Speak Irish: Michael Davitt 

Speak Irish: Michael Davitt   
by Bob Carney


Tráth bhíodh cártaí ar bord,                                          

(traw veed kor-tee ar board)

Coróin is mugaí tae fé choinneal                                   

(krow-in iss mug-ee tay fay kwih-nel)

Cois tine ar caorthainn;

(kosh tih-na ar kare-hinn)

Asal amuigh san oiche,

(ahsall ah-mwee san ee-ha)

Madraí tamall gan bhia

(mah-dree tuh-mull gan vee-uh)

Is seanbhean dom mharú le Gaolainn.

(iss shan-van dom vah-roo leh gall-inn)


Tráth bhiodh an chaint tar éis Aifrinn

(traw veed an keyent tar aysh afrinn)

Is nárbh í a dhamnaigh faisean

(iss narv ee ah gahm-nig fash-in)

Stróinséirí in aon fhéachaint shearbhasash amháin

(stro-she-ree in a-in ee-ah hint hoe-ah shish ah-voyne)

Is nár chuir sí Laethanta Breátha

(iss nar kur shee layn-ta brow-ha)

Ó Ollscoil Chorcaí ina n-áit:

“An tuairgin”,” an coca féir”, “an fuaiscean”.

( ahn tar-ih-geen, ahn ko-ka feer, ahn foosh-kahn)


Tráth prátaí is maicréal

(traw prah-tee iss mak-reel)

Le linn na nuachta i lár an lae

(leh lynn na nook-ta ih lar ahn lay)

Ba mhinic a fiafraí

(buh vin-ic ah feer-ee)

Mar nárbh fhlúirseach a cuid Béarla

(mar narv lure-shah a cuhd ber-la)

Is déarfainn dhera go rabhadar ag marú a chéile

(iss deer-hin jer-ah guh row-a-dar egg mah-roo ah kay-lee)

I dtuaisceart na hÉireann.

(ih doosh-kyart na hare-on)


Tráth bhíodh sí ina dealbh

(traw veed shee ina dell-iv)

Ag fuinneog bharr an staighre,

(egg fwin-ogg wahr ahn sti-rah)

Ar strae siar amach thar ché

(ar sray sheer ah-mahk har kay)

Abhaile chun an oileáin i dtaibhreamh

(ah-wahl-ya khun ahn ih-lawn dye-riv)

Is dá dtiocfainn suas de phreib taobh thiar di:

(iss dah jehf-inn soo-us deh frib tay-uv heer dee)

“Ó mhuise fán fad’ ort, a chladhaire.”

(oh voosh-ah fawn fad ort ah kly-duh)



Once there were cards on the table,

Rosary and mugs of tea in candlelight

Beside a roaring fire;

Outside a donkey in the night,

Dogs to be fed and an old woman

Destroying me with Irish.


Once there was chatting after Mass

And she would trim the sails

Of strangers with one caustic look

Putting the Fine Days frm Cork

University back in their place:

“The pestle”, “the hen crab”, “the haycock”.


Once at potato and mackerel time

During the one thirty news

She’d ask what was going on

In the world because her English

Was poor and I’d say yera

They’re killing each other in the North of Ireland.


Once she was a statue

At the landing window

Heading out from the quay,

Dreaming her way home to the island

And if I came up suddenly behind her:

“Oh, you chancer, may you long be homless.”

Michael Davitt was one of a group of poets who began publishing in Irish in the late 1960s, many of whom were students at University College, Cork. While there, he founded the poetry journal, “Innti” which became a platform for Irish language poetry until the end of the Twentieth Century. He later worked as a television presenter and producer with RTÉ.

From his earliest works, to those written just prior to his death in 2005, he captured many of the mannerisms of the West Kerry dialect. He had an affection for older native speakers and singers and shared that in many of his poems. Although he cited many influences in Irish and English literature, including Bob Dylan, who he said set the standard for poetry, his voice is his own.

I first came across “In Memory of Elizabeth Kearney, Blasketwoman” in it’s English translation in a collection of modern Irish poetry, I was pleased to learn that Michael Davitt wrote in Irish, and for this topic in particular, it seems much more appropriate. I hope you enjoy both versions as much as I have.

Slán go Fóill!

[email protected]


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