DÚCHAS: The Duhallow Historical Journal: Volume 1, 2022.


DÚCHAS: The Duhallow Historical Journal: Volume 1, 2022.

The Cullen Pipe Band, Saint Lateeran, Gofraidh Fionn, and Some Other Duhallow Matters.

I think we can fairly say that one of the continuing strengths of Irish culture is local history. Curiosity about places, and their associated people and peoples, keeps a multitude of local groups and societies going. These bodies hold occasional public lectures and events and often produce an annual journal. In West Cork alone, I can think of at least eight local societies that produce or have recently produced such a journal: Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Rosscarbery, Bandon, Mizen, Castlehaven, Bantry, Kilbrittain. There is also an O’Mahony Journal, that far-flung family being mainly West Cork-rooted, and maybe others worthy of mention.

Local historical societies can encourage the gathering of interesting and valuable information, often about people and events that have more than a local interest. Sometimes they can get the best from academic historians; at other times they can act as a check and a challenge to such historians and officially-sponsored documentarists, when they let their biases run away from them. Here of course I must mention the Aubane Historical Society, North Cork-based but known to make forays to Skibbereen, and, like the great poet whose poems it published lately (Gofraidh Fionn Ó Dálaigh), having both a local and an Ireland-wide perspective.

I would say that chas, the new Duhallow Historical Journal, has emerged in an energy field that Aubane created. Aubane is special, after all; it’s no surprise if other people decided there was need for a more conventional kind of Duhallow historical journal. But the energy of Aubane is seen, for example (if I’m not mistaken), first of all in the handsome Gaelic script used for the Irish version of the preface, and more generally in the temper and tone that is largely maintained throughout the issue, and which seems to put even contributors who are often otherwise inclined in their most positive and constructive mood.

There are various articles in the journal about local writings, from the oghams through Gofraidh Fionn through the poets/scribes of the 17th/18th/19th centuries, to J. G. O’ Keeffe and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington (about mid-20th century). The articles on Sheehy Skeffington (by Margaret Ward) and “The War of Independence: the fighting men of Donoughmore” (by Eamonn Duggan) are without frivolous academic nonsense, serious in tone and informative. There’s an interesting autobiographical piece by a recent immigrant from South Africa (Samantha Kay Sobotker Meyer), resourcefully finding her bearings in Duhallow. Pádraig Ó Riain, though a senior academic, takes the trouble to write accessibly about the local saints; however, the content of what he writes is another matter — not everyone will be happy with the account he gives of the most interesting Duhallow saint, the formidable and fiery Saint Latiaran (but more about this in due course).

Two of the articles (by Dónal Ó Catháin and Pádraig Ó Súilleabháin) are written in Irish, and two others address, respectively, the language shift in Knocknagree at the turn of the twentieth century (Aogán Ó hIarlaithe) and the learning of Irish at the present time (Máire Ní Iarlaithe). Opening the volume with some thoughts on “Changing names, cultures and populations in Duhallow”, Bernard O’Donoghue of Cullen and University of Oxford comes round to Douglas Hyde and the lecture he gave in 1892 on The Necessity of de-Anglicising Ireland. Hyde, he observes, explained “that this was not ‘a protest against imitating what is best in the English people, for that would be absurd, but rather to show the folly of neglecting what is Irish’. This prescribes roughly what happened generally in Duhallow in this past generation. I suppose any reduction in the variety of the social mix is a loss. But Hyde’s ideal has been fulfilled in ways he would not have dared to hope. The ambitions for the restoration of the Irish language … had some considerable success. But the regaelicising of Ireland made spectacular progress in the later twentieth century in the field of music, and Duhallow and Sliabh Luachra were at the celebrated centre of that”.

The outstanding article in the issue is by Con Houlihan on “The History of Cullen Pipe Band”. This is local history at its best; effective use is made of local poetry and political and sporting context while telling this very rich tale (there is even Elizabethan context: when Donncha Ó Dualaing in 1987 re-enacted Dónal Cam O’Sullivan Beare’s march from West Cork to Leitrim, as he crossed the Blackwater near Millstreet he was serenaded by the Band, “positioned on the Cullen side of the river”).

