendium: See Conor O’Mahony pp. 23-37 and passim. – Fearghal Óg to James: Trí corona i gcairt Shéamais, No. 44 in Aithdhioghluim Dána ed. L. MacKenna. – Hundred pounds from Scottish court: Pádraig Ó Macháin, The Poems of Fearghal Óg Mac an Bhaird, unpubl. PhD thesis, (Edinburgh 1988) p. 27. – Poem by Eochaidh to James: Mór theasda d’obair Óibhid, ed. P. A. Breatnach Éigse 1978. – Atá libeirte a labhra: ibid. v.5, p. 172. – Eochaidh’s poem “stilted”: Ó Buachalla, ‘James’ p. 9. – Eochaidh, poems for ‘Ireland’s enemies’: A Bardic Miscellany ed. D. McManus and E. Ó Raghallaigh (Dublin 2010) No. 70 v. 6.

Seán Ó Criagáin’s poem: J. Minahane, The Contention of the Poets (Bratislava 2000) pp. 64ff. – “The scum of Cromwell’s”: Ohlmeyer p. 346. – “Very assiduous in consultations”: ibid.  – Florence MacCarthy: See Pacata Hibernia, passim, and Daniel F. MacCarthy, The Life and Letters of Florence MacCarthy Reagh. – Is deacair a mheas: The Poems of Geoffrey O’Donoghue p. 22. Cé neartmhar: ibid. p. 24. – “When the peers had”: Ohlmeyer pp. 334-5. – “The Irish talk of nothing”: ib. p. 356. – Ó Bruadair and Diarmaid… conversation: Duanaire Dháibhidh Uí Bhruadair Part III, poems XIV and XX. – Gach allmhurach: Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin, Dánta, ed. P. Muldowney (Aubane 2009) p. 10.

“Literary Ireland’s royalist”: Ó Buachalla, ‘James’ p. 28. – “From the very dawn”: B. Keen and J. Friede (eds.), Bartolomé de Las Casas in History (DeKalb, Illinois 1971) p. 139. – Three poems… contempt for James and Charles: Five Seventeenth Century Political Poems ed. Cecile O’Rahilly. Poem 1, ll. 109ff; poem 2, ll. 89ff; poem 4, ll. 287ff. – Tuig an saoghal: Dánta Mhuiris Mhic Dháibhí Dhuibh Mhic Gearailt ed. N. Williams p. 48. – Condition of Ireland… poems attributed Keating: Óm sceól ar ardmhagh Fáil ní chodlaim oíche. In: Dánta, amhráin is caointe Sheathrúin Chéitinn ed. E. Mac Giolla Eáin. – “When King James ascended”: Pairliment Cloinne Tomáis ed. N. Williams p. 83. –Muiris in Pairliment as character: ibid. p. 87.

O’Sullivan Beare on Boyle: Conor O’Mahony p. 37. – Review of Bardic Miscellany: Documents of a Spiritual Resistance, Dublin Review of Books 2012. – Ó Gnímh’s poem to Turlough: see ibid. – Ní chongmhann inmhe: Leabhar Cloinne Aodha Buidhe ed. T. Ó Donnchadha p. 172. –Liaigh foirnirt: ibid. p. 174. – Sighén bháis: ibid. p. 176. – Ó Gnímh… cosseted Henry: cf. Leabhar Cloinne Aodha Buidhe, Poem XXIII, esp. ll. 121-136, p. 170. – “Will ever be plotting”: Matthew de Renzi’s Letters on Irish Affairs, ed. Brian Mac Cuarta, Analecta Hibernica 1987 p. 120.  – “Drowned as near”: ibid. – “We find the note”: Brian Ó Cuív in T. W. Moody et al. (eds.), A New History of Ireland Vol. III p. 526. – Dánta dorcha dólásacha éagaointeacha: B. Ó Buachalla, Aisling Ghéar (Dublin 1996) p. 51. – “An early seventeenth century”: Ohlmeyer p. 475.

Má thug an Deónughadh di: Measgra Dánta II ed. T. F. O’Rahilly p. 147. – “If it be decreed”: Royal Irish Academy 23 E 11 p. 39. – Ward, “Fear Flatha Ó Gnímh”: Latin orig. quoted by Cuthbert McGrath, Éigse 1953 p. 127. – “How active these bards”: C. O’Conor, Dissertations on the History of Ireland (Dublin 1812) p. 74. – “The author of this poetical”: ibid. p. 76. – “This tradition was usually”: RIA 23 E 11 p. 31. – Tugsad a dtréine: Measgra Dánta II p. 144. – “They have exchanged”: RIA 23 E 11 p. 33. – Do tógbhadh meanma: NLI G 167 p. 325. This echo already noted by Sarah E. McKibben, Endangered Masculinities in Irish Poetry 1540-1780 (Dublin 2010) p. 67.

“Common sorts” out of control: Ohlmeyer p. 259. – “No man of quality”: ibid. p. 260. – Éire iathghlas: The Poems of Geoffrey O’Donoghue p. 76.


John Minahane has produced translations of literature in Irish and essays on Irish history and literature: recent books include The Christian Druids: on the filidh or philosopher-poets of Ireland (repr. Howth Free Press, Dublin 2008) and Conor O’Mahony, An Argument Defending the Right of the Kingdom of Ireland (Aubane Historical Society, Aubane 2010).