celestial spirit said to inspire poets and artists."
Compiled by Dan Mahony, M.Phil.
Thursday, August 17, 1995—Killarney. Gathering at the Sky
Woman memorial to the four great Kerry poets:
Ferriter, O'Donoghue, O'Rahilly
More Sky Woman
August 17, 1995.
Conradh na Gaeilge members from all over the county gathered at the
Speirbhean monument on Fair Hill on Thursday to commemorate four of the
great Kerry poets: Pierce Ferriter, Geoffrey O'Donoghue, Aodhagán O
Rathaile and Owen Roe O’Suilleabháin.
Driven by the politics of
the day when the old ways were under threat by the Cromwellites, and
finally defeated, they wrote of matters of nationhood and of the tragedy
To his misfortune, Pierce
Ferriter (1600-1653) an aristocrat, musician and scholar from
Ballyferriter, was hanged for his part in the resistance against the
Also known as "The
Gentleman harper of Kerry," Ferriter was a keen harpist. Appropriately,
Killarney harpist. Marina Cassidy played at the commemoration while
Killarney Conradh member, Bernard Long remembered the man through his
poetry and life.
The celebration was then
followed up at Muckross Abbey where the other three poets are buried.
With the death of
Ferriter, it was Ieft to Geoffrey O'Donoghue of the Glens―also a
Prince―to carry on the fine tradition of poetry in the Kingdom until his
death in 1677.
principal of the Glenflesk National School paid tribute to him at the
Muckross Abbey commemoration while Fr. Tom Looney paid his dues to
Aodhagán Rathaile, the Sliabh Luchra poet, born in 1675 at the close of
the old order. The Wild Geese had flown, The Penal Laws had come into
Out of this misery, O
Rathaile devised a new poetic form called the Aisling, meaning vision.
In the Aisling, Ireland comes to the poet as a woman―a Speirbhean―in
which she bemoans her state.
Owen Roe O'Suilleabháin
was the "last of the four". Also from Sliabh Luachra, he was a poor
peasant's son and a wild roving, drinking and wenching fellow to boot. A
complete contrast to the three who went before him he was, however, a
classical scholar, born in 1748 who opened a school at the age of 18 and
who became a household name.
His early songs about
pretty women and merry making were later over-shadowed by his laments
for the still exiled Stuarts; his songs of hope were to bring:' solace
to his people as John Stephen O'Sullivan, secondary teacher in Ratrhmore
explained during Thursday's commemoration.
The first such gathering
in Killarney, Conradh now plan to plan to make it a yearly event;
perhaps focusing on a different "great" poet each year.
Local Performance Arts
company, Bricriu performed at the commemoration as did Uileann Pipe
player, Dave Hegarty and fiddle player, Sean Bradley.
The contingent of about 60, including a
plethora of contemporary Killarney and Tralee poets later retired to Molly
Darcy to continue the reminiscences―in true Owen Roe O Suilleabháin style,
The Kingdom, Tuesday, 22 August,
1995, p. 13.
Fifty-five years ago, the following appeared in The Kerryman: "Killarney, August 17, 1940. Four Kerry Poets Memorial unveiled at
Killarney on Lady Day in the presence of a huge concourse of Gaels. Mural plaque
at Muckross Abbey."
Seamus Fenton, retired Deputy Chief Inspector, National Schools,
delivered an oration, a short summary of which follows.
"This splendid commemoration is the culmination of the work we began many
years ago, an attempt to keep the poetic children of the Motherland (the Speirbhean) fresh in the memory of the passing generation. We published a
booklet, written in his best style by the learned Father Dineen, with a
historical and geographical 'setting' by myself. We also emphasised the hope
that the great songs, properly taught in the schools, would become a strong
force in reviving the disappearing Irish speech.