The local, all-Ireland and international doings of the Band are told with lively detail. “As part of attempts to improve North-South relations in Ireland, McNeillstown Pipe Band, from Portglenone, Co. Antrim, came to Cullen on 5 April 1997… Memorable events (in 2001) included a parade on 5th Avenue six months before the fall of the Twin Towers…In 2003, one of our pipers, Margaret Houlihan, became the first ever woman in the world to win an A-grade major solo piping event.”

One can’t really call this a warts-and-all portrait because there are not many warts, but the midnight parade must be mentioned: “One of the band’s first outings was an ill-considered midnight parade in Cullen. As most of the members were farmers, practice would not normally start until around 10 p.m., after the day’s work had been finished. One evening, with great progress being made in a session in Dinneen’s hall, one bright spark suggested they play up through the village. Completely oblivious to the fact that midnight was approaching, they played up and down Cullen. Every dog in the place began to howl and every sleeping child woke up crying. The following morning,…” (readers can imagine the rest).

The editor observes that “both local authors and university academics were invited to contribute” to this first issue. A danger for a journal like this is that it may sink under a weight of academic tedium. Even Pádraig Ó Súilleabháin, who begins well (freely using the Aubane edition of Gofraidh Fionn), needs to be warned about this. However, having brought his account of the Irish-language writers down to about 1900, in the next episode he will quickly come to the stonemason Domhnall Ó Conchubhair,  author among other things of a lament for Parnell and a poem on Latiaran and Lasair and Inghean Bhaoith, the three sister-saints of Duhallow, and these ought to give the account a further boost.

Latiaran was the saint who every day used to come to the forge in Cullen and take a burning ember in a fold of her dress, which would not be damaged in the slightest, to start the fire in her cell. One day the smith praised her lovely white feet, and Latiaran, falling into the sin of vanity, looked down at them, and… Ó Conchobhair’s poem is good, especially when he gets to the forge scene, but the finest poem on the topic is surely Mangan’s The Romance of Lateeran (republished in The Dubliner: the Lives, Times and Writings of James Clarence Mangan by Brendan Clifford). The first verse is as follows:

Long ages since at Cullen, lived a smith, morose and sullen,

Yet his forge was still a full one, with good work;

His fire was always glowing, and his bellows loudly blowing,

And his cloud of smoke still showing, thick and murk.

(Incidentally, in a book called The Rambles and Reveries of an Art Student in Europe, author not given, published in Philadelphia in 1855, Edgar Allen Poe is accused of having plagiarised several of his metres from Mangan (pp. 38-40). Specifically, he is accused of taking the metre of Lateeran unacknowledged for his world-famous The Raven! I  don’t know whether this is true, but it is certain that when Poe said no one else in the world had ever done anything like his Raven, he was wrong.)

Pádraig Ó Riain, as mentioned earlier, takes some pains to write so that non-specialists can read him. But some local commentators may criticise him harshly for not offering even a verse from the marvellous Mangan, and for mentioning Domhnall Ó Conchubhair only in a footnote. Ó Riain says that name Latiaran is derived from Lugh-tighearn, “Lord Lugh”, namely Lugh the long-armed god of the Tuatha Dé Danaan, and celebration of the saint’s feast-day (now July 24) may once have been connected with the old celebration of the feast of Lugh-nasadh at the beginning of August.

The pre-Christian Lord Lugh, in other words, has been christianly adopted as a Saint Lady Lugh. But why the sex change? And is this why the name is distorted? Or could it be embarrassment about origins? Hardly that, because there happens to be a male Saint Luchtighern, connected with the Tomfinlough church in Clare (and he also has connections with the Killeedy region bordering Duhallow), who has kept his name undistorted to the present day. Saint Lord Lugh — quite openly: that’s how much Gaelic Christianity was at ease with its pre-Christian heritage!

I had no idea of what Latiaran could possibly mean until I got to the forge scene in Ó Conchobhair’s poem, where the smith flatters her   and she looks down at her lovely white feet, whereupon the ember held in her dress burns through the cloth, she screams in horror, apologises to God, and then confronts the smith:

“A Ṫaiḋg ṁill-iarainn, mo ċiaċ! mo ċráiḋteaċt!

