Towards Alba of the Ravens

Drawing from H. D. M. Spence-Jones' The Church of England, A History for the People, London, c. 1897.
Drawing from H. D. M. Spence-Jones’ The Church of England, A History for the People, London, c. 1897.

This is a poem of Columkille’s, or at least ascribed to him. It is in very irregular metre, or rather changes its metre several times. The literal translation of the first few verses is as follows:–

Delightful to be on Ben Edar (the Hill of Howth) before going over the sea, white, white; the dashing of the wave against its face, the bareness of its shore and its border.

Delightful to be on Ben Edar after coming over the white-bosomed sea, to be rowing one’s little coracle, ochone! on the swift-waved shore.

How rapid the speed of my coracle, and its back turned to Derry! It is misery to me, my errand over the high-sea, travelling towards Alba of the ravens.

My foot in my musical little coracle, my heart pitiable, sorrowful. Weak is the man that cannot lead. Blind totally is every ignorant one.

There is a grey eye that looks back upon Erin, but it shall not see during life the men of Erin nor her women.

My sight over the brine I stretch, from the planking of stout oak. Large is the tear of my soft grey eye, when I look back towards Erin, etc.

Part of this poem may very well be Columkille’s own, but part is as evidently not his. The end of it was probably written by one of the monks of Derry, whose monastery, in after times, almost equalled in fame that of Iona itself.

The verse about the soft grey eye is found in the Leabhar na h’Uidhre in the preface to the Amra of Columkille which shows its antiquity.

Moleesha was the Saint who imposed it as a penalty upon Columkille that he should go into exile and there convert as many souls as there were men slain in the battle of Cooldrevna [Cúl Dreimhne] fought on his account.

Columcille Sang.
(From the Irish.)

Delightful it is on Ben-Édar to rest
Before going over the white, white sea;
The dash of the wave as it launches its crest
On the wind-beaten shore is delight to me.

Delightful it is on Ben-Édar to rest
When safely come over the white sea foam;
The coracle cleaving her way to the West
Through the sport of the waves as she beats for home.

Too swiftly my coracle flies on her way,
From Derry I mournfully turned her prow;
I grieve at the errand which sends me to-day
To the land of the ravens, to Alba, now.

In my good little coracle, tuneful and light,
I have planted my foot, but my heart is sore,
For blind are the ignorant, blind as the night,
And weak is the man who shall lead no more.

How swiftly we travel, there is a grey eye
Looks back upon Erin, but it no more
Shall see, while the stars shall endure in the sky,
Her women, her men, or her stainless shore.

From the plank of the oak where in sorrow I lie
I am straining my sight through the water and wind;
And large is the tear from the soft grey eye
Looking back on the land that it leaves behind.

To Erin alone is my memory given,
To Meath and to Munster my wild thoughts flow,
To the shores of Moy-linny, the plains of Loch Levin,
And the beautiful land the Ultonians know.

In the East there is many a warrior tall,
But many a sickness and plague and care,
And many a heart that is hardened to all,
With scantness of raiment and food, to bear

But ah! in the West how the apple is fair,
How many a tanist, how many a king,
How many a sloe does the thorn-tree bear,
In the acorned oaks how the young birds sing!

Melodious her clerics, melodious her birds,
Her children are gentle, her seniors wise;
Her men are illustrious, truthful in words,
Her women have virtues for love to prize.

And Brendan the truthful is there in the West,
And Colom, descendant of Crivhan is he;
And there in the West shall be Baithin the blest,
And there in the West shall Adamnan be.

Go carry my words to the men that I name,
Unto Comgall the priest of eternal life,
And carry my thoughts upon wings of flame
To the king of Emania the bold in strife.

I give thee my blessing to carry from here,
Take this benediction over the sea,
One seven-fold half upon Erin the dear,
One half upon Alba the same to be.

To the nobles that gem the bright Isle of the Gael
Carry this benediction over the sea;
And bid them not credit Moleesha’s tale,
And bid them not credit his words of me.

Were it not for the word of Moleesha’s mouth,
At the cross of Ahamlish that sorrowful day,
I now should be warding from north and from south,
Disease and distemper from Erin away.

Oh, carry my blessing away to the West,
For my heart in my bosom is broken, I fail;
Should death of a sudden now pierce my breast,
I should die of the love that I bear the Gael.

The Gael, oh! the Gael, how the sound of that name
When I speak it can banish my ruth and my rue;
Belovèd is Cuimin of fair-haired fame,
Beloved are Cainneach and Comgall too.

And, oh! were the tributes of Alba mine,
From shore unto centre, from centre to sea,
The site of one house, to be marked by a line,
In the midst of fair Derry were dearer to me.

