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