Mar ṫarla riaṁ fá iaḋ do ċeardċan;

Mar ḋearcas rem ré ṫú, ’ sméirle ċiar-ḋuiḃ,

Mar ċloiseas do ċlaon-ṗus bréagaċ briaṫraċ!

“You, Tadhg Ruin-Iron! My sorrow! My scourge,

that ever I came through the door of your forge;

that ever I saw you, you swarthy black rogue,

or listened to lies in your false-mouthed brogue!”

The first great English propagandist who concerned himself with Ireland, Giraldus Cambrensis, professed to be shocked at the vindictiveness of the Irish saints. — Well, they tended not to turn the other cheek, that’s true. Latiaran continued:

Ní call dom mallaċt ná eascaine ġuiḋe ḋuit,

Tá daor-ḃreiṫ ċeana is geasa dá ḋruim ort,

Gan staon, gan strus, aḃfus ná ṫall ort!

Gan séan, gan slioċt, gan sult ná greann duit!

Gan ċaraid, gan ċéile, ná aon tsaġas áruis!

Aċ aindeis’ an tsaoġail ’n aġaiḋ an lae ag g’ḃáil duit!

Seo tuilleaḋ a ċuirim i dtuigsint ’s i gcéill duit,

Ná leoṁfaiḋ duine dá ċliste ded ċéird-se

Cur suas san ionad ’nar scuiris na grásta

Óm anam-sa, ’ ċuirpṫiġ ċuiriciġ ċáimiġ,

Ná úird dá mbualaḋ, ná fuaim inneona,

Ní cloisfear go huain Lae ’n Luain sa treo san!”

I need not condemn you or call down a curse:

the judgment upon you cannot be made worse —

no rest, no support, and no peace upon earth,

no luck, no descendants, no fun and no mirth!

No friend and no wife, not a house nor a bed,

but all the world’s miseries heaped on your head!

And furthermore, this let me clearly explain:

no man of your trade will dare ever again

to establish his forge where you scattered the grace

from my soul, you corrupted and wicked scab-face!

No sledge will be struck and no anvil will sound

till Doomsday — not here or the district around!”

When I saw how the saint addressed the smith, A Ṫaiḋg ṁill-iarainn    “Tadhg Ruin of Iron”, it struck me what the first part of her own name, Lat / iaran or Lait / iaran ought to mean. Surely this is a variant of the Irish word lot or loit, which according to Dinneen means: “act of spoiling, impairing, ruining, injuring, wounding; harm, damage, destruction”. Whatever her pre-Christian form (and like her sister Lasair, meaning “flame”, she was surely a fiery being), and whatever the circumstances of her transformation, it appears that Latiaran in her Christian manifestation is Saint Ruin-Iron, who will not let the trade of smith be practised in her domain. 

I am not claiming this as some kind of discovery! I don’t think I’m the first, or the thousand and first, person to interpret the name like this. (Domhnall Ó Conchobhair did so, I believe, and he has signalled as much to his listeners or readers.) Maybe Pádraig Ó Riain would not accept this obvious derivation. But it cannot have failed to occur to him (in passing he notes how Gobnait of Ballyvourney has a name connected with gabha, “smith”), yet he never mentions or discusses it.

Ó Riain, however, has made a genuine effort to communicate. We now come to an academic who has made no effort at all: Dónal Ó Catháin, author of an extensive article on Gofraidh Fionn (Gofraidh Fionn Ó Dálaigh — ‘Ard-Ollamh Ereann le dán’). When I read this article first I was puzzled, because right at the beginning he mentions my own book in a footnote. He then proceeds to the question of Gofraidh Fionn’s descent.

Ó Catháin notes that Gofraidh himself claimed to be descended from a poet called Dálach, who was himself a pupil of the master poet, and afterwards important saint, Colmán Mac Léinín of Cloyne. And Ó Catháin then proceeds to state, in so many words, that this testimony is in conflict with the various genealogies which say that the Uí Dhálaigh of all Ireland are derived from a certain Dálach of the Meath/Westmeath Uí Dhálaigh line, who lived much later:

“Ní aontaíonn fianaise an dáin leis na ginealaigh éagsúla, áfach, ina ndeirtear gur shíolraigh Dálaigh uile na hÉireann ó Dhálach mac Fhachtna, duine de shliocht Mhaine, a mhair i bhfad ina dhiaidh sin. Tharlódh gur scríobhaí den ainm sin ó Dhíseart Tola i gContae na Mí a bhí i gceist”. (Dúchas, p. 41).

