Patrick Pearse’s editing of Pádraig Ó hÉigeartaigh’s lament ‘Ochón, a Dhonnchadh’

Síobhra Aiken


A testament to the global dimensions of the Irish language is the fact that one of its most anthologized poems, ‘Ochón, a Dhonnchadh’ by Pádraig Ó hÉigeartaigh, was written not in Ireland, but rather in Springfield, Massachusetts. Although composed in the USA in 1905, Thomas Kinsella and Seán Ó Tuama note that the poet marries ‘his grief to traditional professional expertise in something of the manner of the distant masters of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’ and Muiris Ó Droighneáin regards the poem as ‘an dán is deise agus is fileata san Nua-Ghaedhilg’ / ‘the finest and most poetical poem in Modern Irish’. Yet despite the wide publication of this lament, very little is known about Ó hÉigeartaigh and much of the information about the poet provided in certain poetry anthologies is inaccurate.

Not only has Ó hÉigeartaigh’s career as a poet and Gaelic Revivalist been overlooked, but the poem itself is in fact an edited version of the original lament Ó hÉigeartaigh wrote on the drowning of his five-year-old son, Donnchadh. This essay assesses Patrick Pearse’s editing of the lament and considers the ideological perspectives which may have informed Pearse’s editorial decisions. It is argued that Pearse intentionally repressed elements and characteristics singular to the poet in order to ascribe this lament to the oral tradition, and also to uphold the literary conventions of contemporary European poets such as Roden Noels and Robert Bridges. The essay thus questions the location of this poem within the Gaelic literary traditions of the 17th and 18th centuries and also demonstrates the need for a critical understanding of the editorial practices of this period.

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© Comhar Teoranta, 2016.
ISSN: 2009-8626