Wednesday 29 January 2020

Poetry - Ulick O'Connor: Behan and a lonely isle

Ulick O'Connor
Ulick O'Connor

Ulick O'Connor

Brendan Behan loved the Irish language with a roaring passion. When he used to talk in Irish, a smile would come on his face if he found someone who could talk back. It's not generally known that the majority of his good poetry, and it was good, was written in Gaelic. He felt he could cross words better in his native tongue.

The Great Blasket Island, off the coast of Kerry, had been Behan's favourite place in the whole country and he went whenever he could. He was fascinated with the silence he found there, and the magic atmosphere of isolation that it brought him, cut off from the mainland and its English speakers.

When I went to write his biography, I translated a number of Brendan's poems into English. Of course, they lost something in the language change but I think the result was worth doing to show his magnificent gift.

The last person left the Blasket Islands over 60 years ago. Brendan felt he had to pay a tribute to it in his native tongue. The next step was for me to translate so that it could be read by everyone. So here it is.

A Jackeen says goodbye to the Blaskets

The great sea under the setting sun gleams like a glass,

Not a sail in sight, no living person to see it pass

Save the last golden eagle, hung on the edge of the world,

Over the lonely Blasket resting, his wings unfurled.

Yes, the sun's at rest now and shadows thicken the light,

A rising moon gleams coldly through the night,

Stretching thin fingers down the quivering air,

On desolate, deserted dwellings, pitifully bare.

Silent save for birds' wings clipping the foam,

Heads on breast, they rest content, grateful to be home.

The wind lifts lightly, setting the half-door aslope,

On a famished hearth without heat, without protection, without hope.

Brendan Behan 1923-1964

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