Now, the fact is that in my edition of Gofraidh Fionn I leave this idea in ruins, beyond repair. There are NO genealogies which say that the Uí Dhálaigh of all Ireland are descended from anyone in particular! The most comprehensive genealogical writer, Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh, says nothing about Gofraidh Fionn’s people, the Uí Dhálaigh of Munster. Those who do say something about the Uí Dhálaigh of Munster (specifically the compilers of the Book of Munster) identify them as an early offshoot from the royal line of the MacCarthys, which is compatible with the testimony of Gofraidh Fionn.

In an appendix to Poems to the English / Dán na nGall I say all this rather plainly. People who choose to write on this topic need to engage with my evidence! Ó Catháin professes to have engaged with me, because he quotes the relevant pages of my book, and then he says dismissively that I haven’t taken account of An Leabhar Donn (a somewhat earlier source than those I quote): “Ní chuirtear fianaise an Leabhair Dhoinn san áireamh sa phlé sin, áfach” (p. 42).

This is a case of a man who can’t be bothered to know what he’s talking about. Because, if he ever chances to look at the relevant columns of An Leabhar Donn (the Institute of Advanced Studies has put them online  — Royal Irish Academy Manuscript 23 Q 10, folio 36 recto, column 5, and folio 36 verso, column 1), he will find they’re exactly what Mac Fhirbhisigh has, with minor variants. Once again there is no claim to trace the Uí Dhálaigh of all Ireland, just “muintear Dhálaigh”. The main line of the northern Uí Dhálaigh is traced at length, then the two Bréifne lines, and some details are given about key ancestors. Nothing whatever about Munster.

I couldn’t work out what Ó Catháin thought he was doing, until I checked out a PhD thesis of his that he cites, on the Munster Geraldines as patrons and authors of Irish literature (Gearaltaigh Dheasmhumhan mar Phatrúin agus mar Údair i Réimse Léann agus Litríocht na Gaeilge). This thesis was completed in UCG in 2016. And one finds that his article in Dúchas consists of chunks of his PhD thesis, reproduced verbatim.

It was doubtless annoying to find that the line of argument in an opening section of what he wished to recycle had been destroyed in a recently-published book. What are we to do about that? Well, we can try putting up a bold front, pretending it hasn’t happened!

I must say, though, that Ó Catháin has refrained from transferring to Dúchas the most absurd idea in his thesis, his own original contribution to the mountain of nonsense about the ancestry of Gofraidh Fionn. This is where he says there is extra evidence in a poem of Gofraidh’s (Tá fianaise áirithe breise le fail ó fhilíocht eile Ghofraidh…, thesis, p. 183) that he is related to the Westmeath Uí Dhálaigh. The so-called evidence is as follows: Gofraidh tells us that his grandfather was called Tadhg; there was a Westmeath-branch poet called Aonghus Ó Dálaigh, who died in 1309, and whose father was Tadhg; therefore… this Aonghus could be Gofraidh’s father!!!

The limits of disrespect for the professional knowledge and personal self-respect of Gofraidh Fionn, the poet who composed A Cholmáin mhóir mhic Léinín, could hardly stretch farther than that. Ó Catháin, to be fair to him, doesn’t understand this. He is so proud of his absurd notion that on the next page of the thesis (p. 184) he sets it out in a genealogical diagram. But the readers of Dúchas have been spared this idea and this diagram, which makes me think that perhaps after all I have had some limited influence for good.

Earlier in the thesis Ó Catháin has a section on the remarkable Gearóid Iarla (Gerald, 3rd Earl of Desmond), who is credited with composing about 40 poems in Irish. Here is one of the most fascinating and intriguing figures in Irish literature, above all of the literature subsequent to the English invasion. He needs to be considered together with Gofraidh Fionn, and I have a lot to say about him in my Gofraidh Fionn edition. Ó Catháin has a couple of sentences that leap out on page 172:

Cé nach bhfuil filíocht Ghearóid ar ardchaighdeán Ghofraidh Fhinn, mar shampla, is léir óna chuid filíochta go raibh oiliúint nár bheag faighte aige mar fhile Gaelach agus gur chaith sé dua áirithe leis an oiliúint sin. Mar a dúradh thuas, áfach, i gcás Gearóid, cé gurb é a chumas mar fhile a bhíonn á phlé ag scoláirí de ghnáth, go minic ní luann siad an ghné is tábhachtaí de shaol fileata Ghearóid .i. go raibh fear dá stádas san ag cumadh filíochta in aon chor sa cheathrú haois déag.

