The Midnight Court
by Brian Merriman and translated by Noel Fahy
Part One: The Prologue
The poet sets out alone on a summer morning and encounters a fearsome vision woman. She drags him through the mud to Monmoy Hill where a court is sitting presided over by Aoibheal, a beautiful fairy queen.
1 Twas my custom to stroll with the river in view
2 Through the fresh meadows covered with dew,
3 By the edge of the woods on the wild mountain-side
4 At the dawn of the day I'd cheerfully stride.
5 My heart would brighten Loch Graney to spy,
6 And the country around it, to the edge of the sky.
7 The serried mountains were a delight to the beholder
8 Thrusting their heads over each other's shoulder.
9 'Twould lighten the heart wizened with years—
10 Triflingly spent or drenched with tears—
11 Of the bitter outcast without wealth or goods
12 To catch a glimpse o'er the top of the woods
13 Of the ducks paddling by in the pellucid bay,
14 Escorting the swan on her stately way,
15 Of the fish in joyous arching flight
16 And of the perch, a speckled spritely sight,
17 Of the blue surging swell on the tinted lake
18 Crashing ashore with a thunderous quake,
19 Of the birds in the trees merrily singing,
20 While the deer through the woods are nimbly springing,
21 To see the huntsmen with bugles blaring,
22 As after Reynard the hounds are tearing
23 Yesterday morning, no clouds in the sky,
24 Presaged another hot day in July;
25 Up came the sun after a rest for the night,
26 To her day's work, making all nature bright.
27 With treeleaves rustling overhead
28 And grass and ferns before me spread,
29 The expanse of flowers would cheer the soul
30 And lighten thoughts however dole.
31 Totally fagged and dying to sleep,
32 I lay down where the grass was deep
33 Beside a rill, with trees about
34 A support for my head and my feet stretched out.
35 On shutting my eyes to go to sleep,
36 Locking them tight in slumber deep,
37 My face protected from the flies,
38 A dream caused me to agonize
39 To shake, to chafe my psyche deep
40 In my senseless, helpless sleep.
41 Short was my sleep when I heard, thought I,
42 A violent quaking of the ground nearby
43 A storm from the north violently brewing
44 And fire from the harbour luridly spewing;
45 In my mind's eye, a quick survey
46 Revealed towards me by the bay
47 A violent, bulging, big-assed crone
48 Her huge bulk hinting at testosterone;
49 Her stature, if I reckoned right,
50 Was six or seven yards in height
51 She dragged her cloak for yards behind her
52 Through the mud and mire and squalor.
53 'Twas mighty, majestic, wild and horrid
54 To gaze upon her blemished forehead;
55 The rictus of her gummy grin
56 Would make you jump out of your skin.
57 God almighty! In her huge claw
58 Was the biggest staff you ever saw
59 A brass plaque at its spike defined
60 The bailiff's powers to her assigned.
61 In a gruff voice these words she spoke:
62 Up! Shake a leg! ya sleepy yoke;
63 Shame on you, to be stretched out here
64 With court convened and crowds drawing near.
65 It's not a court without rule or code.
66 Nor a marauding court in your usual mode
67 This court is built on a civilized base—
68 The court of the weak with a female face.
69 It's indeed a great boast for Ireland's seed
70 That to sit in court the fairy lords agreed
71 For two days and a night holding forth
72 On top of the mount, in Moy Graney fort.
73 Intense is the grief of the spectral lord,
74 Of his spritely household's noble horde
75 And all of the others assembled there
76 At the scale of Ireland's disrepair—
77 The ancient race without wealth or liberty
78 No tributes, leaders nor legal autonomy
79 The rape of the land with naught in its train,
80 In place of the crops, a weed-rank terrain;
81 The nobles languish in a foreign land
82 While the jumped-up rich get the upper hand,
83 In betrayal ardent, in plunder greedy
84 Flaying the sick, despoiling the needy.
85 It is blackly baneful and sticks in the craw
86 That, in darkest despair over the absence of law,
87 There's nothing from no one for the purposeless weak
88 But a depredacious future that is hopelessly bleak,
89 The knavery of lawyers, tyranny on high
90 Injustice, fraud and neglect apply
91 The law is clouded, the scales awry,
92 With all the pull that bribes can buy.
93 Along with the rest and all was debated
94 An indictment was entered and that day dated,
95 A charge that you cannot easily refute:
96 The wizening celibacy among your youth,
97 The consequent lack of people in Ireland
98 And the decline in population on this island;
99 The land left empty and in decline
100 Wrecked by war, by death and rapine
101 The kings with gumption who have gone overseas
102 Have not been replaced by new inductees.
103 Your race without young ones is sad to see
104 With women burdening the land and the sea,
105 Once buxom maids and lasses fresh
106 With boiling blood and sultry flesh
107 Are now lethargic, relicts debased
108 Once trim girls are gone in the waist;
109 'Tis a pity that these are without fruit of the womb
110 Without swelling breasts and bellies in bloom.
111 They just look for the word, please don't wait
112 Until they are past their sell-by date.
113 The solons decided after deliberation long
114 Not to try the case before the fairy throng:
115 But to appoint a plenipotent magistrate
116 Who could, with the people, mediate.
117 There was an offer from Aoibheal, with a heart so clean
118 Munstermen's friend and Craglea's queen
119 To the assembled council to bid farewell
120 And in the land of Thomond to bide a spell.
121 This gentle upright lady swore
122 To rip out bad laws by their core
123 To stand steadfast beside the poor and weak
124 So the mighty will have to cherish the meek.
125 The powerful desist from inflicting wrongs
126 And justice enthroned where it belongs:
127 I promise now that no power nor lure,
128 Nor the blandishments of pimp or whore
129 Will undermine the dispensation
130 Of this tribunal for its duration;
131 The village of Feakle is where the court is sitting
132 Go and attend it—you've got to get cracking
133 Go quietly or at your peril dire
134 I'll drag you there through the muck and mire.
135 With her crook she grabbed the hood of my cape
136 And off she dragged me with no escape
137 Down through the valleys I was propelled
138 To Moinmoy Hill church where the court was held.
End of the Prologue
Part Two: The Young Woman A young woman there tells the court of her troubles: that she is without a mate because of the refusal of the young men of the country to marry.
