Anonymous, Fúbún fúibh, a shluagh Gaoidheal (Fooboon upon you, ye hosts of the Gael)

[Click on image to enlarge] "There is amongst the Irish a certain kind of people called bards, which are to them instead of poets, whose profession is to set forth the praises or dispraises of men in their poems or rhymes, the which are had in so high regard and estimation amongst them, that none dare displease them for fear to run into reproach through their offense, and to be made infamous in the mouths of all men." Edmund Spenser's attitude towards Ireland's bardic class was highly ambivalent, a mixture of dark suspicion and scarcely concealed envy. Like John Derricke, Spenser saw the bards as fomenters of rebellion; through a mixture of flattery and harangue, they spurred their patrons on to make war against the English. Yet what English poet could avoid a twinge of envy when considering the honor and influence which Irish poets enjoyed within their society? As Philip Sidney acknowledged in his Defense of Poesy, "in our neighbor country Ireland, where truly learning goes very bare, yet are their poets held in a devout reverence." For Spenser and Sidney, the contrast with the marginal role accorded to poetry in their own culture can only have been painful.

English observers certainly did not exaggerate the prestige and power of the bards in traditional Gaelic culture. The role of the bard, for which men were prepared by rigorous training in the bardic schools, combined those of poet, historian, and legal arbiter. A qualified bard would generally attach himself to the household of an Irish lord, and his chief duty was to supply poems celebrating his lord's achievements and ancestry, somewhat in the manner of a poet laureate. But the bard was never merely a paid flatterer. His role allowed him a freedom of speech for which there was no parallel in English society and, as Spenser notes, the bards were masters of scornful reproach as well as of praise.

Fúbún fúibh, a shluagh Gaoidheal, the work of an anonymous bard writing in the early 1540s, is remarkable in that it castigates the entire Irish ruling class. The word "fúbún" cannot be directly translated, but it carries the sense of "shame on you." The bard reproaches Ireland's clan leaders for acknowledging the supremacy of England's Henry VIII, who was declared King of Ireland in 1541. At the time, this acknowledgement must have seemed a fairly minor compromise to Gaelic lords secure in their dominance over their own territories. From the perspective of the author of Fúbún fúibh, however, they had effectively signed the death warrant of an ancient culture.

This English version of Fúbún fúibh was published by the Irish scholar and nationalist Douglas Hyde in A Literary History of Ireland (1901). It is a free and vigorous translation, and very much a product of its time. Himself a founding member of the Gaelic League, Hyde clearly aimed to stir the blood of contemporary Irish readers chafing under British rule. Wherever Hyde's translation departs significantly from the original, the hypertext footnotes provide the literal sense. Fúbún fúibh in the original Gaelic is also available online.


Fooboon upon you, ye hosts of the Gael,
      For your own Innisfail has been taken,
And the Gall >> note 1 is dividing the emerald lands
      By your treacherous bands forsaken. >> note 2

Clan Carthy of Munster from first unto last
      Have forsaken the past of their sires,
And they honour no longer the men that are gone,
      Or the song of the God-sent lyres. >> note 3

The O'Briens of Banba whom Murrough led on,
      They are gone with the Saxon aggressor, >> note 4
They have bartered their heirloom of ages away
      And forgotten to slay the oppressor.

The old race of Brian mac Yohy the stern
      With gallowglass, kern, and bonnacht >> note 5
They are down on their knees, they are cringing today
      'Tis the way through the province of Connacht.

In the valleys of Leinster the valorous band
      Who lightened the land with their daring,
In Erin's dark hour now shift for themselves,
      The wolves are upon them and tearing.

And O'Neill, who is throned in Emania afar
      And gave kings unto Tara for ages, >> note 6
For the earldom of Ulster has bartered, through fear,
      The kingdom of heroes and sages.

Alas for the sight! the O'Carrolls of Birr
      Swear homage in terror, sore fearing, >> note 7
Not a man one may know for a man can be found
      On the emerald ground of Erin. >> note 8

And O'Donnell the chieftain, the lion in fight,
      Who defended the right of Tirconnell,
(Ah! now may green Erin indeed go and droop!)
      He stoops with them—Manus O'Donnell!

Fooboon for the court where no English was spoke,
      Fooboon for the court of the stranger,
Fooboon for the gun in the foreigner's train,
      Fooboon for the chain of danger.

Ye faltering madmen, God pity your case!
      In the flame of disgrace ye are singeing.
Fooboon is the word of the bard and the saint,
      Fooboon for the faint and the cringing.

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