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Ordnance Survey Letters by John O'Donovan and Eugene Curry, 1839
Parish of Feakle (e)
After this he enters the Court-House in which he saw the Lady Aoibheal and her attendants, whom he describes with considerable skill, in which he shews some talent for invention. He then goes on at once to describe the proceedings of the court. The first who appeared on the “Green Cloth” (Clár na Mionn) was a woman of great beauty, who was verging on the age at which women are considered to be old maids, without being asked in marriage, in consequence, as appears from her complaint, of having no fortune. She speaks, argues, reasons, complains of the state of society in Ireland. Proves the injustice of her being left so long unmarried; argues that she herself, though dowerless, should, in consequence of her beauty, health and other attractive characteristics, on which she lays great stress and which she describes at full length, should have been selected in preference to ugly girls who have been married long before, in consequence of having dowrys, i.e., cows, pigs and money.
She laments that in consequence of the wickedness of the times, rich young men would not marry beautiful young damsels because poor; fears that now she is fast approaching the age when she has no chance of getting any husband, but either a poor young man, or a rich old miser, sapless and unfit for the business of procreation. She vents her anguish and spleen against the male sex in the following energetic manner, but I shall not venture to put her language into any English dress, lest I might put to the blush Evil of Craglea and her band of female attendants, who, I presume, lost all their Irish long since.
This is very severe indeed and a good lesson to old men who would wish to marry young girls.
After the fair damsel of twenty six had finished her complaint an old man stood up to reply in defence of the men. His appearance is most graphically described in the following lines:-
He first goes on with great eloquence to prove that the plaintiff’s praise of her own qualifications was altogether false, gives her pedigree; describes her father, his dress, occupation and house; ridicules her vanity in aping at address and civilization; asks her various questions which tended to awake suspicions as to her character; argues that she had no claim on the attentions of any young men in her vicinity who knew anything of her character; triumphs over her in argument. He then goes on to give his own history. He marries when old a young and blooming girl who brought him forth a strong and healthy child so early as six months after marriage. He condemns the marriage ceremony (rite) as an institute as useless, and only got up to put money into the pockets of the avaricious Priests. Argues that the human family could be propagated very well without it; and in proof of his argument produces a blooming child, produced without the permission of any priest. He points out all his features, which are beautiful and amiable (argues that the most remarkable men that ever appeared on our globe were begotten in the same way, etc. etc.) and his limbs, which are as well formed as those of any boy procreated in the “Hallowed State” as priests so selfishly style it. He describes this fair specimen of human procreation, produced without the authority of the Church, in the following lines, which are admirable:-
He next argues that it would add much to the improvement of the breed if the aristocratic drop were mixed with the plebeian, and concludes in the following extraordinary lines, which are full of humour, irony and sarcasm:-
The girl speaks again and goes on with energetic bile to prove that the old man had no reason to expect fidelity from his wife at the age at which he married her; refutes all his objections to the marriage ceremony (rite) at a proper age. Objects to the celibacy of the priests and to their constant custom of intriguing with women beyond the age of parturition. Says they too should be compelled to marry.
After Aoibheal had heard the arguments on both sides, she rises to pronounce a decision. Her person is described in glowing language and her “Words of Light” faithfully given. She decides in favour of the women and enacts that every man in Ireland should marry at the age of twenty one! and that any one found single above that age should be chained to a tombstone and scalped and flogged by the hands of women. When this decision was passed the Bailiff walked over to Brian himself and finding three times ten in years written on his forehead, apprehended and delivered him up to be flogged. He was chained to a tombstone in the Churchyard of Feakle and the women commenced to scourge and scalp (skelp?) him. A dreadful clamour arose among the women, all old maids who were determined to be revenged of him. Some commenced to lay the scourge on him and others to drag off slices of his skin from the head to the extremity of the spine. By the noise and pain poor Brian was soon roused from his dream.
From many allusions in the this sarcastic poem it would appear that Brian wrote it to be revenged of the priests, against whom he rails in a most frightful manner, and also of some local magistrates, as appears from the expression “the interest of a cousin, pimp or miss”.
On the whole it is a very sarcastic and manly production, and though in some few instances somewhat indecent in expression, it is very well worth preserving as a specimen of the native poetry of so sequestered and wild a district as that around Loch Greine.
Brian’s real surname was Mac Meanman, a name which is mentioned in the Wars of Torlogh as that of a branch of the Clann Choileain, the principal family of whom were the Mac Namaras. He had two daughters, who were for some time employed as governesses in Limerich, but now living in London.
I could collect no more information about this character of Lough Greine. If his poem were published with an English translation by such a writer as Swift it would be universally admired, at least in this country. I do not know anyone living who could enter into the spirit of it to make anything like a good English translation of it.