Sunday, July 31, 2011

Caoineadh Phádraig Shéamais

The story is told of a father and son in a small village outside of Galway who were crossing a channel late at night to get barley to make poitín, Irish moonshine. When they loaded the small boat and prepared to return home, a storm started to gather and they decided that the boat, laden with the barley, would not make it to the other side with both passengers. The father told the son to cross in the boat and walked several miles alone to a place he could walk across. When he reached the place the boat would have landed, he saw neither son or boat. The next day they found the shattered pieces of the boat and the dead body of his son.

For the next week as his wife and daughter sang keenings over the body of the young man, the father was entirely silent, eating nothing and talking to no one. His friends and family worried that he would follow his son to the grave in sorrow, but they could do nothing to ease his pain. Then one day as the daughter was walking by the river, she heard her father singing this song:
An chéad Mháirt de fhomhar ba bhrónach turseach mo scéal.
Lámh thapa a bhí cróga ag gabháil romham ar leaba na n-éag.
Ar charraig na nDeor is dó gur chaill mé mo radharc
Is go dté mé faoi fhód is ní thógfad m’aigne i do dhéidh.

Tá do mháthair is Niall faoi chian ‘s is fada leo an lá.
D’fhág tú osna ina gcliabh nach leigheasann dochtúir nó lia.
Ar sholáthair mé riamh is bíodh sé ‘lig cruinn i mo láimh,
go dtabharfainn é uaim ach fuascledh—Paidí bheith slán.

The first Tuesday of September sad and sorrowful was my plight:
The brave able hand going before me to the bed of death

On the Rock of Tears I lost my sight.
Till I go to my grave I’ll not lift my spirit after you.

Your mother and Niall are sorrowing and the day is long for them.

You left them a heavy heart that no doctor or physician can cure.

All that I ever earned, were it all gathered in my hand,

I would give it in ransom—that Paddy be safe.*
Never having heard her father sing before, the girl worried that his grief was driving him further from his sanity. She went to a friend of his and related the tale.

“Oh, don’t you worry,” the old man assured the girl. “If he’s singing, he’ll get better.” The father’s song, painful and agonizing though it might have been, was a sign of life in him, evidence of healing.

“When I heard that story,” the Irishman told me, “the pain of the father was so fresh in the words that I assumed it was a recent incident. I asked the storyteller if he had known Pádraig Shéamais or his father. The man shook his head, and I later learned that the incident had happened in 1811.”

*Text and translation by Breandán Ó Madagáin, author of Caointe agus Seancheolta Eile: Keening and other Old Irish Musics

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