139 For sure, I saw there ablaze with light
140 What seemed like a stately mansion bright
141 Sparkling, spacious, tapestried,
142 Spectral, sturdy, brilliant indeed
143 I spied Aoibheal, the fairy wench
144 Seated on the judge's bench
145 I saw a strong and nimble guard
146 Numerously gathered round their ward;
147 I saw a household that was jammed
148 With men and women inside it crammed.
149 Then came forward a majestic cailín
152 As on the stand she took her place.
153 Her hair was loose and flowing free
154 But her face was the picture of misery
155 Her eyes were fierce and filled with hate
156 And she worked herself to such a state
157 That she moaned and heaved and sobbed and sighed
158 But couldn't speak though hard she tried.
159 You could see from the flood of tears she shed
160 That she'd much prefer if she were dead
161 Than being on the floor facing the stands
162 Kneading her fists and wringing her hands.
163 After her protracted jags of crying
164 She cleared her throat, with much sighing
165 The gloom lifted from her tear-stained cheek,
166 She dried her eyes and started to speak:—
167 A thousand welcomes, we guarantee
168 O Aoibheal, venerable queen of Craiglea,
169 Light of the day, Ray of the sun
170 Worldly wealth for the hard-put-upon
171 Conquering commander of the hosts of the blessed
172 In Thomond and Tír Lorc you were sorely missed;
173 The crux of my case, the cause of my woe
174 The ache that has plagued me and laid me low
175 What knocked me sideways and struck me dumb
176 Caused a searing pain that left me numb,—
177 The finest of maidens wandering around
178 Without hope of a husband, a shilling or pound,
179 Despondent young things without help of a mate
180 Innocently barred from the matrimonial state.
181 I know these maidens whereof I speak
182 One hundred and one for whom prospects are bleak
183 I list myself among these wrecks:
184 I got my gender but I get no sex
185 At my time of life, 'tis depressing and cold
186 Doing without luxuries, jewels and gold,
187 Gloomy and cheerless is my plight
188 Unable to sleep through the pleasureless night,
189 But tossed with worry lying there
190 On a chilly bed, alone not a pair.
191 O Lady of Craiglea, you must assess
192 The extent of Irish women's distress,
193 How, if the men continue with their ways,
194 Alas, women will have to make the plays
195 By the time the men are disposed to wed
196 They're no longer worth our while to bed
197 And it'll be no fun to lie below
198 Those old men who are so weak and slow.
199 Even if, with a young man's fire,
200 One in seven of the beardless were to desire
201 To mate with a lass of his own age
202 He wouldn't choose the noble or sage
203 With an hour-glass figure and a knockout face
204 One who can carry herself with grace
205 But an icy, cheerless, catty bitch
206 Who used all her guile to make herself rich.
207 It's the scourge of my heart and a pain in my head
208 And fills my thoughts with a sense of dread
209 It's what has made me sad and sighing
210 Totally wasted with all this crying,—
211 When I see a lad who's brave and cool
212 Who is virile, vigorous and strong as a mule
213 Who is steadfast, skillful, bright as a pin
214 Fresh-faced, funny, with a ready grin
215 Or a boy who is frisky, frolicky, fun
216 With a well-built body, second to none
217 Beaten, bought, bound unawares
218 By a hussy who's extremely light upstairs
219 Or a slovenly slattern, a workless wench
220 Who'd make you gag with her noisome stench
221 A prating, prattling, babbling bag
222 An indolent, irritable, horrible hag.
223 My God, I hear that an ill-mannered mare
224 With unshod feet and uncombed hair
225 Is to be hitched tonight which I find really grating;
226 What's wrong with me that I'm left here waiting?
227 What is the reason that no one loves me
228 And I so lissome, so svelt and so lovely?
229 My lips so red are made to be kissed
230 My face so bright it cannot be missed
231 My eyes are green, my locks are flowing
232 Curly and plaited and healthily glowing
233 My forehead and cheeks are without zits or boils
234 A porcelain complexion that nothing spoils.
235 My neck, my breast, my hand, my finger
236 Each would make a young lad linger.
237 Look at my waist, my fine bone frame
238 I'm not crooked or hunched or lame
239 A butt, a foot, a figure to impress
240 I'll not go into what's beneath my dress.
241 I'm not a hussy, nor yet a drip
242 But a delicate beauty with lots of zip,
243 Not a slovenly, slatternly pig
244 Nor a joyless boorish prig.
245 Not a lazy laggard with no clout
246 But a choice young woman well turned out
247 If I were as worthless as some of my neighbours
248 A tiresome tramp who never labours
249 In the ways of the world without foresight or flair
250 What would it matter if I fell into despair?
251 But it has never been on people's tongue
252 That, at wake or funeral for old or young,
253 In the hall for the dances or at the race track
254 On the hurling pitch among the pack
255 I wasn't dressed from head to toe
