Tuesday, April 26, 2011

430. The Conversion to Islam of Conor MacArt (Part 3)

An Comhshó a Ioslam de Conchubhair Mac Airt

Saol agus an chiall atá deacair.
Níl an Bás.

September, 1563

I took all the necessary vows
with my tongue held firmly in cheek
and thus became a bashibazouk.
I could see no other way.

From slavery and from chains removed
I became again a proud young warrior
with a devilish assortment of weapons
and, I fear, outlandish clothing.

I must confess I looked rather fine.
I would stop then and again by a mirror
and stroke my fierce moustachios
while striking a fearsome pose.

Restored to my natural position
it did not take me long to visit the docks
and search out that Cockney turncoat
who fell to his knees before me.

I was an officer, he was nothing, I had
a crowd of murderous troops around me
and he fell to whining: Omagawdsofackinsorrysir!
A laugh came unbidden: turns of fate are sweet.

Tell me your name, you frightful English cur!
Muggins, sir, Albert Muggins, sir, Bert for short.
Very well, Muggins, gather your kit,
you are now my valet and personal slave.

I must say he took it rather well. In the weeks
and many months to come he showed rather willing,
with a conscientious tradesman’s air about him,
until the time of his ultimate fatal decision.

One cannot really trust the English, of whatever class,
they bear the canker of the Germans from whom they descend:
in triumph they will murder your wife and children,
in defeat they will sob and groan and hug your knees.

They are dull doughty defenders but not real warriors.
We have seen this time and time again. They win and lose
their many wars, not from audacity, but from simply hanging on,
and this has proved to be wonderfully successful.

The world despises and dislikes them, as if it matters,
for they will never rise above their narrow island confines
nor mount any form of empire, the thought is entirely
ludicrous, beginning with a forthcoming defeat in Ireland.

Shane, if I know him, will bash their bloody brains out,
just as I fear, presently, he would treat my brains as well.
In the meantime I look upon this creature Albert Muggins,
give him a kick up the arse, enforcing our change in fortunes.

He is a weaselly, grovelling, dungbeetle of a creature,
often found in the environs of a London district called Ealing
where ailing grandmothers with coins under their mattresses
need iron bars on the windows to keep their grandsons out.

The Gibbard family of the area are well known for marauding
on the poor and the helpless and orphans and widows,
a greedy ferocious clan of depradations and occasional poetry,
handed down, it would seem, from generation to generation.

Albert Muggins – Bert – took a shine to his duties, crookedly-toothing
his smiles, saying, Tankgawdyewcymealongsirbloodywytingsooiwoz!
Then along before long came the delicate problem of Yasmin Nur:
almond-eyed young second concubine to the Captain of the Guard …

The decipherment process is going on steadily but slowly under the direction of Professor Uchiyama and his team, scraping and dissolving away the cowshit of centuries, but there is a real and catastrophic possibility of a reduction in funds and possible termination of the project owing to the March 11 massive earthquake in Japan. We can only hope the project will continue.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

429. The Conversion to Islam of Conor MacArt (part 2)

An Comhshó a Ioslam de Conchubhair Mac Airt

Creideamh ar ár n-aithreacha,
creideamh naofa !!

Beidh muid fíor dhuit go héag.

August, 1563 

There’s not all that much to it, you sad Irish infidel,
said Sullivan the Magnificent, his eyes twinkling.
He was a most remarkable man, of quite small stature,
but of great presence, eyes like a hawk, a mind like a razor.
From the Sirkeci slave market down the hill from the palace
I had been dragged before him in chains, bedraggled,
but considerably cleaned up since the trip from Cyprus.

It was the flute I had brought from dear old Connemara
that had caused hesitation in the hard cruel Turks,
who, like all cruel people, were maudlin at heart.
They cried copiously when drunk, mourned sadly the loss of love,
much as we do in Ireland. And this, I think had saved me
on that hellish bloody voyage after the pirates had taken us
and beheadings had become their daily recreation.

I take it you believe in God, said the Great Sullivan,
which is the only important matter. All the rest is mere
conformity to the customs and habits of the people around you.
I cannot relieve you from your present condition, nor can I
offer you a position and salary, even though I am the Sultan,
the Padmishah, the Ruler of the World, etc., etc., and you
my dear are not undeserving … unless you convert to Islam.

It’s a matter of rationality, he continued, precious little
of which exists in this world. Nevertheless, I tend to believe
you are an intelligent man. Your music is pleasant enough
but there are other reasons I have decided to save you.
I thought of Saint Patrick and the holy martyrs and the priests
and the more I thought of the priests, dirty beggars, the more
I began to listen to what this shrewd old man was telling me.