That spot is the dearest on Erin’s ground,
For the treasures that peace and that purity lend;
For the hosts of bright angels that circle it round,
Protecting its borders from end to end.

That spot is the dearest on Erin’s ground,
For its peace and its beauty I gave it my love;
Each leaf of the oaks around Derry is found
To be crowded with angels from heaven above.

My Derry, my Derry, my little oak grove,
My dwelling, my home, and my own little cell;
May God the Eternal, in heaven above,
Send woe to thy foes and defend thee well.

Belovèd are Durrow and Derry to me,
And Drumhome of the fruits of the rich ripe hue
Belovèd Raphoe in its purity,
And Surd and Cenannas, I love them too.

And dear to my heart in the western land,
Is the thought of Loch Foyle where the cool waves pour,
And the Bay of Drumcliff on Cúlcinné’s strand,
Delightful the form of its sloping shore.

Delightful it is, and the salt salt main,
Where the sea-birds scream o’er the water blue,
On my coming from Derry afar in pain,
How quiet it is, and delightful too.

— Douglas Hyde (ed.), The Three Sorrows of Storytelling and Ballads of St. Columkille, London, 1895.

The Gentle Birth of Colum, Our Cleric

Stained glass window in Iona Abbey depicting St. Columba.
Stained glass window in Iona Abbey depicting St. Columba.

Kal. iv. A.D. 518

Battle of Detna, in Droma-Bregh, in which fell Ardgal, son of Conall Crimhthann, son of Niall. Muircertach Mac Earca, and Colga, son of Cloith, son of Crunn, son of Fedhlimidh, King of Airghiall, were the victors.

Buti, son of Bronach, died, and Colum Cille was born, of whom was said:—

  1. The gentle birth of Colum, our cleric,
    To-day over noble Erinn;
    On the same day occurred — no arrogant saying—
    The bright, victorious death of the son of Bronach.

Ailill, Abbot of Ardmacha, slept.

Beoid, Bishop of Ardcarna, rested.

— Chronicon Scotorum, Annal CS518.

Mac Dathó Was His Name

Facsimile of a portion of page 113b of the Book of Leinster, published by the Royal Irish Academy House, 1880 (Dublin). This portion begins with the fourth sentence of section 15 and ends with the first sentence of section 17.
Facsimile of a portion of page 113b of the Book of Leinster, published by the Royal Irish Academy House, 1880 (Dublin). This portion begins with the fourth sentence of section 15 and ends with the first sentence of section 17.

There was a famous king of Leinster. Mac Dathó was his name. He had a hound; the hound defended the whole of Leinster. The hound’s name was Ailbe, and Ireland was full of its fame. Messengers came from Ailill and Medb asking for the hound. Moreover at the same time there came also messengers from Conchobar Mac Nessa to ask for the same hound. They were all made welcome and brought to him in the hall. That is one of the six halls that were in Ireland at that time, the others being the hall of Da Derga in the territory of Cualu, and the hall of Forgall Manach, and the hall of Mac Dareo in Brefne, and the hall of Da Choca in the west of Meath, and the hall of Blai the landowner in Ulster. There were seven doors in that hall, and seven passages through it, and seven hearths in it, and seven cauldrons, and an ox and a salted pig in each cauldron. Every man who came along the passage used to thrust the flesh-fork into a cauldron, and whatever he brought out at the first catch was his portion. If he did not obtain anything at the first attempt he did not have another.

* * *

Boí rí amra for Laignib, .i. Mac Dathó a ainm. Bui cú oca. No-ditned in cu Lagniu uile. Ailbe ainm in chon, et lán hEriu dia aurdarcus. Tancas o Ailill ocus o Meidb do chungid in chon. I n-oen uair dano tancatar ocus techta Conchobair mic Nessa do chungid in chon chetna. Ro-ferad failte friu uile, et ructha chuci-sium isin mh-bruidin. Is í sein in t-shessed bruiden ro-boi i n-hErind in tan sin: .i. bruden Daderga i crích Cualand, et bruden Fhorgaill Manaich, et bruden Mic Dareo i m-Brefni et bruden Dachoca i n-iarthor Mide et bruden Blai briuga i n-Ultaib. Secht nh-doruis isin bruidin ocus VII sligeda tréthi, et VII tellaige inti, et VII core, ocus dam ocus tinne in cach coire. In fer do-theiged iarsin t-shligi, do-bered in n-ael isin coire, et na tabrad don chét-gabail, issed no-ithed. Mani thucad ní don chét-tadall, ni bered a n-aill.

— Scél Mucci Mic Dathó (Story of Mac Dathó’s Pig), Section I,
N. Kershaw Chadwick, An Early Irish Reader, Cambridge University Press.

