A Sorrowful Lament For Ireland

A poem by Isabella Augusta

The Irish poem I give this translation of was printed in the Revue Celtique some years ago, and lately in An Fior Clairseach na h-Eireann, where a note tells us it was taken from a manuscript in the Gottingen Library, and was written by an Irish priest, Shemus Cartan, who had taken orders in France; but its date is not given. I like it for its own beauty, and because its writer does not, as so many Irish writers have done, attribute the many griefs of Ireland only to 'the horsemen of the Gall,' but also to the faults and shortcomings to which the people of a country broken up by conquest are perhaps more liable than the people of a country that has kept its own settled rule.


My thoughts, alas! are without strength;
My spirit is journeying towards death;
My eyes are as a frozen sea;
My tears my daily food;
There is nothing in my life but only misery;
My poor heart is torn,
And my thoughts are sharp wounds within me,
Mourning the miserable state of Ireland,
Without ease, without mirth for any person
That is born on the plains of Emer.
And here I give you the heavy story,
And the tale of all the remnant of her deeds.

She lost her pomp and her strength together
When her strong men were banished across the sea;
Her churches are as holds of pain,
Without altars, without Mass, without bowing of knees;
Stables for horses--this story is pitiful--
Or without a stone of their stones together.

Since the children of Israel were in Egypt
Under bondage, and scarcity along with that,
There was never written in a book or never seen
Hardship like the hardships in Ireland.
They parted from us the shepherds of the flock
That is the flock that is astray and is wounded,
Left to be torn by wild dogs,
And no healing for it from the hand of anyone.
Unless God will look down on our distress
Ireland will indeed be lost for ever!
Every old man, every strong man, every child,
Our young men and our well-dressed women,
Keening, complaining, and reproaching;
Going under the power of the Gall or going across the sea.
Our dear country without any ears of corn,
Without store, without cattle, but only the green grass;
Our fatherless children are wasted and weak,
Famine and sickness travelling over Ireland,
And every other scourge that was ever known,
And the rest of her pain has not yet been told.

Nevertheless, my sharp woe! I see with my eyes
That the High King has a bow ready in His hand,
And His quiver is full of arrows with sharp points,
And every arrow of them for our sore wounding,
From the sole of our feet to the top of our head,
To bruise our hearts and to tear our sinews;
There is no spot of our limbs but is scarred;
Misfortune has come upon us all together--
The poor and the rich, the weak and the strong;
The great lord by whom hundreds were maintained;
The powerful strong man, and the man that holds the plough;
And the cross laid on the bare shoulder of every man.

I do not know of anything under the sky
That is friendly or favourable to the Gael,
But only the sea that our need brings us to,
Or the wind that blows to the harbour
The ship that is bearing us away from Ireland;
And there is reason that these are reconciled with us,
For we increase the sea with our tears,
And the wandering wind with our sighs.

We do not see heaven look kindly upon us;
We do not see our complaint being listened to;
Even the earth refuses us shelter
And the wood that gives protection to the birds;
Every cliff, every cave, every mountain-top,
Every hill, every lough, and every meadow.

Our feasts are without any voice of priests,
And none at them but women lamenting,
Tearing their hair, with troubled minds,
Keening pitifully after the Fenians.
The pipes of our organs are broken;
Our harps have lost their strings that were tuned
That might have made the great lamentations of Ireland;
Until the strong men come back across the sea,
There is no help for us but bitter crying,
Screams, and beating of hands, and calling out.

It is not strength of hosts, not loss of food,
Not the horsemen of the Gall coming from Britain,
Nor want of power, nor want of calling to war,
That has put defeat upon the armies of Ireland,
And has filled the cities with a sad multitude,
Alas! alas! but the greatness of our sins.

See, we are now put in the crucible
In which every worthless metal is tried,
In which gold is cleansed from every tarnish;
The Scripture is true in everything it says;
It says we must suffer before we can be cured;
It is through repentance we shall find forgiveness,
And the restoring of all that we have lost.

Let us put down the sum of our sins;
Oppression of the poor, thieving, robbery,
Great vows held in light esteem;
Giving our soul to the man that is the worst;
The strength of our pride was greater than our life,
The strength of our debts was more than we could pay.

It was with treachery Ireland was lost,
And the ill-will of men one to another.
There was no judge that would give a hearing
To the oppressed people whose life was under hardship.
Outcasts and widows crying aloud
Without right judgment to be had or punishment.

We were never agreed together,
But as one ox bound and one free from the yoke;
No right humility to be found.
All trying for the headship of Ireland
At the time when her enemies were doing their work.
No settlement to be made of any quarrel,
The share of the wheat-ear for the man that was strongest;
It is long that this has been the hurt of Ireland;
It is thus that the battle ended with the Gael.

Let us turn now and change our manners,
Let us make repentance of our sins together--
It is thus that the Israelites came out of Egypt;
Nineveh was given pardon for all its sins,
And even Peter for denying Christ.

O saints of Ireland, arise now together;
O Patrick, who hast care of us, bless this flock;
We who are exiled, we who are forsaken,
This sod is gone out unless thou blow upon it;
Is thy sleep heavy or is thy hearing slow
That thou dost not give an answer to us?
Awake quickly; let it not be as a tale with thee
That there is no help for the fate of the Gael.

This, Patrick, is my own quarrel with thee
That every enemy of thy flock is saying
That thy ears are not ears that listen,
That thou art not troubled by the sight of thy people,
That if they did trouble thee thou wouldst not deny them.
Be with us nevertheless with thy strong power.
Make our enemies to quit Ireland for ever.


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