Religion is a form of celestial politics, a shadow of the real,
it exists in constant opposition to any humanly established State
which much find some accommodation with it to survive.
I stared at the old man, goggle-eyed. What was he telling me?
Although Islam is the true religion, he blithely continued,
I think all religions are no more than regional creations, otherwise
the whole world would have the same beliefs. And it doesn’t.

Conor, he said, not unkindly. You are a stranger in a strange land
(we were talking in Latin, the only language we both understood)
but I may have need of you. You will kindly convert to Islam.
Otherwise you will be of no use to me whatsoever. I will throw you back
whence you came (a steely gaze) and you will not last a week.
Well, that was true enough. The philosophical bit of the talk
shrank down by comparison. I was led away to a scented sleeping chamber ...


(The thoughts of our hero are still being deciphered from the recovered documents. Cowshit from the byre in Armagh has its preservative factors but it takes ages and ages to scrape and dissolve it away).

Suleiman the Magnificent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suleiman_the_Magnificent

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

428. The Conversion to Islam of Conor MacArt

An Comhshó a Ioslam de Conchubhair Mac Airt

Páris, tar éis an tsaoil,
is fiú go mór Aifreann.

July, 1563

Satisfied, then, you bloody barstid?
said the man, a slip of drool running down his stubbled chin.
The weather is rather cool for May, I carefully replied,
in my newly acquired store of words in the clattering tongue
of the English, distressing sounds designed I believe
to make one's mouth feel unclean. I was aware it was July
and blistering hot, but I did not have the words at the time
to convey my sympathetic meaning. Bloody barstid, satis - THUNK
and his severed head bounced once or twice on the deck,
wild staring blue eyes, the bits of drool quite perfectly in place.
It was extremely well done, no hesitation or nonsense about it.
said the beheading Turk, turban slightly askew, his eyes
half-yellow, half-green gooseberries popping out at me.
The weather is rather cool for May, I informed him.
I realised the creature was speaking English.
he growled at me, slinging me down into the hold below,
where I lingered, shit-stained, hungry and miserable,
for three or seven days, when we came to a place called Cyprus.

One of the things I grew to like about the Turks
was that they either kissed you or killed you,
and although not kissable, not then, they held off
on the killing and drenched me down with buckets of water,
there on the dock, in front of a gaggle of tittering hooded women
accompanied by great big blubbery characters
whom I later learned were known as Yoonix
having had their - their parts removed. I was beginning to think
the Turks could be cruel when they put their minds to the task,
and so I said to myself, I said, don't go playing the eejit.
I managed a courtly smile and an elegant bend of the knee,
rather well done under the prevailing circumstances,
but was brought to sudden order by a slap on the back of the head.
I was to learn you can willy the women to your heart's content,
but you cannot, MAY not talk to them, a rigid rule I was to break
on more than one occasion: Yasmin Nur, my soul, Yasmin ...

Yes, well, I'm getting ahead of myself as we say in Connemara,
where the sheep would be looking at you for forms of religious guidance.
I suppose you might be asking yourselves, and murmuring with your wives,
why a fine young buchaill like myself, a scion of the sons of Ulaidh,
sometime friend and companion to our late great chieftain Shane O Neill,
a gentleman of arts and parts, with pigs and cattle to his name,
(until they were robbed away from me, God blast the black souls),
should be shivering and covered in shit in Cyprus? Shrewd questions.
You will remember from a previous account my cousin Rodrigo ....

Here the manuscript abruptly ends. We are searching for the additional papers found only recently by Professor Takeshi Uchiyama and his team of researchers from Kyoto University, led on by hints in obscure Chinese imperial records. The successful search led to a cow byre in southern County Armagh, formerly a Norman keep of the 13th century, mined until recently by unsympathetic members of HM military forces bravely suppressing the local women and children.

Friday, April 15, 2011

427. The Temporary Exile of Conor MacArt

Tá an Deoraíocht Sealadach na Conchubhair Mac Airt

An marc an uasal na hÉireann é --
leagann an-bhreá ach neamhaird de bróga. *

November 1562 - February 1563

It was either murder or the cold shoulder
when one crossed the path of Shane O Neill,
and thus I hurriedly hied me off to France
before the latter became the former

in the twenty-third year of my youth,
with angry bailiffs battering at the door
and my wife Eileen was in floods of tears
as the cows and the pigs were driven away

and the children as well, not to be sold
or eaten, or not at once, but sent to the cousins
who would happily hold this against me forever
in the way all strongood Irish families do.

It was a joy to speak Latin in France
with the learned men of Rouen and Grenoble,
to discourse on Ariosto and the Nine Commandments,
the fifth never having quite caught on in Ireland

and to have blood-red wine not made from nettles
and cheese not pressed from the udders of goats,
and one slipped into one’s weary bed of an evening
warmed by the breasts of the live-in language teacher.