256 In a tasty costume fit for a show.
257 My hair is powdered to a T
258 My starched cap riding jauntily
259 My bright-hued hood with ribbons galore
260 A polka dress with a ruffled pinafore
261 And I'm seldom without it, except in bed,
262 My cardinal cloak of deepest red.
263 My striped cambric apron is fit for a queen
264 Embroidered with a plant and animal scene
265 Stiletto heels attached with screws
266 Give a lift to my fashionable shoes
267 Gloves of silk and buckles and rings
268 These are a few of my favourite things.
269 But beware, don't think I'm loose a screw
270 A witless fool or quaking ingenue
271 Who's timorous, lonesome, whimpering, weak
272 A simpering, cowering, beaten-down freak.
273 I will not go and hide from the crowd,
274 For my face is imperious, noble and proud
275 And I can assure you I'm always displayed
276 On the level pitch where games are played
277 At dances, races and masquerades
, 278 Round bonfires, at raffles and parades
279 At Sunday Mass and in market squares
280 Sashaying before males, inviting their stares.
281 But I'm at my wits end in the mating mart
282 I've nothing to show for it but a broken heart.
283 After all that effort, after all my flirtation
284 After all I've suffered in aggravation
285 After all the times my fortune was read
286 By toothless prognosticators looking ahead
287 There's not a stroke that can still amaze,
288 From the waxing moon to its waning phase
289 From Shrove Tuesday to All Saints Night,
290 By making sense of my dispiriting plight.
291 I could never sleep peacefully in my bed
292 Without a sockful of fruit under my head;
293 'Twas surely no bother to devoutly fast,
294 Three canonical hours between each repast;
295 Against the current I'd wash my clothes
296 In the hopes that a bachelor would propose.
297 Often I would go and sweep out the byre
298 And my nails and hair I would throw in the fire;
299 The flail I'd hide in the gable's shade
300 By the head of my bed I'd place the spade
301 I would put my distaff in the lime kiln
302 I'd secrete my yarn-ball in Reynolds' mill
303 I'd scatter seed on the crown of the street
304 I'd stick a cabbage beneath the sheet.
305 From my recital it's clear I don't miss a trick
306 To see if I could get help from Old Nick
307 But the end of my story, the result of my tale
308 In spite of my efforts I've still got no male.
309 And what's really painful and makes me gasp
310 Is how firmly I'm in the calendar's grasp;
311 With grey old age rushing towards me undaunted
312 I'm terrified I'll die alone and unwanted.
313 Pearl of Paradise, please hear my prayers
314 Have mercy, I beg you, and lighten my cares
315 Be sure not to leave me a ne'er-to-be wife
316 With a mateless, meaningless, loveless life
317 Without friends or family, a roof o'er my head
318 Depending on strangers for my daily bread.
319 By the thunder and the lightning in the sky
320 It proves me a fool, my life gone awry
321 That, in front of my face, Ireland's biggest bitches
322 Are wallowing in wealth and reveling in riches
323 Saive snared a sucker with silver to spare
324 Muireann makes merry in her lover's lair
325 Mór and Mairsile wench wantonly
326 And all of them make a mockery of me
327 Slaney and Shiela sparkle and glitter
328 Cecily and Anne each have their litter
329 There are others like them throughout the land
330 While milkless and childless before you I stand.
331 I've been powerless but patient for far too long
332 I can overcome my weakness and right this wrong:
333 Potions from dried-up herbs I'll wring
334 Over which magic incantations I'll sing.
335 That should snare a strapping young chap
336 Whom, in a web of love, I will trap.
337 'Tis many I have seen who play this game
338 Watch out! I'm about to do the same
339 It's a great help for coupling, so they allege
340 To mix crushed apples and powdered veg
341 The purple orchid is an aphrodisiac
342 With mandrake's root I will attack
343 And other plants that I cannot name
344 I'll use with great relish in this ballgame
345 There's the top secret about leaves that are burned
346 And other like intrigues that cannot be learned.
347 You know it took all Thomond by surprise
348 When a certain old nobody caught her prize
349 She told me how—in confidence, indeed—
350 That from Shrove to Samhain (when to wed he agreed)
351 She had drunk no wine nor ate no bread
352 But lived on a diet of burnt spiders instead.
353 So, I've long been waiting; I'm changing my fate
354 Don't try to stop me, when I'm out of the gate.
355 If, from your visit, a resolution doesn't appear
356 Then it's on to Plan B and I'm outta here.
End of Part Two
Part Three: The Old Man
Up jumps an old man to answer the young woman. He blames the dissolute life of young women for the predicament in which they find themselves. He recounts the circumstances of his own marriage at the time of which and unknown to him, his bride was pregnant by another. (In spite of this cuckoldry, he later praises bastards highly as part of his plea to Aoibheal to end the institution of marriage.)