The Rights of the King of Tara

When the king of Tara is not king of Ireland, he is entitled to a hundred swords, a hundred shields, a hundred horses, a hundred coloured cloths, and a hundred coats of mail. That is from the king of Ireland to the king of Tara. Now from the king of Tara to his kings and to the tribes of Meath: twenty horns, twenty swords, twenty slaves, and twenty hounds to the king of Brega. Five shields, five swords, five cloaks, five horses, and five hounds to the king of Mag Lacha. Ten horses, ten slaves, ten women and ten horns to the king of Laegaire. Seven shields, seven horses, seven slaves, seven women, and seven hounds to the king of Ardgal. Seven horses, seven swords, seven horns, and seven cloaks to the king of Fir Chell. Six horses, six swords, six shields, and six slaves to the king of Fir Thulach. Eight shields, eight swords, eight horns, and eight horses to the king of Fir Thethba. Six shields, six horses, six cloaks, six slaves, and six horns to the king of Cuircne. Five horses, five swords, and five cloaks to the king of Uí Beccon. Five women, five horses, five horns, and five shields to the king of Coill Fallamain. Eight slaves, eight women, eight horses, eight shields, and eight swords to the king of Delbna Mór. And it is for them that Benén sang:

  1. Recount the rights of the king of Tara
    which gracious Benén has told;
    what is due to him at Tara
    has been memorized by a Latin scholar.
  2. The king of Tara of the princes
    is entitled to a hundred swords and a hundred shields,
    a hundred suits and a hundred horses,
    a hundred mantles and a hundred coats of mail.
  3. The fair king of the realm of Brega
    is entitled to twenty horns, twenty swords,
    twenty hounds, and twenty slaves
    as stipend from the king of Tara.
  4. The king of Mag Lacha is entitled
    to five shields, five fighting swords,
    five fleecy cloaks, five horses,
    and five white hounds in fine array.
  5. The swift king of Laegaire is entitled
    to ten sturdy horses in his tribeland,
    ten slaves, ten full-grown women, ten hounds,
    and ten horns for the drinking-feast.
  6. The stipend of the noble king of Ardgal
    is seven shields, seven horses from Scotland,
    seven full-grown women,
    seven slaves, and seven hounds.
  7. The king of Coill Echach is entitled
    to seven strong horses from the king of tribes,
    seven swords for battle,
    seven horns and seven coloured cloaks.
  8. The strong king of Fir Thulach
    is entitled to six horses from overseas (?),
    six swords, six red shields,
    and six foreign slaves without speech.
  9. The stipend of the king of Fir Thethba
    is eight shields, eight fighting swords,
    eight horns, eight mantles,
    and eight worthy slave women.
  10. The king of Curcne of the fen
    is entitled to six shields, six horses,
    six cloaks, six slaves,
    and six horns for ready service.
  11. The stipend of the king of Uí Beccon
    is five horses that are fast away,
    five brilliant cloaks of lasting colour,
    and five swords for battle.
  12. The king of Coill In Ollaim is entitled to five shields,
    five horns for his treasure,
    five horses brought in well-laden ships,
    and five worthy woman slaves.
  13. The king of festive Delbna is entitled
    to eight swords, eight shields from across the sea,
    eight horses with slender legs,
    eight slaves, and eight slave women.
  14. That is the tradition of the kings of Tara—
    not every prattling bard can tell it—
    it befits not the bard but only the file
    to know the rights of every king.

Lebor na Cert, Section VI.

Our Ladye of Tryme

Updated 10 October 2012, 18:53.

This post concerns a devotion to Our Lady that I suspect very, very few people are even aware. Hopefully this information will prove of interest to devotees and scholars of the Blessed Virgin. Interesting also is the record of vandalism against holy images by the Protestant Reformers as recorded in a native Irish annal for the year 1538.

Ath-Truim is today a vacant titular see.

* * *

Trim Castle built by Hugh de Lacy.

The very miraculous image of Mary which was in the town of Ath-Truim, in which all the people of Erinn believed for a long time previously, which healed the blind, and deaf and lame, and every other ailment, was burnt by Saxons; and the Bachall-Isa, which was in the town of Ath-Cliath, working numerous prodigies and miracles in Erinn from the time of Saint Patrick to that date, and which had been in Christ’s own hand, was burned by Saxons in like manner; and not alone this, but there was not in Erinn a holy cross, or a figure of Mary, or an illustrious image, over which their power reached, that was not burned. And furthermore, there was not an Order of the seven Orders in their power that they did not destroy. And the pope, and the church abroad and at home, were excommunicating the Saxons on account thereof; but they had neither respect nor regard for that, et cetera. (And I am not certain that it is not in the last year above the burning of those relics should be).

