Gile na Gile

Gavin Clarke history, irish, language, Poetry

Presented below is the latest in the series of translations by ILS member Brian O’Connor of the great Irish poet of the late 17th and early 18th century, Aodhagán Ó Rathaille (c.1670–1726). O’Connor’s earlier translations for us from Ó Rathaille are also available on the ILS blog.

Found in a 1725 manuscript, Gile na Gile (literally “Brightness of Brightness”) is one of O’Rahilly’s best known poems. The female subject of the poem seems to be Ireland, and her wished-for rescuer to be the Stuart Pretender – James Francis Edward Stuart, son of the ousted King James II. I have tried to echo O’Rahilly’s intricate and elaborate sound-scheme as far as possible. The verse is included in the excellent Dánta Aodhagáin Uí Rathaille published by the Irish Texts Society, an early off-shoot of the ILS.

By BRIAN O’CONNOR

Gile na Gile Brightness of Brightness

Gile na gile do chonnaic ar slighe i n-uaigneas
Criostal an chriostail a guirm-ruisc rinn-uaine
Binneas an bhinnis a friotal nar chrion-ghruamdha
Deirge is finne do fionnadh n-a grios-ghruadhnaibh
Fairest of fair I glimpsed on the lonely roadside
Crystal of crystal clear eyes, purest blue-green
Sweetness of sweetness her speaking, ever youthful
Complexion pale, brushed with a hint of roses
Caise na caise i ngach ruibe da buidhe-chuachaibh
Bhaineas an ruithneadh den chruinne le rinn-scuabaibh
Iorradh ba ghlaine ‘na gloine ar a bhruinn bhuacaigh
Do geineadh ar gheineamhain di-se ‘san tir uachtraigh
Fairest of hair, ringed in golden beauty
That dimmed the full sun’s brilliance with its swooping
A glittering gem gleamed on her swelling bosom
Conceived, as she was conceived, by heaven’s doing
Fios fiosach dham d’innis, is ise go fior-uaigneach
Fios filleadh don duine don ionad ba righ-dhualgas
Fios milleadh na druinge chuir eisean ar rinn-ruagairt
‘S fios eile na cuirfead im laoidhthibh le fior-uamhan
Bitter wisdom she shared with me, deeply lonely
Of the prince revisiting where fealty is owed him
Of the grimmest exile to which evil men forced him
And of things more fearful still I will leave unspoken
Leimhe na leimhe dham druidim n-a cruinn-tuairim
Im chime ag an gcime do snaidhmeadh go fior-chruaidh me
Ar ghoirm Mhic Mhuire dhom fhurtacht, do bhiodhg uaim-se
Is d’imthigh an bhruinneal n-a luisne go bruighin Luachra
An idiot’s idiocy for me to pursue her
Imprisoned by a prisoner who snared me fully
I was seeking heaven’s assistance, when she flew me
And fled in an instant speedily to Luachra
Rithim le rith mire im rithibh go croidhe-luaimneach
Tre imeallaibh curraigh, tre mhongaibh, tre shlim-ruaidhtigh
Don tinne-bhrogh tigim, ni thuigim cia an tslighe fuaras
Go hionad na hionad do cumadh le draiodheacht dhruadha
I sprint with frenetic rhythm, my heart booming
By fringes of meadows, marshes and bleak moorlands
The fort I found, having feared it would elude me
The unholy domain devised in the dreams of druids
Brisid fa scige go scigeamhail buidhean ghruagach
Is fuireann do bhruinnealaibh sioscaithe dlaoi-chuacach
I ngeimhealaibh geimheal me cuirid gan puinn suaimhnis
‘S mo bhruinneal ar bruinnibh ag bruinnire bruinn-stuacach
There skittering, flittering wizards shrieked amusement
And a gaggle of pigtailed girls, giggling demurely
Yet fitting me in fetters, they seized me cruelly
While my treasure was pressed to pleasure a fellow most boorish 
D’inniseas di-se san bhfriotal do b’fhior uaim-se
Nar chuibhe dhi snaidhmeadh le slibire slim-bhuaidheartha
‘S an duine ba ghile ar shliocht chinidh Scuit tri huaire
Ag feitheamh ar ise bheith aige mar chaoin-nuachar
With sincere conviction then did I plead with the beauty
’Twas unfitting for her to submit to a trickster’s manoeuvres
While he, triply-blest of the Celtic race past and future
Was faithfully waiting for her to join him in union
Ar chloistin mo ghotha dhi goileann go fior-uaibhreach
Is sileadh ag an bhfliche go life ar a grios-ghruadhnaibh
Cuireann liom giolla dom choimirch on mbruighin uaithi
‘S i gile na gile do chonnaic ar slighe i n-uaigneas.
Hearing my words caused her to weep as if broken
Spilling a river of tears on her cheeks once glowing
She gave me a guide to escape from that fort so ghostly
Fairest of fair I glimpsed on the lonely roadside.
Mo threighid! Mo thubaist! Mo thurrainn! Mo bhron! Mo dhith!
An soillseach muirneach miochair-gheal beol-tais caoin
Ag adharcach fuireann-dubh mioscaiseach coirneach buidhe
‘S gan leigheas n-a goire go bhfillid na leoghain thar tuinn.
My loss, my misfortune, my sorrow, my woe, my grief
The fairest of maids so gentle, affectionate, sweet
In thrall to a horned clown and his doleful breed
Without rescue until our heroes come over the sea.

Brian O’Connor has been a member of the Irish Literary Society since the time of Professor Raymond Chapman’s Chairmanship. He was born in Cork, graduated from UCC and worked as a journalist and researcher.