by Seán Ó Ríordáin
Fág Gleann na nGealt thoir,
Is a bhfuil d’aois seo ár dTiarna i d’fhuil,
Dún d’intinn ar ar tharla
Ó buaileadh Cath Chionn tSáile,
Is ón uair go bhfuil an t-ualach trom
Is an bóthar fada, bain ded mheabhair
Srathar shibhialtacht an Bhéarla,
Shelley, Keats is Shakespeare:
Fill arís ar do chuid,
Nigh d’intinn is nigh
Do theanga a chuaigh ceangailte i gcomhréiribh
’Bhí bunoscionn le d’éirim:
Dein d’fhaoistin is dein
Síocháin led ghiniúin féinig
Is led thigh-se féin is ná tréig iad,
Ní dual do neach a thigh ná a threabh a thréigean.
Téir faobhar na faille siar tráthnóna gréine go Corca
Is chífir thiar ag bun na spéire ag ráthaíocht ann
An Uimhir Dhé, is an Modh Foshuiteach,
Is an tuiseal gairmeach ar bhéalaibh daoine:
Sin é do dhoras,
Dún Chaoin fé sholas an tráthnóna,
Buail is osclófar
D’intinn féin is do chló ceart.
[‘Fill Arís’ by Seán Ó Ríordáin
In an English translation by Barry McCrea]
Leave the Valley of the Mad back east,
and all there is of this age of our Lord in your blood,
close your mind to what has happened
since the Battle of Kinsale,
and, since the load is heavy
and the road long, remove from your mind
the civilised halter of English,
Shelley, Keats and Shakespeare:
return again to your own,
cleanse your mind and cleanse
your tongue which got tied up in a syntax
at odds with your intellect:
make your confession and make
peace with your own race
and with your own house, and do not abandon them.
It is not natural for anyone to abandon his house or his tribe.
On a sunlit evening take the cliff road out to Corca
and out on the horizon you will see shoaling there
the Dual Number, and the Subjunctive Mood,
and the vocative case on people’s mouths:
that is your door,
Dun Chaoin in the evening light,
knock and there will be opened
your own mind and your right shape.
From Selected Poems (2014) by kind permission of Cló Iar-Chonnacht and Yale University Press.
About the poem
Ó Ríordáin began visiting the Kerry Gaeltacht in the 1940s and it became, for him, an important source of inspiration. In ‘Fill Arís’, he urges the reader to leave behind the crazed, busy world, to escape the weight of history and the burden of the English literary tradition and return to what makes us wholesome and whole. The place in this instance is Corcha Dhuibhne in West Kerry.
The journey back, to what matters, is a long one – ‘an bóthar fada’ – and it’s a difficult one [‘Is ón uair go bhfuil an t-ualach trom’] but the tone is assertive and confident from the outset. The title ‘Fill Arís’ is repeated at line nine. ‘Fill arís ar do chuid’ – return again to what we are. It’s not natural, says Ó Ríordáin, to abandon or to ditch your own place and your own tradition.
In the closing lines he presents us with a image of natural beauty and freedom when he urges us to take the cliff road on a bright afternoon. The poem’s central theme is the richness of the Irish language and all that it embodies. And the medium in which the poem is written is, of course, Irish.
When Ó Ríordáin speaks of embracing all things Irish, landscape and language, he uses grammatical terms which become an immediate and effective reminder of what we are in danger of losing. The English language has a different syntax and the Irish person speaking English is tangled in this different structure and snagged by it. Make a clean break says Ó Ríordáin and on a bright summer’s evening you will see before you a landscape that is beautiful. There’s your entry point, your way back to something that is essentially a part of us.
In the closing lines we are told that if we find ourselves in Dún Chaoin, then it is as if we are standing before a door – ‘Sin é do Dhoras’. He urges us to stand before that door, knock and the door will open on a new world, your real self: ‘Buail is osclófar/ D’intinn féin is do chló ceart’. The poem’s musical rhythm and O’ Ríordáin’s ear for assonance and slant-rhyme capture the beauty of the language.
Séan Ó Ríordáin, the eldest of three, was born in Ballyvourney, Co. Cork on 3 December 1916. His father was a native Irish speaker and worked as a shoemaker. His mother spoke very little Irish and Ó Ríordáin spoke more English than Irish at home. He was educated through Irish in the local national school at Sliabh Riabhach and there Mo Scéal Féin by An tAthair Peadar Ó Laoghaire, a local writer, was read to him in class and was an important influence. Later Ó Ríordáin said that since encountering that autobiography ‘every placename mentioned in the book is magic to me’.
His father died of tuberculosis when he was ten and in 1932, when he was fifteen, the family moved to Inniscarra, outside Cork. Six years later Ó Ríordáin himself was diagnosed with TB, an illness he suffered from for the rest of his life. He lived in a separate room from the family home, specially built and in keeping with the medical recommendations of the time.
He finished his secondary schooling at Cork’s North Monastery and then joined the Motor Taxation Office in Cork City Hall where he worked as a clerk. Frequently ill, he was absent from work for long periods and wrote his first published poem in a sanatorium in Doneraile in 1944. He later said that he graduated with TB instead of a BA.
He retired in 1965 and in 1969 he was given a part-time position with the Irish Department, University College Cork, where he gave six lectures a year and was available to students five hours a week. There are four collections: Eireaball Spideoige , Brosna  and Línte Limbó ; Tar éis mo Bháis was published posthumously in 1978.
Séan Ó Ríordáin never married and in Greg Delanty’s words ‘lived a withdrawn life of a bachelor’. In his diary, which he kept for over forty years, he confided that it was his escape route from life’s worries. Thomas Kinsella says, in his Introduction to The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse, that Ó Ríordáin ‘responded . . . to the demands and opportunities of modern poetry’.
He wrote a column for the Irish Times and received a D.Litt. from the National University of Ireland in 1976. He died the following year, on 21 February, and is buried in Relig Ghobnatan, Ballyvourney.