357 Then fiercely jumped up a grey old dodger
358 There was fire in the eyes of that greasy codger
359 His limbs were shaking, his breathing wild
360 It was clear that he was thoroughly riled.
361 He glared at the court with a look inflamed
362 And, in my hearing, he then declaimed:—
363 I wish you naught but damage and hurt
364 You miserable hussy, descended from dirt
365 I suppose it's no wonder the sun is weak
366 And that Ireland's lot is unbelievably bleak
367 Our rights are gone, the law's a laugh
368 Our cows, once fertile, without milk or calf.
369 It's no great surprise about the country's woes
370 With Mór and Síle sporting the latest clothes.
371 You're an absolute transcendental bitch
372 Everyone knows you were born in a ditch
373 Your ugly ancestors can't boast of their blood
374 They're aimless louts, sprung from the mud.
375 Everyone knows your father's a creep
376 Without friends or fame, common and cheap
377 A grey old yo-yo with no erudition
378 Without cup or bowl, racked with malnutrition,
379 Not a stitch his back, no coat on his body
380 A súgán for a belt, his footwear shoddy.
381 Believe me, people, if he was sold at the fair
382 Of all of his debts he couldn't take care
383 By the saints who are holy, 'twould make the news
384 If he then could afford a bottle of booze.
385 It's a cause of merriment, both loud and deep
386 That a reject like you, with no cows or sheep
387 Sports buckles on your shoes, a fancy silk frock
388 And a protecting scarf the wind to block.
389 You dazzle the whole world with your face
390 But I know for a fact you're for a bloody disgrace.
391 Your mendacity's so clear, it's hard to address
392 Your back is a stranger to a decent dress
393 But that deficiency, no one believes
394 It's hidden with ruffs and cambric sleeves.
395 Canvas as a waist binder is low in price
396 And maybe it's stays that's the flattening device.
397 The world spies your rings and fringes of gauze
398 While your gloves cover up the dirt on your paws.
399 But tell the court, or I myself will reveal,—
400 How long since you've had a drink with your meal
401 You miserable slob with the dirty feet
402 Unseasoned Bucks aren't much of a treat
403 It's plain to me why you should hang your head
404 I saw with my own eyes where you make your bed
405 With no sheet beneath you, either fine or rough
406 Spun on a wheel from even the coarsest stuff
407 But a dirty mat without a quilt or a spread
408 Without a blanket or comforter to cover the bed.
409 Your cabin is without a place for a seat
410 Dripping soot from above; oozing mud from beneath
411 Rank weeds flourishing in profusion galore
412 And chicken tracks scratched across the floor
413 The roofline sagging; the gables leaning
414 The brown rain pouring down through the ceiling.
415 O company of seers, how loud she does shout
416 A blustery braggart who goes about
417 In colourful clothes and silken cloaks
418 It is certain the money didn't come from her folks.
419 From where the look of which you crow
420 And how did you earn the necessary dough;
421 It's hard to believe it's from an honest stroke
422 It's not long since you were totally broke
423 Where did you get the price of the hoods
424 Tell us how you came by the expensive duds.
425 I won't make the cost of your coat my affair
426 But how could you afford the fancy footwear?
427 O Aoibheal, peerless, kindly queen
428 I beg you, call on you, please intervene
429 I know that all in Ireland who reach man's estate
430 Is firmly hooked by such a reprobate
431 One of my friends who lives up the road
432 Not very far from my own abode
433 Among the nicest boys you ever spied
434 Was snared into taking one as his bride
435 It pains my heart to see her around
436 Her hauteur, her pomp, her stuck-up frown
437 Cattle in her possession, her barley growing
438 Money in her pocket and gold overflowing.
439 I saw her yesterday on the side of the street
440 She was a large woman, in no way petite;
441 She shook her huge hips in a taunting way
442 With as much impertinence as she could display
443 Were it not that I am the soul of discretion
444 Unwilling to comment on any transgression
445 I could easily tell what I've heard told
446 How she carried on as a harlot bold
447 Stretched on the floor, causing a hullabaloo
448 In the street or the stable, her clothing askew.
449 Her story will live, she'll be the subject of lore
450 She will be spoken of for evermore
451 In Ibrickane of the bread and wine
452 In Tirmaclane of the meadows so fine
453 By Manishmore's and Ennis' lowly and quality
454 In Killbracken, in Quin, and in Clareabbey
455 In Tradree of the beans where there are wild young fellows
456 And in Cratlea where outlaws hang from the gallows
457 Now, look, that's all in the past, I know
458 And I might be willing to let it all go
459 But the other day I saw her on her ass
460 Outside of Garus lying on the grass
461 Spread on the ground without a stitch, so bare,
462 With a bogman from Doora in the County Clare.
463 It's a wonder to me, past all comprehension
464 Just to think of it fills me with hypertension,—
465 After fornicating with all, I just don'know
466 How she didn't conceive till she wished it so.
467 It's saying a lot for the power of the word
468 That not a minute of unnecessary delay was incurred
469 From the reading before the candles bright
470 Of the Ego Vos of the marriage rite
471 Her breasts were bursting with milk, I swear
472 After nine months with just a week to spare!
473 It's the greatest peril to the single and sane
474 To be tied till death to the ball and chain,
475 In the grip of misfortune, jealousy rife,
476 As I learned for myself at a terrible price.
477 Everyone round here knows how I used be,
478 When I was single and gloriously free,
479 An important man, much wealth I did own
480 My door was wide open, my table did groan
481 A friend at court and the law on my side
482 Dominion and fame, with seers as my guide
483 My words with wit and wisdom teemed
484 All the land and wealth of which I dreamed
485 My mind at ease, my brain without strife—
486 I lost it all when I married my wife!
487 She was a pleasant and graceful strip of a lass
488 Her posture and presence betokened class
489 The toss of her head showed off ringlets and curls
490 And the sheen on her cheeks fairly glowed like pearls,
491 She had the vitality of youth and a smile of bliss
492 And all her demeanour invited a kiss.
493 I shook with desire, my mind did reel
494 I fell besottedly in love, head over heel.
495 It's certain, no doubt, it was retribution
496 For all my bad actions, my dissolution
497 Which fell with a vengeance for my transgression
498 From heaven above with cruel repression.
499 The clergy tied us tightly with the knot
500 In a damnable yoke we were firmly caught,
501 I cleared all the debts without demur or delay
