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Seán Ó Neachtain

Seán Ó Neachtain


Seán Ó Neachtain (1640/50-1728)

One of the most illustrious sons of Drum was a man born in Clonellan (Cluain Oileáin) in 1640/50, the poet Seán Ó Neachtain, one of the major literary figures of his day. As a young man he migrated to Leinster where he worked as a "spailpín" (i.e. an itinerant labourere). While there he married the daughter of his employer, a girl named Winifred Nangle, but it is not known whether or not he returned to Roscommon at this time. On the death of his wife he married a woman named Una Ne Bhrian by whom he had three children, Tadhg, Lucas and Anna. He settled eventually in Meath where he was employed as a schoolmaster. Edward O'Reilly in his catalogue of Irish authors tells us that Seán Ó Neachtain was living in Meath in 1715 and that he was an aged man at this time. The evidence that Ó Neachtain was a Roscommon man comes from two sources; the evidence of his son Tadhg and that of Brian O'Fearrgall, another Roscommon author. Seán Ó Neachtain wrote exclusively in prose in addition to poetry and was by all accounts an extremely learned man with a deep knowledge of nature that is amply illustrated in his poetry. Douglas Hyde, a fellow poet and Roscommon man has this to say of his poetry:

"One of the earliest writers of Jacobite poetry, and perhaps the most voluminous man letters of his time amongst the native Irish was Seán Ó Neachtain"...

Douglas Hyde described Ó Neachtain's elegy on Mary D'Este widow of James II as one of the "most musical pieces I have ever seen, even in Irish". An example is given below:

Slow cause of my fear
No pause to my tear
The brighest and whitest
Low lies on her bier
Fair islets of green
Rare sight to be seen
Both highlands and islands
There sigh for the queen.

Sources: Mil na hEigse, Risteard O'Foghludha (1945); Roscommon Authors, Helen Maher (1978).

The above article was written by Mícheál Macken for 'Drum - Past and Present', a booklet presented by Annette Durney in aid of Drum Community Centre in 1985. The following poem and translation was also published in the same booklet.

A poem by Seán Ó Neachtain

Tá cuach i n-éisteacht asail
roimh fhear faire ná n-éanlaith;
is fearr le muic an raithneach
ná cíor mheala mar mhéile.

Do tharla pónra is péarla
i n-ionad éigin ar chuileach;
do thóg an gráinne pónra,
d'fhág an tseóid, is d'imigh.

Mór unga óir is corrán
chas ar Thomás mac Lóbais;
do b'fhearr leis cab ná déise
ná ór Éireann 'na phóca.

Is fearr le fiach dubh ablach
is cead a tharraing ó chéile
ná arán cróch is meala,
's ba dual athar dhó féin sin.

Do canadh salm don tsaltair,
do canadh glafar Mhic Lóbais;
ba binne rann ná daoithe,
mar do síleadh le hÓrla.

Is binn le cat an sgeámhghail
do-ní a mháthair is a athair;
ní thugann cluas ná éisteacht
do ná téadaibh ag labhairt.

An tí nár chleacht acht duairceas,
beag a shuairceas i gceólta;
do b'fhearr leis duine ag drantán
ná ceól iomlán ná Fódla.

Quod scit, quisque colit,
bíodh gur chóra dhó a sheachna;
quod nescit, spernit et odit,
donas mór ar a mhalairt.

Bídh gach éan mar a huiltear,
rádh file nách camghlór,
iolar i mbarr na píne,
bíodh an traona sa neanntóig.

Translation by Seosamhín Ní Muirí

An ass can hear the cuckoo
Before even the birdwatcher can
A pig prefers the fern
To the sweetest honeycomb.

It happened that a bean and a prarl
Were found in a place in a wood
The hedgehog selected the bean
Left the gem and departed.

Thomas Mac Lobais found
A golden nugget and sickle
But he preferred the ear of corn
To all the gold of Ireland in his pocket.

The black raven prefers the carcass
And to be allowed to tear it apart
Than to have brown bread and honey
Nature has always decided thus.

Psalms were sung by the psalter
Prattle and silly songs by mac Lobais
But Orla the common person
Preferred the worthless verses.

The cat finds the rasping noise
Made by his father and mother attractive
And gives no ear whatever
To the strings of the harp.

The person who is always glum or gloomy
Finds no delight in music or song;
He'd prefer old mumbling and snarling
To all the beautiful music of Ireland.

What each man knows he cultivates
Even though he might be better to avoid it
What he doesn't know he spurns and hates
To do otherwise would bring disaster.

Let every bird act according to his nature
Thus says the poet whose words are true
The eagle will be on top of the pine tree
The corncrake will be in the nettles.