Máirtín Ó Cadhain

A Poem by John Montague.

From the collection Patriotic Suite.

The tribes merged into the hills,
The ultimate rocks where seals converse.
There they supped rain-water, ate sparse
Berries and (grouped around pale fires
At evening) comforted themselves
With runics of verse.

The nation forgot them until
There was a revolution. Then soldiers
Clambered the slopes, saluting
In friendliness: Come down!
You are the last pride of our race,
Herdsmen aristocrats, who have kept the faith.

As they strayed through the vertical cities
Everyone admired their blue eyes, open smiles
(Vowels, like flowers, caught in the teeth)
The nervous majesty of their gait:
To the boredom of pavements they brought
The forgotten grace of the beast.

Soon townspeople tired of them,
Begin to deride their smell, their speech.
Some returned. Others stayed behind,
Accommodating themselves to a new language.
In either case, they may be dying out.
A tragedy anticipated in the next government report.

Iontaobhas Uí Chadhain is very grateful to Elizabeth Wassell for permission to publish this poem here.