502 From the extravagant folly of that fateful day
503 Give me due credit, I was able to treat
504 All of the rabble who came in from the street
505 Beggars all, the clerics were sated
506 The priest was delighted at how he was feted.
507 With torches lit, the neighbours around
508 The table with all sort of foodstuffs was crowned
509 The music was mighty, much drink was imbibed
510 It was a bash on a scale that can't be described.
511 But the day I was baptised I wish I had died
512 Or some day since then before I had tried
513 To bed with a trollop who turned me gray
514 Deprived me of friends, caused my mind to decay.
515 But then I was warned by the young and the old
516 That she was a drunkard and a constant scold
517 With the rabble in sheebeens she was wont to mingle
519 It took a while before her name was destroyed
520 The stories about her I long could avoid
521 Everyone kept mum who knew the situation
522 Afraid I would vanish, naked, in extreme agitation.
523 I would not listen, too blind to see
524 To the few who ineffectively told me;
525 I believed they were only slagging the groom
526 Until the whole story was told by her womb.
527 It was not a prank or idle prattle
528 Or a woman engaging in tittle-tattle
529 But the deed itself spoke loud and clearly
530 She gave me a son who was way too early!
531 God almighty, I nearly died of fright
532 To find a family at the end of that night!
533 There was a mighty commotion around the house
534 With a swaddled child and a retching spouse,
535 A draught of medicine on the coals being warmed
536 A can full of cream was being forcefully churned
537 A dish heaped high with sugar and goody
538 For the greedy midwife, Muireann Ní Cháimlia
539 A group of my other neighbours were gathered
540 Beside the fire where they quietly whispered.
541 One of them said, loud enough to hear:—
542 "Praise be to the stars that shine so clear,
543 Even though the nipper didn't wait for the clock
544 He looks like he's a chip cut off the old block.
545 Don't you see now, Saiv, how the kid is the image
546 Of the old man's form, his limbs and his visage!
547 The cut of his hands and those bold fists
548 And look at those legs and arms and wrists."
549 They pondered long on the child's supposed lineage
550 How he looked like me, inherited my image
551 The shape of my nose and how my brow glowed
552 The elegant form which on him I bestowed
553 The lay of my eyes and even my grin
554 How he was my very picture from head to shin.
555 Of course, not hide nor hair did I see of the pup,—
556 They said the draughts would screw him up!—
557 The crowd in the house kept him out of my sight
558 With their claim that the air would harm the mite.
559 By this time I was mad and breathing fire
560 I told them the consequences would be dire
561 I thundered, I stormed, I blustered, I swore
562 Till the women of the house could stand it no more.
563 They brought me the boy to settle me down,—
564 "Take him gently, don't shake him around
565 He's easily hurt; he's close to dying
566 Don't pick him up, leave him lying
567 Since she had a fall that brought on his birth
568 He's close to death, not too long for this earth
569 We hope he'll survive till the morning at least
570 When we'll have a chance to call the priest."
571 I loosened the confining bands and set him free
572 I looked at him carefully there on my knee
573 My God, I saw he was full of vim and vigour
574 And he looked like he had a healthy figure
575 The baby's shoulders were stout, I declare,
576 He was firm in the feet, had a fine head of hair!
577 Well-formed ears and nails that were long
578 His hands, his wrists and his elbows were strong
579 His eyes and his nostrils were both healthily wide
580 I could see from his knees he'd have a powerful stride.
581 In short and in closing, it's all I can say
582 That he was as fine a child as you'd see any day.
583 O Aoibheal, I beg you on behalf of my race
584 I place before you the people's case
585 Judge us kindly, show us mercy
586 We've little sense but much jealousy
587 Change this law of the clergy's yoke
588 And allow his freedom to the unmarried bloke.
589 If the population is on the wane
590 In Ireland's green and fertile terrain,
591 Her race of warriors could be reborn yet
592 Absent the inanity of the marriage net,—
593 Why do we need those nuptial traditions
594 Paying for liqour and for musicians
595 Idlers eating all of your food
596 Guzzling your malt till thoroughly stewed.
597 When the Mother of God first conceived
598 No priestly blessing was received.
599 Many who are strong and altogether fine
600 Sprang from an illegitimate line
601 For love is a lustier sire than creed
602 And produces a healthier, heartier breed
603 The deaf or dumb or lame or blind
604 Among love children you generally won't find;
605 They are stronger and faster, more right in the head
606 Than many begotten in a married bed.
607 I brought with me the proof of my stand
608 I have here with me one of that band!
609 Do you see him there, so quiet and polite?
610 Bring him here so we can see him right.
611 Look at him carefully, though he's a youth
612 You will see indeed that I tell the truth
613 He's a comely boy in form so grand
614 Can you see a flaw in his foot or hand?
615 He wasn't sired by a sap with consumption
616 A worthless tramp, a gander without gumption
617 A formless lump who's riddled with cancer
618 But a lively, powerful, active lancer.
619 It would be such a farce to tie for life
620 This sire of his to only one wife
621 Shapeless, spineless, waistless, sexless
622 Friendless, mindless, loveless, listless
623 To use his seed for only one womb
624 When he could be in many a bedroom.
625 This young lad proves without a lie
626 With his goodly arms and shapely thigh
627 That he's a sapling who was the upshot
628 Of a fevered coupling when the blood was hot.
629 So please don't subject millions, O Queen of the Sky
630 To a stupid rule with which they must comply
631 Awake to a life without a bond or chain
632 The country's people, both mighty and plain
633 Allow them to be naturally combined
634 Couples from the peasantry and the refined.
635 Throughout the land may a new rule unfold
636 Of sexual freedom for young and for old.
637 This new law will make the Irish proud,
638 The new race will once again be endowed
639 With all the prowess of the heroes of old,
640 The likes of Goll mac Móirne the bold.
641 The sky will brighten, the fish will bite
642 The mountainy land will bloom with no blight
643 Men and women will sing your praise
644 And in joyful celebration their voices raise.
End of Part Three
Part Four: The Young Woman Again
The young woman again takes the stand mocking the old man's inability to satisfy his young wife. She advocates forcing young men to marry with the clergy not being exempt from that edict.
