Tune Type: Song
Alternative Titles: ‘Cill Aodáin’, ‘Cill Liadáin’ ‘Contae Mhaigh Eo’ (Whenever you hear the title ‘Contae Mhaigh Eo’, watch out, as there’s another sean nós song called ‘Contae Mhaigh Eo’)
Context: This song was composed by Antaine Ó Raiftearaí (1779 – 1835), one of the last exponents of the Irish bardic culture. When researching this song, I learnt an astonishing fact about Raifteirí’s childhood: he had 8 siblings. At some point between age 6 and 9, a terrible tragedy befell the family: every single child got smallpox, and every single child died – except for Antaine. Antaine went blind due to the disease; and one of the last things he saw before losing his sight was the bodies of his eight brothers and sisters laid out on the floor. This horrific tale imbued my day with a whole new appreciation for vaccinations.! After this terrible trauma, Antaine went on to learn fiddle and become a nationally-renowned poet. This song, ‘Anois Teacht An Earraigh’ is one of his most well-known works.
The song is in praise of Raifteirí’s home county, Co. Mhaigh Eo. I wanted to know where Raifteirí might have travelled, so I put all the placenames listed in the song on a map, available here . This threw up a few conundrums.
a) Cill Aodháin vs. Cill Liadáin?
There’s a popular theory that the placename ‘Cill Aodáin’ in the title and lyrics, is incorrect. I couldn’t find any entry on the national placename directory www.logainm.ie for the placename ‘Cill Aodáin’ in Mayo. I did find a ‘Cill Aodháin’ (with a ‘H’ in the middle) in the north of Mayo. However, ‘Cill Aodháin’ is at least 40km from all but one of the placenames mentioned in the song. Back in Raifteirí’s time 40km over land would have been a significant distance to travel, and I suspect it would have precluded the level of local knowledge and pride necessary to create and inspire a text such as ‘Anois Teacht An Earraigh’.
So what *is* the true name of the song? There’s a townland central to all the rest of the places listed in the song, called Cill Liadáin. In her excellent blog on www.AllAboutIrish.ie , Patricia Nic Eoin gives the suggestion that the original placename in, and title of, this song was ‘Cill Liadáin’, but it was wrongly transcribed by the song collector (Dubhglas de hÍde, who, incidentally, became Ireland’s first president).
So was Raifteirí writing about Cill Aodháin, or Cill Liadáin? Or do you know of a place called Cill Aodáin close the placenames mentioned in the song? I’ve done a very sophisticated academic analysis here by scribbling two red circles around the two different placenames, including nearby placenames mentioned in the song. Take a look and let me know what you think.
b) Where is ‘Sceathach an Mhíle’, the place mentioned in verse 2?
I could not find the placename ‘Sceathach An Mhíle’ in www.logainm.ie, Googlemaps or in any another database of Irish placenames. ‘Sceathach’ in modern Irish means ‘vomit’… on the other hand, ‘sceach’ means ‘blackthorn’. I think it’s likely that the intended word in this placename is ‘sceach’, and ‘sceach’ was elongated to ‘sceathach’ to suit the song melody. Deirdre Ní Chonghaile gave me the excellent suggestion that a placename with the word ‘sceach’ might be close to ‘Cluain Sceach’ in north Mayo. As it happens, Cluain Sceach is very close to Cill Aodháin, mentioned above. Ergo if we think that Raifteirí was using ‘Sceach An Mhíle’ to refer to a place close to Cluain Sceach, the theory that he wrote this song about ‘Cill Aodháin’ is probably true.
However, as you’ll see above, these two placenames are quite far away from the rest of the placenames mentioned in the song. My past harp student Rhianna McDonnell realised that ‘Sceach An Mhíle’ literally translated into English is ‘blackthorn bush of the mile’ and suggests this placename is an old Irish language version of ‘Milebush’, a townland in Carra, just 25km from Cill Liadáin. ‘Milebush’ and ‘Cill Liadáin’ are a lot closer to the majority of the placenames mentioned in the song, so I think this theory is very plausible.
