Saturday, March 05, 2011

Ancient Incantation of Amhairghin Glúngheal

Creathlach naomhóige - the wooden frame of the Kerry currach or naomhóg,.
Ireland is wild land and an ancient and misty one at that, too, often befogged both literally and metaphorically.  That literal befogging causes death as is evidenced by the recent air crash at Cork Airport which claimed six lives (Fog claims Six), while the metaphorical befogging refers to her conflicted identity or identities.  She is a land that has both repulsed and embraced her invaders.  She is also a land of mystery and mystique.  She is both beguiling and alluring.  She is a land of contradictions, of unpredictable weather, yet always one where welcome is extended to any stranger - tír an chéad míle fáilte.  She is most especially the land of poem and song, of incantations, most ancient and most new.

Often when I travel to west of Ireland, whether to Galway or Donegal, or Kerry I feel as if the rugged landscape and the powerful seascape are both calling to the ancient Gaelic soul in me, calling to me literally in the sounds or in the song of the very elements.  It is with that firmly in the background that the ancient poem named in my title comes to my mind.

"Amergin" is the word as it has been written most recently in English, but the actual spelling of this name is "Amhairghin". It means "Birth of Song," or as an Dochtúir Daithí Ó hÓgáin puts it: "song-conception." (Myth, Legend and Romance, Prentice Hall Press, 1991, p 23)  According to legend, Amhairghin was one of the leaders of the "Men of Míl", or the Milesians, as they were commonly known to us pupils at school, who battled against the Tuatha Dé Danann (or the Fairy Clan) for possession of Ireland.  This ancient Song of Amergin is a self-claiming by Amergin of this island, as well as a challenge to the Tuatha Dé Danann, who were considered to be the gods. The poet, who sings this song like a priest or druid, invokes the powers of the Land here upon first stepping ashore in Ireland. With the strong incantatory words of this poem, Amergin claims the elements of Ireland. 

Surf at Dún Chaoin, Co. Chiarraí, Samhradh, 2005
Amhairghin Glúngheal literally means Amhairghin the Bright-kneed and he appears in the pseudo-history of Ireland as one of the foremost of Mil's sons and is the one who leads the Gaelic people in their invasion of Ireland.  The role assigned to him makes him the most important of the invaders, for he is the first of them to touch the soil of Ireland.  As Amhairghin first lands, he recites a great mystical rhetoric in which he exults in being a poet, claiming to be at one with the whole environment.  He is wind, sea, bull, hawk, dewdrop, flower, boar, salmon, lake and hill, and he further claims to be the point of a warrior's weapon and "a god who fashions inspiration in the head."  The composition is really an argument, according to Dr. Ó hÓgáin, by the professional poets of medieval Ireland for social primacy, but there is also an echo of ancient ritual concerning the metamorphic power of seer-poets called the Find. (See Ibid., 24)
Gaelic Version
Am gaeth i m-muir
Am tond trethan
Am fuaim mara
Am dam secht ndirend
Am séig i n-aill
Am dér gréne
Am cain lubai
Am torc ar gail
Am he i l-lind
Am loch i m-maig
Am brí a ndai
Am gái i fodb fras feochtu
Am dé delbas do chind codnu
Coiche nod gleith clochur slébe
Cia on co tagair aesa éscai
Cia du i l-laig fuiniud gréne
Cia beir buar o thig tethrach
Cia buar tethrach tibi
Cia dám, cia dé delbas faebru a ndind ailsiu
Cáinte im gai, cainte gaithe.

English Version
I am the wind on the sea
I am the stormy wave
I am the sound of the ocean
I am the bull with seven horns
I am the hawk on the cliff face
I am the sun's tear
I am the beautiful flower
I am the boar on the rampage
I am the salmon in the pool
I am the lake on the plain
I am the defiant word
I am the spear charging into battle
I am the god who put fire in your head
Who made the trails through stone mountains
Who knows the age of the moon
Who knows where the setting sun rests
Who took the cattle from the house of the war crow
Who pleases the war crow's cattle
What bull, what god created the mountain skyline
The cutting word, the cold word.

The line Am dé delbas do chind codnu appeals to this author here or as it is translated above: I am the god who put fire in your head because it is about the creative inspiration behind any culture worth its salt.  Dr. Daithí Ó hÓgáin presents us with a different, but equally strong rendition of this line in English, "I am a god who fashions inspiration in the head."  While much negativity may be poured on the heads of certain contemporary Irishmen (I use men purposely here, for our leaders are and have been mostly men) for bringing about our economic ruin - and rightly and liberally may such scorn be poured - we still remain a nation of great writers, poets, dramatists, novelists, musicians and artists and indeed we produce them above and beyond the international average.  We may, with both pleasure and a healthy pride bathe in the warmth of this fire in our heads! Am dé delbas do chind codnu!!!! 

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