Inis fa Réim / An Island of Fame

Gavin Clarke Christian, history, irish

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.

O’Connor gives us a new translation of the Irish version, attributed to Ó Rathaille, of St Donatus‘ 9th century Latin poem describing Ireland. Donatus (d. 876), was a scholar and ecclesiastic born in Ireland of a ‘noble’ family at the end of the eighth century. The ever-useful RIA Dictionary of Irish Biography records that ‘he is supposed to have gone on pilgrimage to Rome and on his return journey to have stopped at Fiesole, where the bells miraculously rang out on his arrival. His epitaph claims that he remained in service there for forty-seven years, as bishop, teacher, and administrative official under the Carolingian rulers.’ He is perhaps best remembered as the author of the hagiography of St Bridget. The Dineen and O’Donohgue edited Irish Texts Society collection of Ó Rathaille’s work (1911) is doubtful of the earlier attribution of ‘Inis fa Réim’ to Ó Rathaille, noting that the technique in the Irish falls short of his standard, ‘a master of verse such as Ó Rathaille would have done much better. On the authority of O’Reilly, and with the above reservation, we include it here.’

It is a poem with a growing number of translations, notably Thomas Kinsella included his own version in the New Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1986) which he edited.

Translation by BRIAN O’CONNOR.

Inis fa Réim / An Island of Fame

Inis fá réim i gcéin san Iarthar tá
Dá ngoirid lucht léighinn Tír Éireann fialmhar cáil
Saidhbhir I ngréithribh éadaigh, is mianach breágh
Ór buidhe, I laochra, aer, is grian, is táin.
Far to the West a famous island lies
The scholars name it Ireland, welcoming, kind
Rich ornamented cloth and precious mines
Gold gleaming, fresh air, hunting, warriors fine
Mil mhilis bhraonach, féar is lacht gan trághadh
Lomraidhe gléigeala éadaighe slachtmhar bláith
Macharaidhe saora séin is fearann ann gráin
Flatha badh tréan le faobhar airm ar námhaid
Sweet dropping milk and honey, fertile fields
Beauteous bright fleeces, garments trim and neat
Wide ranging noble plains, abundant wheat
Princes so strong no enemy would defeat
Níl oillphéist i nÉirinn, is beannuighthe an fód
Níl alla-phéist chraosach aca ná leoghan
Síth shoirbh, béasa is éigse gasta go leor
Iliomad cléire naomhtha ag teagasc na slógh
The land is blessed, no serpents to be found
No ravening lions or monsters on its ground
Well-mannered peace where skilful poets abound
And the wise words of pious priests resound
Oileán na dtriatha ndiadha, fialmhar í
Oileán na mbiadhtach riaghalta, dian-mhaith í
Oileán do riaradh cliar is rianairí
Oileán na ndiadhairí ‘s na dtighearnaidhe sciathneart ríghe.
An isle of godly, generous, princely chiefs
Of hospitality enough for regal feasts
An isle of scholars, travellers and priests
And leaders sheltered by a kingly shield.

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.