(“Though Gearóid’s poetry is not on the high level of Gofraidh Fionn’s, for example, it is clear from his poetry that he had received considerable training as a Gaelic poet and that he had made some hard effort as a trainee. As we said above, however, in Gearóid’s case, though his poetic ability is what scholars usually discuss, often they never mention the most important aspect of Gearóid’s life as a poet, i.e. that a man of his status was composing poetry at all in the 14th century.”)

Here the man is beginning to think! If he had kept firm hold of these insights and built upon them, he could have produced a very valuable piece of work. Unfortunately, Ó Catháin was in manifest terror of the academic authorities, and his intelligence remained caged. Neither with Gearóid Iarla nor with Gofraidh Fionn can he make real personal contact. Working with a narrow idea of patronage (and failing to understand that the poet, and not just a major poet like Gofraidh Fionn, always had a far wider perspective than the patron), Ó Catháin spends much time trying to figure out who Gofraidh might mainly have been “working for”. In the end, he’s reduced to saying that Gofraidh clearly had various patrons and that he spent much of his life going from patron to patron: “Is léir go raibh pátrúin éagsúla ag Gofraidh agus gur chaith sé cuid mhaith dá shaol ag dul ó phátrún go pátrún” (Thesis, p. 198).

From all I can see, Ó Catháin has managed to miss the obvious fact that a poet of this calibre (above all when he had the rank of “Chief Professor of Poetry in Ireland”) had to keep a school. And the school had to have a fixed abode. It could not be with the MacCarthys of Kerry at one moment, next month or next year with the O’Briens of Thomond, after that with the FitzGeralds of Limerick, and so forth. The school would have been stable.

Gofraidh’s school would have been in Duhallow, near Clara, the hill that he says he never abandoned. This was O’Keeffe territory, and the O’Keeffes would have remained his primary patrons. However, during the very long school holiday periods (longer even than the universities have nowadays) he would certainly have visited other patrons and possibly stayed for extended periods with some of them. But no patron would ever have had Gofraidh’s mind “in his pocket”. He was a member of a great all-Ireland order of men of art whose roots went back beyond Christianity, and he was aware of the fact. (His awareness is shown, for example, in his elegy for his son Eoghan, where he compares his own sorrow to that of the famous druid Cathbhadh and remarks on an conċlann ḟear n-ealaḋan, “the likeness of men of art”.)

In summary, the editors of Dúchas need to find a way of telling their academic contributors: please, do NOT recycle your PhD thesis verbatim! By all means mine it for information and ideas, but recast the expression completely to communicate with a wider audience. Academic authors might also be encouraged to engage in some degree with ambitious recent works on their topics, not just pretend they don’t need to be noticed. Such pressures on someone like Dónal Ó Catháin can do nothing but good. However, I must end by recalling once again the excellent articles on the Cullen Pipe Band and other matters, and wishing well to Dúchas, this promising newcomer in the local history field.


“The finest poems can also be personal and passionate, and subtle, and in Gofraidh’s hands, the craft soars above the corset of form.” Book review: These poems display a profound Gaelic realm An excerpt from the cover of Gofraidh Fionn Ó Dálaigh: Poems to the English / Dán na nGall by John Minahane Gofraidh Fionn Ó Dálaigh: Poems to the English / Dán na nGall John Minahane.The Aubane Historical Society,  €25 pb €35, hbISBN: 978-1-903497-92-0 GOFRAIDH Fionn O’Dálaigh (1300-1387) from Ballydaly near Millstreet was for hundreds of years the most respected bard in Ireland and a new book of some of his poems with translations by Slovakian- based lecturer John Minahane gives us a window into the Gaelic way of life which is little understood today.