— Annals of Loch Cé, LC1538.6.

* * *

Newtown Abbey, Trim, County Meath.

“My bounden dutie unto your honerable Lordschip premysid. Theise shal be to advertise you, for that I endeavor my selff and also cause others of my clergie, to preache the Gospell of Christe and to set forthe the Kinge’s causes, there goeth a common brewte amonges the Yrish men that I intende to ploke down Our Lady of Tryme with other places of pilgramages, as the Holy Crosse and souch like, which in deade I never attempted, although my conscience wolde right well serve me to oppresse souche ydolles.” So runs the dispatch, dated June 20, 1538, from Browne, the first Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, to Henry the Eighth’s “vicar-general,” Thomas Cromwell.

“Our Ladye of Tryme” was a famous shrine of the Mother of God preserved in the abbey church of the Canons Regular at Trim, in Meath. Its story is but a brief chapter from the long and well-known history of the devotion of the Irish people to the Blessed Virgin, and the vandalism of the self-styled Reformers in our land.

The interesting town of Trim is situated pleasantly by the Boyne; in the olden time it was the seat of a bishopric, and possessed one of those puzzles to antiquarians, a Greek church; th[r]ough the Middles Ages parliaments and important gatherings were held in it. Its extensive remains of King John’s castle, its many ruined churches and frairies, still attest its former greatness. But perhaps more famous still was it for “its image of Mary” (dealb Muire, as it was called in Irish), that brought to the abbey of the Canons Regular pilgrims far and wide. I regret not to have been able to find the origin of the devotion, but will give such references as are made to it by our native annalists and in the State papers.

The first reference to it I find in the “Annals of the Four Masters,” where we read that “in the age of Christ 1397 Hugh MacMahon recovered his sight by fasting in honour of the Holy Cross at Raphoe, and of the image of Mary at Ath-Truim.” In Irish Our Lady is nearly always spoken of as Mary (Muire) — “Mary”; so St Patrick and the other saints are called “Patrick,” etc. Our Irish equivalent for “Good Morning” is, Dia agus Muire dhuit — “God and Mary be with thee”; and the frequent response is Dia agus Muire agus Padraig dhuit, — “God and Mary and Patrick be with thee.” It is sad to think that, unless great efforts be made by us to preserve our tongue, this beautiful greeting, with its invocation of Heaven[‘]s blessing, and its familiar tutoiement for stranger or neighbour, will soon be a thing of the past. But that must not be.

In 1412 again it is recorded that “the image of Our Lady at Ath Truim wrought many miracles.” Later on, in 1444, “a great miracle was wrought by the image of Mary at Trim — namely, it restored sight to a blind man, speech to a dumb man, the use of his feet to a cripple, and stretched out the hand of a person to whose side it had been fastened.

In 1472 a parliament was held at Naas (12 Edw., IV.) granted to the abbot and convent of the house of Our Blessed Lady of Trim and their successors two watermills in Trim, with their weirs, fisheries, etc.; trees in the park of Trim, and services of the villeins of the manor for the ordinary establishing, repairing, and continuance of a perpetual wax light from day to day and night to night burning before the image of our Blessed Lady in the pavement pedestal of Our Lady in the church of the said house; and for the support of four other wax tapers continually burning before the same at the Mass of the Holy Mary, at the anthem of Our Lady, to the honour of God and our said Lady, for the good estate of our sovereign lord and Cecilia his mother, and of his children, and for the souls of their progenitors and ancestors.

Trim was on the outmost borders of the English Pale; outside its walls the native clans held sway. To kill an Irishman beyond the Pale was no crime in English law, but a special act was passed by Parliament to allow the “rebel” to come and pay his homage without fear of death at Our Lady’s shrine at Trim. I have searched in vain for any description of a pilgrimage to it, but we can well imagine how on Mary’s festal days the saffron-gowned clansmen, the armoured invader, and the burgesses from Dublin and Drogheda thronged through the Sheep-gate or the Water-gate, hurrying to the blissful shrine. Then, too, would the Dominican from the Assumption, and the Franciscan for St Bonaventure’s; the Canon of St Victor, of Newton, and the cowled friar, leave their convents to join their brethren at St Mary’s in hymning the Virgin’s praise.

The Month of Mary. Our Lady of Trim.
By Pierce Laurence Mary Nolan B.A., in the Ave Maria.
New Zealand Tablet, Rōrahi XXI, Putanga 3, 18 Haratua 1894, Page 4.
(transcribed by Christian Clay Columba Campbell).

Continue reading “Our Ladye of Tryme”