Saturday 16 December 2017

Poetry - Ulick O'Connor: Gained in translation

Ulick O'Connor
Ulick O'Connor

Ulick O'Connor

I first heard Eugene O'Curry's most famous translation from the Irish of 'Do You Remember That Night' recited by an American entrepreneur, J Patrick Lannan, at a party in his own splendid mansion on 475 Park Avenue, New York.

Lannan was a friend of mine and was charmed to meet with someone who loved to hear Irish poetry recited. He was always looking for good translations in English so that he could introduce his American friends to the magic of Celtic art. O'Curry (who died 155 years ago this month) would become essential to the growth of the Celtic Renaissance, providing a unique blend of knowledge and understanding of Gaelic literature. This was recognised when he was made a professor of Irish History and Archaeology in the newly formed Catholic University of Ireland in 1851.

I can think of no figure who had a greater influence on the success of the Irish Literary Renaissance than O'Curry. His unique translations from the Gaelic language made it available to a public who would otherwise have remained unaware of the dazzling beauty of the verse before them.


Do you remember that night

That you were at the window,

With neither hat nor gloves,

Nor coat to shelter you;

I reached out my hand to you,

And you ardently grasped it,

And I remained in converse with you

Until the lark began to sing?

O beloved of my inmost heart,

Come some night, and soon,

When my people are at rest,

That we may talk together;

My arms shall encircle you,

While I relate my sad tale

That it is your pleasant, soft converse

That has deprived me of heaven.

(translated by Eugene O'Curry, 1796-1862)

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