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Cúirt an Mhean-Oíche
The Midnight Court
Brian Merriman, born in Co. Clare and a mathematics teacher by profession, wrote this poem in 1781. It has been described as one of the most perceptive accounts ever written of Irish sexual mores. A midnight court, presided over by female fairies of frightening ferocity, investigates Irish men's propensity to remain bachelors. This first piece sets the scene where Brian meets the "large-buttocked, big-bellied woman". It will continue with each issue of the magazine.
|A literal translation by David Sowby|
Cúirt an hean-Oíche
Ba ghnáth mé ag siúl le ciumhais na h-abhann,
Múscail! corraigh! a chodlataigh ghránna!
|The Midnight Court
It was my custom walking beside the river,
On the fresh green grass in heavy dew,
Beside the woods in a recess of the mountain,
Without worry, without delay at the [first] light of day.
My heart used to gladden when I'd see Loch Gréine,
The land, the countryside and the horizon;
It was pleasing, beautiful the setting of the mountains,
Brandishing their heads over the back of each other.
The heart used to gladden which was worn out
Spent without strength or filled with pain;
The emaciated person, bitter, without property or riches
Who would look a while over the tops of the woods
On ducks in their flocks on a harbour without fog,
And the swan amongst them and she moving with them,
The fish with merriment rising up,
A perch in sight, showy and speckle-bellied.
The colour of the lake and the blue of the waves
Coming violently, noisily, heavily.
There used to be birds in the trees there merry, graceful
And jumping of a doe in woods in my nearness,
Trumpeting of horns and sight of the hosts,
Hard running of hounds and Reynard before them.
Yesterday morning was the sky without mist,
Was Cancer from the sun a burning mass,
And she ready for labours after the night
And [for] work of that day stretched before her.
There were tree leaves on branches around me,
A grassy place and grass in their swathes beside me,
There were luxuriant greens there, flowers and herbs,
Would scatter thoughts afar however tormented.
I was fatigued and the sleep exhausting me,
I stretched myself out on a level of green grass
Beside the trees, alongside a trench,
Support for my head and my limbs outstretched.
On the bonding of my eyes tightly together,
Fastened shut in the black lock of sleep,
And my face covered from the flies satisfactorily,
In a vision I suffered the torment of woe,
Which moved close, which pierced me to the liver,
And me in my heavy sleep, unconscious, senseless.
It was short my rest when I heard, I thought,
The land around swaying about me,
A storm from the north and a furious blast of wind,
And the pier of the harbour pounding fires.
(With) a glance of my eye, as it seemed to me,
I saw [coming] towards me, by the edge of the harbour,
The large-buttocked, big-bellied, haughty, magnificent,
Bony, angry, surly, stout-calved woman.
Her height exactly, as I estimate, correctly,
Was six or seven yards and a bit.
Exactly one perch of her cloak trailing
Behind her in the mud with filth and mire.
It was great, it was august, it was wild to look
Up into her forehead, wounded, time-worn;
It was a tempest her visage, and it was a living terror
Her grin and her gums toothless and cracked.
Oh king of every plain! it was strong and
Her beam of a hand, and a great staff in it.
An emblem of brass at the top on a spike
And powers of a bailiff on the top of it written.
And [she] said harshly in bold words:
Wake! stir! you sleepy wretch!
It's sad the way to you, stretched on your thigh:
A court sitting and thousands travelling there.
Not a court without statute, without law, without rule,
Nor a robbery court to which you're accustomed always,
This court proceeded from gentle people,
A court of compassion, of virtue and maidens.
It is great to be told of in the lands of Éibhir,
Noble fairies as they sat in unity,
Two days and a night on the tops of the mountain
In the populous palace of Gréine's fairy dwelling.
It is severe that it grieved the nobility of the king,
And the good people of the house, splendid fairies,
And a number of the retinue who were in his company,
As suffered every sorrow on the land of Ireland,
Without property, without freedom for an ancient race,
Without control of law, without rents nor leaders:
Was destroyed the land and nothing remains there
Except plants, chickweed and weeds;
The best nobles astray as if they melted away
And the nouveaux-riches having the upper hand,
Deceiving with eagerness and robbing without regard,
Skinning the lepers and the naked to their ruin,
It's distressing, dismal how each slavery left
Cheerlessly, dourly without justice of law:
The weak without redress who'll not get from anyone
But deep trouble and the inclination to destruction;
Falseness of lawyer and derision from high and mighty;
Crookedness and fraud, neglect and favouritism;
A legal cloud and true colour of vagrant justice;
Blinding with bribe, with fees and falsehood.
Along with all truth, nothing was left out,
A base affirmation on the Bible that day in the
Case, indeed, that you will not go unscathed through it:
The finest of the youth, withering from lack of culture,
There is a scarcity of settled people in Ireland.
Failed, to your memory, the human progeny;
It is empty, exhausted the lands that are left;
The war and death suddenly draining them,
The pride of the kings and all who emigrated,
When you're not making more to replace them;
It is a shame so many of you without foals or progeny.
And women in their hordes on the sea and on the lands.
Beauties with fine bodies and arrogant wenches,
And sultry slips of girls of blood and flesh,
Pestering idlers and willing frail ones,
And trim great ones who went into waste.
It is a pity without pregnancy strong ones of that sort,
It's a pity they're without swelling of breasts and body.
It is often they're ready, if they would get the word,
Falling from their net, and I praise their patience.
It is decided by the wise ones at end of the council
Against the slavery which was told to them,
A person of their company was fully in power,
To the fall of the dice to a location in Ireland.
Aoibheall proffers advice a heart without any fault,
Love of the Munster-folk, Creglee's fairy-queen:
Part company from the sages of the shee of this host,
It is a while freeing slaves in this Thomond.
Pledged this gentle, delicate, just (person)
Legal falsehood to subdue powerfully,
Standing along with the weak and feeble;
The strong must be gentle, humane,
The mighty must to this justice submit,
And must right as right be established.
I pledge now that neither tricks nor influence,
The friendship of miss, pimp or crony,
Who will walk through the law as they're wont
In the court in which will sit the heavenly breed.
This court is firmly established henceforth in Feakle,
Walk! answer it! you will have to journey there,
Walk without urging, fast, at your peril,
Walk, or I will haul you in the mud behind me!
|Our thanks to Terry Dormer for sending us this translation.|
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