"The poets symbolised the Motherland as the Speirbhean to whom all owed homage as ordained
in the Fourth great commandment of the Law. The Motherland is our Church
temporal, just as the Church is our Motherland for all eternity. Both have the
same centre which is God, the same interest which is justice, the same citizens―children
with bodies and souls. Our Motherland, which the foreigner taught us to be
ashamed of, is the soil which nurtured us, the homes of our ancestors, the
souvenirs of our school period, our tradition, our lives, our manners, our
liberties, our history and family. A government is not the Motherland. It is
only the organisation for conserving in order and security these
Fenton also spoke about the burning issue of his day: the gradual disappearance
of the Irish language: '''The Irish speech and the Irish people,' wrote Paul
Dubois, 'are fleeing the country, the speech at an even greater speed than the
people.' The fleeing continues. I visited parts of Kerry recently where half a
century ago I got from oral narration high Gaelic literature. Now not an Irish
sentence is spoken in homes. There is no region in Ireland where the revival of
Irish made such progress a generation ago as in the area with Killarney as its
capital. Its annual Gaelic gatherings were a record. They brought from the
darkening twilight oblivion leaders of thought like the great Kerry poets, men
who sang and preached and fought at the intellectual frontiers of the Gael for
hundreds of years. They preached the gospel of the imperishable world of the
Kerryman, August 17, 1940, p. 7.
Others have described An Speirbhean in other ways. Richard Haywood in his In
the Kingdom of Kerry, defined her as a "celestial spirit said to
inspire poets and artists." Fenton himself in a later work defined her as a
symbol with three aspects, "dignity or pride in the glorious past, mother
of warriors, the nurse of culture (1950)."
Daniel Corkery wrote in The
Hidden Ireland, "It was Aogán Ó Rathaille who first makes the vision,
the Spéirbhean. The poet, weak with thinking on the woe that has overtaken the
Gael, falls into a deep slumber. In his dreaming a figure of radiant beauty
draws near. She is so bright, so stately, the poet imagines her one of the
immortals. Is she Deirdre? or Gearnait? or is she Helen? or Venus? He questions
her, and learns that she is Erin [Ireland]; and her sorrow, he is told, is
for her true mate who is in exile beyond the seas."
It is interesting to note that a sky woman is also found in the cosmologies of a
number of the original nations of North America. In the tradition of
the Hodenosonee (named the Iroquois by the white people), Sky Woman fell through
a hole in the sky into the dark waters until the birds caught her. The Turtle
consented to allow her to rest on his back. She gave birth to a daughter who
later gave birth to the twins, good and evil. Meanwhile the animals piled dirt
on the Turtle's back until the Earth was made. Hence, the naming of North
America as Turtle Island.
The present site of the Memorial is not its original. The following appeared in
the Cork Examiner in 1975: "Killarney's 'leading lady' was
raised recently from her sandy grave across from the Franciscan Friary, where
she has been buried for the past 12 months, when she had been removed from her railedin enclosure at the bottom of the Fair Hill to make room for a new
roadway. She has now been resited, only 12 yards from where she stood, at the
entrance to the Great Southern Hotel and Killarney railway station."—Cork Examiner, Wed., 7 May 1975.
The events in Killarney, past and present, serve to remind us of that
photos with this article
Corkery, Daniel, The Hidden
Ireland. Dublin: Gill, 1925.
Dineen, Rev. P.S., Four Notable
Kerry Poets. Dublin: Gill, 1929.
"Kerry's Immortal Poets. The
Unveiling of their Memorial on Lady Day. Record hosting of Gaels expected
to attend ceremonies at Killarney." Saturday, 10 August 1940, pp.1,4.
"Four Kerry Poets Memorial
Unveiled at Killarney. Mural Plaque at Muckross Abbey." Saturday, 17 August
"Honouring Irish Poets." Saturday, 24
August 1940, p. 6.
"Four Kerry Poets: Their Work
for the Nation." 24 August 1940, p.6.
Fenton, Seamus: "An Speirbhean",
24 August 1940, p.6.
"Poets Dialogue of the Dead in
Muckross Abbey." Sat., 31 August 1940, p4.
Haywood, Richard: In the Kingdom
of Kerry. Dundalk: Tempest, 1946.
Fenton, Seamus: The Peerless Poets
of the Kingdom. Tralee: The Kerryman Limited, 1950.
"'Speir Bhean' is resited. Killarney's 'leading lady' moved from her
railed-in enclosure at the bottom of the Friar Hill to make room for a new
roadway." Wed., 7 May 1975.
2000 by danmahony.com
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