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Senchan, Guaire and the mice of Gort -1853

J. H. Todd and Eugene Curry

Field Mouse
Photo: Reg McKenna
Wikimedia Common

Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1836 – 1869), Vol.5 (1850-1853), pp. 355-366;
(abridged excerpt from On Rhyming Rats to Death )

On the death of Dallan Forgaill, the chief ollave, or poet of Erinn, about A.D. 600, Senchan Torpest, a distinguished poet of Connacht, was selected to pronounce the defunct bard’s funeral oration, and was subsequently elected to his place. Senchan formed his establishment of bardic officers and pupils on a larger scale than had been known since the revision of the bardic institution at the great meeting of Dromceat, some twenty years previously. As chief poet, he was entitled to make visitation with his retinue, of any of the provinces and to be entertained at the court of the provincial kings. The honour of being so visited was sought for with pride and satisfaction by the kings of Ireland.
Senchan, having consulted with his people, decided on giving the distinguished preference of their first visitation to his own provincial king, Guaire the Hospitable, king of Connacht. They were received hospitably and joyfully at the king’s palace, at the place now called Gort, in the county of Galway. During the sojourn of Senchan at Gort, his wife, Bridget, on one occasion, sent him a portion of a certain favourite dish. Senchan was not in his apartment when the servant arrived there; but the dish was left there, and the servant returned to her mistress. On Senchan’s return, he found the dish and, eagerly examining it, was sadly disappointed at seeing it contained nothing but a few fragments of gnawed bones.

Shortly after, the same servant returned for the dish, and Senchan asked what its contents had been. The maid explained it to him, and the angry poet threw an unmistakeable glance of suspicion on her. She, under his gaze, at once asserted her own innocence, stating that as no person could have entered the apartment from the time she left until he returned to it, the dish must have been emptied by mice.
Senchan believed the girl’s account and vowed that he would make the mice pay for their depredations, and he composted a metrical satire on them;

Mice, though sharp their snouts,
Are not powerful in battles;
I will bring death on the party
For having eaten Bridget’s present.

Small was the present she made us,
Its loss to her was not great,
Let her have payment from us in a poem,
Let her not refuse the poet’s gratitude!

You mice, which are in the roof of the house,
Arise all of you and fall down.

And thereupon ten mice fell dead on the floor from the roof of the house, in Senchan’s presence. And Senchan said to them: “It was not you that should have been satirized, but the race of cats, and I will satirize them.” And Senchan then pronounced a satire, but not a deadly one, on the chief of the cats of Erinn, who kept his princely residence in the cave of Knowth, near Slane, n the County of Meath.

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St. Patrick – Baal’s Fire – 1852

Hymn of St. Patrick

Hill of Tara
Photo: Alison Cassidy
Wikimedia Commons

The Catholic Layman Vol. 1, No. 2 (Feb. 1852), pp. 16-18

In the year 433 St. Patrick preached at Tara before Leogaire (or Laoghaire), then the supreme monarch of Ireland, on the celebrated hill of Tara, in the county of Meath, the chief residence of the Irish kings from the first establishment of a monarchical government in this country. The national convention or parliament was then assembled in that place, for the celebration of the great national festival of Tara, called “Baal’s fire.” The force with which St. Patrick urged upon them the truths of the Gospel, was such that, according to some accounts, the king himself became a convert to Christianity, and great multitudes of his subjects, including Dubtach, the arch-poet of the kingdom, and Conall, the King’s brother, soon followed his example. Whatever may have been the immediate effect, the preaching of St. Patrick before King Leogaire at Tara, is one of those facts on which all authorities concur.

On Easter Eve, St. Patrick arrived in the evening at a place called Ferta-fer-feic, now Slane. Having got a tent pitched there, he made preparations for celebrating the festival of Easter, and accordingly lighted the paschal fire about night-fall. It happened that at this very time the King Leogaire and the assembled princes were celebrating a religious festival, of which fire-worship formed a part. There was a standing law that at the time of this festival, no fire should be kindled for a considerable distance all around, until after a great fire should be lighted in the royal palace of Temoria, on Tara. St. Patrick’s paschal fire was, however, lighted before that of the palace, and being seen from the heights of Tara, excited great astonishment. On the king’s inquiring what could be the cause of it, and who could have thus dared to infringe the law, the Magi told him that it was necessary to have that fire extinguished immediately, whereas, if allowed to remain, it would get the better of their fires, and bring about the downfall of his kingdom. Leogaire, enraged and troubled on getting this information, set out for Slane, with a considerable number of followers, and one or two of the principal Magi, for the purpose of exterminating those violators of the law. It was immediately before, and in anticipation of the imminent peril in which he was placed when approaching the stronghold of his Pagan enemies, that a remarkable hymn was composed by St. Patrick, and is said to have been sung by him and his followers as a defence against the plots that beset his path. It is familiarly known by the name of “St. Patrick’s Armour” (Lorica Patricii) and is obviously a prayer for protection from the incantations of his Druidical opponents, who were determined on his destruction. And this is a religious armour to protect the body and soul against demons, and man, and vices.
The hymn is recorded in the celebrated M.S. Liber Hymnorum, preserved in the library of Trinity College Dublin. It is written in that ancient dialect of the Irish in which the Brehon laws, and the oldest tracts in the language are written.

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Those olden days – 1875

Wexford People 18th September, 1875 p.8

The youthful comrades whom we loved, can we forget then? Never!
The heartfelt pressure of each hand remains with us forever.
Though many a mile of sea and land since then our paths may sever.
Can we forget those olden days? No, comrades, never! Never!

Some east and west, some north and south have drifted o’er life’s ocean,
Yet looking back at those fond days each heart throbs with emotion;
Though we be sundered far for years, perhaps, indeed, for ever,
Can we forget those olden days? No, comrade, never, never!

Some gained the rugged hill of fame, while some are toiling lowly;
Their hearts, though withered up, are filled with aspirations holy,
Shall we look coldly down on those who failed in life’s endeavour?
I hear each friendly voice ring out, “No, comrades, never! Never!”

Then here, old comrade take my hand; we’ll drain a glass together.
We care not for the want of wealth, nor troubles heed a feather.
We pledge our comrades in this cup, and wish them joy for ever.
Can we forget those olden days? No, comrades, never! Never!