I made remarkable progress in their pouting tongue,
a slurry Latin spoken with fingers and shoulders,
and I rode in the Tuilleries with the haut de haut monde,
they on horses and me, well-shod, on a Connemara pony

for all the world to gaze and wonder and stroke their chins
so that even the King sent his young men to call on me,
as that foul evil knave of an English Ambassador
eyed me coldly, and sent over a cask of poisoned wine

which put an end to the language teacher, a pleasant wench,
voluble, affectionate, but a wee bit too fond of a drop,
and so I decamped thereafter for the shores of Spain,
to cousin Rodrigo and his sunny vineyards in the South.

* The ignored mark of the Irish nobility - a very fine set of shoes.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

426. The Diplomatic Mission of Conor MacArt

An Chuairt Taidhleoireachta na Conchubhair Mac Airt
Aisteach go raibh sí agus contúirteacha,
bean le fear éigin eile.

 January, 1562

I have a strong dislike for boats and the sea,
bare planks between your soul and perdition,
with wind and the rain adding to the sorrow.

Hours and hours we spent on the ocean
with the cattle moaning in childlike fear below
and myself moaning likewise above them.

We came to Bristol, a town of the English,
a marvellous great city of well-dressed people
very happy and pleased with themselves.

We had horses to hire for the road to London
on the further side of the kingdom, we stayed
at villainous flea-ridden inns all along that weary road.

London, my dear, makes Dublin look like a village
with all its tall houses pushed together, leaning
on one another, its sights and its sounds and smells.

We came to the court, at a place called Hampton,
a sturdy stone palace by the side of the river
and there the Queen came out to meet us.

She is a frail looking woman of middle years,
very white in the face and enormously prepared
in her dress and visage to meet the day.

Very grand did she look but quite kind withal
as her courtiers clucked and fussed around her.
We were asked to leave our swords and axes behind.

The discussion was long and polite but wearisome.
These people do not understand us; I think we
need to prepare ourselves for the coming war.

Not quite entirely fictional since there is a precedent with Granuaile, the pirate queen:
And, somewhat earlier (upon which this poem is based) the visit of Shane O'Neill in 1562:
Accompanied by the Irish Earls of Ormonde and Kildare, he reached London on 4 January 1562. William Camden describes the wonder which O'Neill's wild gallowglasses occasioned in the English capital, with their heads bare, their long hair falling over their shoulders and clipped short in front above the eyes, and clothed in rough yellow shirts.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

425. The Death Poem of Conor MacArt

An Dán Bás Conchubhair Mac Airt

Tá mo chroí bánú.
I bhfuil cónaí lá fada agus leisciúil.
I mo óige a bhí mé ghaiscíoch,
I meán-aois a bhí mé comhairleoir,
I seanaoise mé díomá.

My heart is fading.
My days were long and lazy.
In my youth I was a warrior,
in middle age a counsellor,
in old age a disgrace.


The Japanese warrior class (侍: samurai) had a tradition of writing death poems known as Jisei no ku: 辞世の句, often before committing ritual suicide to expiate some breach of honour. In Ireland, as usual, we do things differently. This is not a translation (well, obviously it has been translated) but a first attempt to write an original poem in Irish. I'm waving at you, somewhat forlornly, before a mountain of outraged pedantry falls down on me .... but not here, I hope.

Link to Jisei no ku (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_poem

Saturday, April 02, 2011

424. Child in Time

Four-year-old Manami Kon sleeps after writing a letter to her mother, who was swept away by tsunami in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture. The little girl said late last month that she would write to her mother, and spreading a notebook on a kotatsu table at the home of relatives she spent nearly an hour writing: "Dear Mommy, I hope you are alive. Are you well?" Manami's father and younger sister also remain unaccounted for.

Manami chan,
the sea took your mama away
and she lives in heaven now
with dada and your sister.

You are alive, sweet girl,
and I think you may not believe
in life, in your solitary survival,
as the years march on.

People will forget.
They always do.

You will think, many times,
better to have joined them,
to have shared their fate, why,
why should I be spared?

Was there a reason?
Probably not.

The gods of all countries
play dice with human lives,
inhumanly laughing. And so,
Manami, all of four years,
I think you will learn
to dispense with these gods

for they are not needed.

There are people in the world
you do not even know, people
from countries you have
never even heard of, places
like India, Australia, Luxembourg,
Pakistan, Ireland, Sikkim,
whose hearts go out to you.

They will try to send you money,
a thing nice people do, wringing their hands,
willing and useless, wistfully helpless.

Some Americans will try to adopt you.
Be sure to avoid that. Go to school.
Get a job that will help other people,
always stay in Japan. Have children.
Remember your mother.