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Brian Merriman
(c. 1747-1805)

Brian Merriman, poet, was born at Ennistymon, the son of a journeyman stonemason, about 1747. For some reason which is not known the whole family and some friends migrated to the district of Lough Graney, near Killanena, Feakle. Brian spent his childhood here. The details of his education are not clear but it is probable that he attended a hedge-school, and may have picked up scraps of learning from wandering poor scholars and poets. There are conflicting biographical accounts of his life. One manuscript says "He was a wild and pleasure seeking youth but an accomplished performer on the violin." He married a woman from Feakle in 1787 and they had two daughters.

It appears that he inherited his father's small farm in Feakle because in 1797 he won two prizes from the Dublin society for flax growing.

He taught at various schools in the area for about twenty years, first at Kilclaran and later in a school near his farm. Teaching in those days seems to have been a profession that attracted those with a taste for literature. Many of the Irish poets of the 18th and 19th centuries were school teachers. It allowed them to exist while they wrote. Later on he became resident tutor to the families of the local gentry.

This may be where he got the subject matter for his poem "Cúirt an Mhéan Óiche". It is likely that he had access to books of European literature which gave him ideas for the theme. His famous poem, written in his native Irish language, has well over a thousand lines. It has been translated into English as "The Midnight Court" by many translators. The principal themes are the plight of young women who lack husbands, clerical celibacy, free love, and the misery of a young woman married to a withered old man. It is probably the most famous poem in the Irish language. It is written in the form of a vision or aisling. Brian falls asleep on the shores of Loch Gréine near Feakle in East Clare and finds himself present at a fairy court where the women of Ireland were discussing their great problems. It is thought that he wrote the poem as a result of certain frustrations he had or of some complex he suffered from. It is believed that Merriman was illegitimate and wanted to justify his complex in the poem. His vigour, fluency and earthy humour made his poem widely popular and while he was still alive numerous manuscript copies were circulated.

About 1802 Merriman and his family moved to Limerick City, where he continued to teach. Little more is known about him until his death on 27th July 1805 was announced in the paper "The General Advertiser and Limerick Gazette".

"Died - : on Saturday morning in Old Clare Street, after a few hours illness, Mr. Bryan Merriman, teacher of mathematics, etc."

He is buried in Feakle . His grave has not been located but a plaque honouring his memory has been erected in Feakle churchyard.

In commemoration of Merrimans poetic works an Annual Merriman Summer School is held each year in County Clare.

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