645 After the girl had heard his harangue
646 With great impatience, to her feet she sprang,
647 With fire in her eyes on him she gazed
648 And spoke in a voice that was trembling and crazed:-
649 By Craglea's Crown, if I wasn't thinking
650 How your health is failing, your faculties sinking
651 And of the respect that's due to this court
652 With my nails, I'd scratch your face and throat
653 I'd knock you with a mighty crash to the ground
654 And it would long be talked of how often you went down
655 Until I had cut your mortal cord
656 So that across Acheron you were being oared..
657 It's beneath my dignity to answer you straight
658 You sniveling slimeball, your speech's inchoate
659 But I want to inform the worthies of the court
660 Of the horrible life of one above your sort:-
661 She was vulnerable, without cattle or dough
662 Always freezing without heat or a throw
663 Tired of life, astray without direction
664 From pillar to post, with no relative's affection,
665 Without rest or comfort by day or by night
666 Having to beg from strangers her daily bite.
667 This man promised her silver and gold
668 He promised her heat and shelter from cold,
669 A fair share of wealth and milk cows purebred
670 Comfortable nights on a down-covered bed
671 Warm hearths with turf so she wouldn't freeze
672 Thick sod walls to keep out the breeze,
673 Well-secured roofs and doors and windows
674 Wool and linen to weave for clothes
675 'Twas known to the world and to this worm there
676 That not pleasure or warmth or a love affair
677 Drew this pearl of a woman to that block of ice
678 But that a life of want left her without any choice.
679 With him there would be no nights of pleasure
680 With this fat load, dropsical beyond measure;
681 With his leaden sinews and narrow shoulder
682 It was hard to see how the night could get colder.
683 Along with knarly knees and decaying feet
684 His dry sickly body was no young woman's treat.
685 Is there a beauty alive who wouldn't grow old
686 If she were married to a crock so cold
687 Who, even twice a year, didn't have a wish
688 To see if she was a boy, whether flesh or fish?
689 She had this cold bag of bones lying by her side
690 Shriveled and woebegone, impotent, stupefied.
691 Oh! Wouldn't she have loved just once a night
692 A little affection as was her conjugal right.
693 I don't believe people'll think she was to blame
694 That she was an icy and frigid dame
695 This gentle girl with an amorous heart
696 It wasn't in her nature to shirk her part.
697 With a lively lover she wouldn't have quit
698 Once she was lighted, you know she'd stay lit.
699 With the proper partner she'd never take flight
700 Entranced on her back with her eyes shut tight
701 She wouldn't jump with inappropriate fright
702 Attack like a cat or scratch or bite,
703 But lie with him in embrace combined
704 Side by side with legs entwined,
705 Exchanging sweet nothings, little white lies
706 Lips to lips, fingers stroking his thighs.
707 She'd often throw a leg over him in haste,
708 Caress him with her brush from knee to waist
709 But with this one here, she'd tear quilt from his body
710 Seeking to play with that cheerless dogsbody
711 Fondling or embracing didn't stir that beast
712 Tickling his feet didn't help in the least
713 I hate to tell you how she'd spend the night
714 Tossing and turning in her hopeless plight
715 Clasping the linens, to the bed-rail clinging
716 Her body shaking and her sweet lips trembling
717 Till the dawn of the day without a wink of sleep
718 Rocking to and fro in despair deep.
719 This leper speaks of women in casual tones
720 Without life in his loins or strength in his bones
721 If it was a gent with a heavy heart
722 Who had mounted this attack, I might take his part.
723 But is there a fox on the hill or a fish in the mere
724 A hunting eagle or a wandering deer
725 That's so much without sense for a day or a year
726 That it'd go hungry when sustenance is near?
727 Have any of you heard tell, in the west or the east,
728 Of any class or breed or kind of a beast
729 That would search for food where nothing grows
730 And ignore the feast beneath its nose?
731 Answer me, you blackguard, without delay
732 I'd like to hear what you have to say:-
733 When you sup at an inn, is the food less nutritious
734 If others had found the same menu delicious?
735 Is the house weaker, the site less secure
736 If twenty million had inspected it before
737 Does it really bother you, you stiff old prude
738 Are you afraid of scarcity when you're in the mood
739 Do you think it possible, were you to try
740 To drain the Shannon by drinking it dry?
741 To ebb a neap tide with a jug?
742 Or empty the ocean with a mug?
743 Next time, pause before saying what's best unsaid
744 Wrap a cold compress around your head
745 Take a deep breath, don't lose the rag
746 At the thought of women who like to shag
747 If she spent the whole day entertaining all
748 There'd be still enough for you to have a ball.
749 Bejasus, such jealousy could be understood
750 In a strapping, stout-hearted, sterling stud
