Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire

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Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire or the Lament for Art Ó Laoghaire is an Irish keen composed by his wife Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill. It has been described as the greatest poem written in either Ireland or Britain during the eighteenth century.[1]

The late eighteenth-century poem is one of the greatest laments ever written, and one of the greatest love poems in the Irish language. Eibhlín composed it on the subject of the death of her husband Art on 4 May 1773. It details the murder at Carraig an Ime, County Cork, of Art, at the hands of the British official Abraham Morris, and the aftermath. It is one of the key texts in the corpus of Irish oral literature. The poem was composed ex tempore and follows the rhythmic and societal conventions associated with keening and the traditional Irish wake respectively. The caoineadh is divided into five parts composed in the main over the dead body of her husband at the time of the wake and later when Art was re-interred in Kilcrea.

Parts of the caoineadh take the form of a verbal duel between Eibhlín and Art's sister. The acrimonious dialogue between the two women shows the disharmony between their two prominent families.

Thomas Kinsella made an English verse translation which was published in An Duanaire - Poems of the Dispossessed: an anthology of Gaelic poems, edited by Seán Ó Tuama (Dolmen Press, Portlaoise 1981 ISBN 0-85105-363-7). Another verse translation was the work of Frank O'Connor and this was included in Brendan Kennelly's anthology The Penguin Book of Irish Verse (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970; pp. 78–86).

Literary references to the Caoineadh[edit]

  • Breandan O'Madagain has argued that the lament would have been originally sung, and very likely would have been sung to a melody that is still in existence. He demonstrates this in his work Keening and other Old Irish Musics (Clo Iar-Chonnachta, 2006), which includes a recording of the keen sung to a likely traditional melody.
  • Peadar Ó Riada (son of Seán Ó Riada) has arranged Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoghaire to be sung, most famously by the Cor Ban Chuil Aodha.
  • Professor Patricia Rubio notes the similarities between Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoghaire and Seamus Heaney's "The Burial at Thebes".[2]
  • Playwright Tom McIntyre dramatised the events, and his play won the Stewart Parker Prize in 1999.[3]
  • Hunter S. Thompson used an excerpt from the anglicized version of this poem as an epigraph to The Rum Diary:
"My rider of the bright eyes,
What happened you yesterday?
I thought you in my heart,
When I bought your fine clothes,
A man the world could not slay."
Also, a fictional San Juan street mentioned frequently in the novel is "Calle O'Leary", possibly another reference to the poem (Art Ó Laoghaire's name is anglicized as Art O'Leary).
  • Christopher Tin used an excerpt of this song in his debut album, Calling All Dawns.[4]
  • Although set in 1980s Dublin, to which the hero, Arthur Cleary, returns after a decade working in European factories, Dermot Bolger's long poem, "The Lament for Authur Cleary", first published in 1986, is inspired by - and makes numerous subtle references to Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire. In 1990 Bolger turned his poem into a play of the same name that received the Samuel Beckett Prize.

Adaptations of the Caoineadh[edit]

Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoire (1975)
- A postmodern film adaptation in English and Irish, Dir: Bob Quinn Wri: Bob Quinn, Seosamh O'Cuaig, Mairtín MacDonncha DOP: Joe Comerford Starring: John Arden, Séan Bán Breathnach, Caitlín Ní Dhonncha

Bás Arto Leary (2012)
Dir: Luke McManus Wri: Manchán Magan DOP: Suzie Lavelle Starring: Kelly Gough, Owen McDonnell, Lochlainn O'Mearain, Aoife Nic Ardghail

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kiberd, Declan (2000). Irish Classics. Granta Books.
  2. ^ "The Burial at Thebes". Heaney. Prof. Patricia Rubio and Prof. Michael Arnush. Archived from the original on 2006-05-17. Retrieved 2006-09-12.
  3. ^ "Tom McIntyre biography". coislife. Archived from the original on 2006-06-15. Retrieved 2006-09-12.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-05-04. Retrieved 2012-05-24.

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