(Also … Freda Nic Giolla Chatháin’s buddy from Mayo agrees with Rhianna, and and he then lilted a reel down the phone, so obviously he’s a total legend and utterly correct. 😉 )
What do you think? Does ‘Sceathach An Mhíle’ reference vomit, or a blackthorn? Is this song called ‘Cill Aodháin’ and about Mayo at large … or is the song called ‘Cill Liadáin’ and written about eight places within a 30km radius?
c) ar Ghaeileang taobh THÍOS dhe vs. ar Ghaeileang taobh THUAS dhe
According to verse 2, Gaileang (or, I think, ‘Gaileanga’ in modern spelling) is supposed to be south of Ceara. But the centrepoint of the barony of Ceara is south of Gaileang. So I may have got something wrong here… or perhaps the correct lyric in verse 2, line 3 should be ‘Nuair a smaoiním ar Cheara, nó ar Ghaeileang taobh THUAS dhe’ … suggestions welcome!
d) What is the actual song title?
The most commonly-used title for this song is the main placename mentioned – ‘Cill Aodáin’. The second most commonly-used title is the first line, ‘Anois Teacht An Earraigh’; less commonly people call this song ‘Contae Mhaigh Eo’. I refer to this song as ‘Anois Teacht an Earraigh’ because I can’t find a place called ‘Cill Aodáin’, as mentioned above. Also… there’s another, utterly different sean-nós song called ‘Contae Mhaigh Eo’ (which has, as far as I’m aware, no alternative titles). Cartlann Sean Nóis TG4 is possibly the greatest thing on the internet, and you can hear a great version of the song only known as ‘Contae Mhaigh Eo’ by Mícheál Ó Confhaola there.
So if you’re an expert in logainmneacha Mhaigh Eo, please get in touch with your ideas! Or if you’d like to learn more about Raifteirí, read Patricia’s blog (linked below) or check out this amazing autobiography by Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin.
Lyrics: (my version, with ‘Cill Liadáin’ instead of ‘Cill Aodáin’, some modernised spelling, and Inis Meáin alternatives in brackets)
Anois teacht an Earraigh beidh 'n lá 'dul 'n síneadh Is tar éis na Féile Bríde ardóidh mé mo sheol Ó chuir mé i mo cheann é ní stopfaidh mé choíche Go seasfaidh mé thíos i lár Chontae Mhaigh Eo I gClár Chlainne Mhuiris a bheas mé an chéad oíche Is i mBalla taobh thíos dhe, 'sea a thosós mé ag ól Go Coillte Mach rachad go ndéanfad cuairt mhíosa ann In uaisceach* dhá mhíle go Béal an Átha Móir Ó fágaim le huacht é go n-éiríonn mo chroíse Mar a éirionns an ghaoth nó mar a scaipfeanns an ceo Nuair a smaoinim ar Cheara nó ar Ghaileang taobh thíos dhe Ar Scea(tha)ch a' Mhíle nó ar phlánaí Mhaigh Eo Cill Liadáin an baile a bhfásann gach ní ann Tá sméar 's subh craobh ann is meas ar gach sórt Dá mbeinnse i mo sheasamh i gceartlár mo dhaoine D'imeodh an aois dhíom is bheinn aris óg Bíonn cruithneacht is coirce, fás eorna is lín ann Seagal i gcraobh ann, arán plúir 's feoil Lucht déanta póitín gan licence á dhíol ann Móruaisle na tíre ann ag imirt is ag ól Tá cur agus treabhadh is leasú gan aoileach Is iomaí sin ní ann nár labhair mé go fóill Áitheanna is muilte ag obair gan scíth ann Dheamhan caint ar phingin cíosa ná tada dá shórt
*leagan Inis Meáin de ‘i bhfoisceacht’
Buíochas mór leis na daoine seo a leanas a thug cúnamh dom: Deirdre Ní Chonghaile, Freda Nic Giolla Chatháin, Orlaith Bhreathach, Rhianna McDonnell, Róisín Ní Chonghaile.
Nic Eoin, Patricia. “Anois Teacht An Earraigh.” All About Irish, February 1, 2023. www.allaboutirish.ie.
Wikipedia contributors, “Antoine Ó Raifteiri,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Antoine_%C3%93_Raifteiri&oldid=1165355474 (accessed January 11, 2024).