751 Panting, pushing, pulsing, preening
752 Roistering, romping, rollicking, riproaring
753 A roving rogue, a sensitive searcher
754 A steadfast stalwart, a topnotch thresher
755 Not in an ossified oldster, a grumpy grunt
756 An incompetent idler, a reclusive runt.
757 Now, there's another matter on my mind
758 That should give pause to womankind:
759 Why are they free of the married state
760 All of those priests of our ancient faith.
761 Granted that I might rightly cry and bawl
762 My patience is great, my rage is small
763 That, given how much we need a mate,
764 Those heart-throbs are taken off the plate.
765 It's a pathetic sight for a needy maid
766 To see how well these priest are made
767 Their rosy cheeks, their smiles so bright
768 Their slender waists, their buttocks tight
769 Their beauteous forms, their youth so fresh
770 Their straight bones, their well-fed flesh
771 Their solid torso and steady back
772 Their undoubted strength, their love of the craic
773 They're a welcome guest at the table of the seer
774 They've got silver and gold for whiskey and beer
775 Down for their beds and salt for their food
776 The best of wine to put them in the mood
777 Mostly they're not long past their boyhood
778 And we girls know that they're flesh and blood
779 If I thought they were angels or sexless saints
780 Or sickly creeps, I'd have no complaints
781 But they're lusty youngsters with appetites unsated
782 In a torpid sleep while maids are unmated!
783 Most of these fellows, I truthfully believe,
784 Are lonely Adams asking God for an Eve
785 To be fair, it wouldn't do
786 To hang the lot because of the few
787 Sinking the ship wouldn't be the right plan,
788 Drowning the whole crew to get one man
789 Some have always been a right shower
790 Who are in the priesthood for the power
791 Tough old buzzards without any heart
792 Who think every woman is just a tart.
793 But others are from a different race
794 Full of love and full of grace.
795 Often the well-being of a farm is increased
796 Without just one visit from such a priest.
797 I can recall well their virtues being lauded
798 The number of their good works applauded,
799 I often heard throughout the land
800 A buzz of appreciation for this band,
801 I've seen incontrovertible evidence that many a son
802 Could call a priest a father in more ways than one.
803 Still, it bothers me greatly at the time
804 They spend on women past their prime,
805 While many a woman at best stage in life
806 Is left husbandless when she could be a wife.
807 In Ireland it has been demonstrably cruel
808 The damage that's done by this aimless rule.
809 The trouble, I assert, O Fount of Wisdom
810 Is that clerical celibacy is the bane of Christendom
811 And is nothing if not an abomination.
812 I know I'm blind, I need an explanation
813 Tell us, if you know, the prophets' sayings
814 What were the Lord's apostles' teachings
815 Where is it written that the Creator said
816 That the desires of the flesh shouldn't be fed
817 Paul, in my opinion, never held that a vocation
818 Required abnegation of marriage, just fornication
819 To leave your relations and your parents' house
820 And live for life with your wedded spouse.
821 Of course, it's meaningless for a woman like me
822 To explain the law to your majesty,
823 O Spectral Pearl, you remember well
824 All of the stories that make up the Gospel
825 The meaning of the everlasting word
826 The parables of the Lamb you have heard
827 I give God's married mother as the beau ideal
828 And the prophets':rules promote women's weal.
829 O Ghostly Seer, to you I plead
830 You who're descended of heavenly seed
831 O Glorious Light, O Crown of the Throng
832 Hear my voice and help us along
833 Keep women's plight firmly in your mind
834 The predicament of single womankind.
835 The number of maids, if this system doesn't cease,
836 Will increase and grow like a flock of geese.
837 The smallest mite that you see in the street
838 Dirty urchins that are decrepit and not neat
839 You'd see how they'd improve, if they had for a day
840 Their fill of vegetables, curds and whey;
841 Like a bolt from the blue, all of a sudden
842 Their breasts would grow, they'd blossom and strengthen
843 It wounds my heart and raises my ire
844 And burns my mind with a mass of fire
845 To see so little prospect for much fun
846 With Munstermen outnumbered three to one.
847 Since the area is so poor and impotent
848 So utterly weak in this time so urgent
849 An empty Ireland where wastrels bray
850 And the youth of the country growing grey
851 A long spinsterhood seems a likelihood.
852 If I could find a man, either bad or good
853 I'll cart him straight away to the altar
854 And tie him for life in a conjugal halter.
End of Part four
Part Five: The Judgment and Resolution
Aoibheal issues her judgment on the issues brought before the court. She foretells that priests soon will be allowed to marry and she gives permission for the persecution of recalcitrant bachelors. The poet finds to his horror that he is the first to face the music.
855 The day was dawning out in the street,
856 As Aoibheal rose up from her seat
857 She had a youthful glow on her form and face
858 Her voice was strong and full of grace
859 She clasped her hands and with vehemence
860 Instructed the bailiff to order Silence
861 The whole of the court gradually grew quiet
862 And she spoke these words in a voice so bright-
863 I find lot's of merit in the case you bring
864 It was a hell of a speech, you poor young thing.
865 I see, and it's a sight that's certainly grave,
866 That the descendants of Orla, Maura and Meave
867 Are now sly connivers and spineless creatures
868 Creepy characters and poor alms-seekers
869 The lowliest of the low and the fairly well off
870 Desperately coveting the bloodlines of the toff.
871 These are the laws that will govern from this date:
872 One: He who reaches twenty-one without a mate
873 Shall be dragged off by the hair of his head
874 And tied to a tree there among the dead
875 His coat to be taken and he be made to strip
876 And the daylights beaten out of him with a whip.
877 Two: Those of the men who are old and sick
878 Who shamelessly failed to use their prick
879 And wasted the best years of their youth
880 Without giving pleasure however minute
881 With women willing, they could have had a spree
882 But hung round like Mad Sweeney in the tree
883 The design of their torture to you I entrust,
884 You women of dashed and disappointed lust;
885 Use female ingenuity to plan the details
886 Of a hell of fire and a rack of nails
887 Put your heads together and stay the course
888 I'ill give you the power to put it in force
889 You are free to punish the old men at will
890 In their case, I don't care if you torture or kill.
891 In my commission to you, I don't mind
892 How you treat the oldsters, blighted and blind
893 With their bony bodies and grimacing grins
894 Their lifeless loins and scabrous skins.
895 Three: If the young go about the job of copulation
896 Then my law will protect them from condemnation.
897 I'm grateful when I see working men, sometimes poor
898 Labouring so hard you'd think they'd faint for sure
899 Affectionate with their wives by day and by night
900 Protecting their good name with all their might
901 Standing by their side because it is right
902 To see these guys with kids would be such a delight
903 Four: I heard a rumour that I've kept under wraps-
904 I can't stand women who can't close their traps-
905 Don't be too loud in spreading it around
906 Button the lip, safer to stay underground!
907 Don't push it too hard with the bishops yet
908 That they'll soon be married is a pretty safe bet.
909 The day will come if you're quiet diplomats
910 When the Pope will issue the necessary diktats
911 A commission will examine the country's state
912 And there'll be released to you, free to mate,
913 Priests with fire in their blood and pulsing flesh
914 And the pick of these heart-throbs will fall into your mesh.
915 Five: Anyone else who is of woman born
916 Read him the riot act if he doesn't reform
917 Don't have anything to do with sons of bitches
918 Slovens without honour or Muireanns in britches
919 And Six: Keep on the track of the old greybeards
920 And be sure to clear Ireland of all such weeds.
921 That's it, I must get going, I've appointments to keep,
922 Many a mile to go before I sleep
923 The journey before me won't brook delay
924 Unfinished business here will wait a new day
925 I'll be back, which to some is not good news
926 Those to whom I give the blues;
927 Who burnish their reputations when they spread
928 Stories about girls they've had in bed
929 Who noisily boast having their way with maids
930 So the public will judge them dashing blades
931 It gives these poltroons such a rush to the head
932 To scandalize the young, both single and wed
933 Their motives are not out of concupiscence
934 The desires of the flesh or crazed tumescence
935 The pleasure of the act or fire in the veins
936 But the notoriety that their conduct attains.
937 It's not pursuing enjoyment that excites their senses
938 But the general hullabaloo caused by their offences.
939 Of course, it's all ostentation, exhibitionism and show
940 With no more justification than that a chicken should crow
941 Stumbling, bumbling, impotent, cold
942 They couldn't arouse a woman for silver or gold.
943 I'd deal with these miscreants right now, right here
944 But I'm out of time, have to pack my gear
945 I'll throw the lot of them in the hoosegow
946 When I come back here a month from now.
947 I had observed Aoibheal closely through the night
948 When she finished, I began to feel very uptight
949 I experienced a profound fit of agitation
950 My body paralyzed, my mind in consternation
951 I thought that the ground and the building were shaking
952 And with the import of her words, I was also quaking.
953 The giant bailiff woman strides across the hall
954 When she stuck out that paw, I thought I'd fall.
955 She angrily grabbed me by the lug
956 And to the front of the room, I was drug.
957 There was the babe who was bummed at her fate
958 She clapped her hands, and jumping up straight
959 She fiercely said: You old bag of slime
960 I've had my eye on you for a very long time
961 It's often I urged you, you heartless carrion
962 That it was time for you to think of marrying.
963 Who will speak for you against the indictment?
964 You don't merit one word, you indolent serpent
965 Where is the proof of your amorous labours?
966 Where are the women who appreciate your favours?
967 Let's examine him carefully, O Royal Lady,
968 We won't find on him a disabling malady
969 Give him a once-over, thorough and complete
970 From the top of his head to the soles of his feet.
971 Grant you he's no maiden's prayer
972 But all the essential bits are there.
973 He's too pale for me; I'd prefer him brown,
974 About the cut of his physique-well, I don't frown
975 On people who have a hump on their back-
976 It's often the one with a bod out of whack
977 Who is most proficient at wielding the lance
978 And bandy legs don't tell what's in the pants.
979 Is there a secret nefarious plan
980 That keeps unmarried this aging man
981 Given how he's liked by the lords of the barony
982 And how he lives with other classes in harmony,
983 His single state lets him sport and play
984 Lets him eat and drink and romp all day
985 In the quality's company to dawdle and tarry
986 This shirker who could easily marry
987 Merryman seems a name for a merry man
988 But, in your case, I must say it just doesn't scan
989 A creature like you is not in God's design
990 A gray-haired virgin is not at all divine
991 I'm dying to get you in my grip
992 Your quick lip won't let you give me the slip
993 Your crime is stamped in the lines on your forehead-
994 That you are age thirty and still not wed.
995 Listen to me, O fellow sufferers
996 This guy is one among those who torture us
997 The sorrow that has burdened me down,
998 Girls, I want to take it out on this clown.
999 Help me, I ask you, grab the dope;
1,000 Úna, hurry, fetch me a rope
1,001 Anne, where are you, don't get lost
1,002 Mary, tie his hands to the post
1,003 Muireann, Meave, Shiela and Saiv
1,004 Feel free, go ahead, and skin him alive
1,005 As the fairy lady authorized last night,
1,006 Knot the rope good and tight
1,007 Be generous with the pain that you deal out
1,008 To the ass of Brian, the heartless lout;
1,009 Raise your hands high and lay on the whip
1,010 Use elbow grease to give it some zip
1,011 He deserves no less, cut him deep with each blow
1,012 Flay him evenly from head to toe
1,013 Let the crack of the whip be heard throughout Ireland
1,014 Put the fear of God in the unmarried band.
1,015 This new legislation is such a blast
1,016 We have to record the year it was passed:-
1,017 Figure: one thousand less one hundred and ten
1,018 Leaves eight hundred and ninety which when
1,019 Doubled gives the year Seventeen Eighty
1,020 From which we'll date Year One of our history.
1,021 As she grabbed a pen my head did hang
1,022 In terror of more torture from that gang;
1,023 While she was writing down the date
1,024 Which the court members round her could corroborate
1,025 I woke from my sleep, my pit of despair
1,026 And realized with relief-it was just a nightmare.
Reproduced with permission; Copyright, J. Noel Fahey.