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124 PART 3: GENRE AND APPROACH CHAPTER SIX Lyric Mícheál B. Ó Mainnín and Nicola Royan Love-Lyric in the Gaelic Tradition Gaelic ‘love-lyric’ for the present purposes is a broad term for poetry that is concerned with love, sexuality and sexual relations. It ranges in tone from the courtly to what has been described as the ‘uncourtly’, verse that is bawdy and, on occasion, overtly misogynistic. This essay seeks to examine aspects of the Gaelic tradition of love-lyric based for the most part on the collection of poems preserved in Scotland’s most famous Gaelic manuscript, the Book of the Dean of Lismore (BDL), which appears to have been compiled between 1512 and 1542 but which contains earlier material. Consideration will be given to two substantial and overlapping themes in these lyrics: the querelle des femmes (‘argument about women’), and sexual decadence and the promiscuity of the clergy. These find expression in all of the three languages employed in the manuscript (Gaelic, Scots and Latin), although there are very few poems in BDL in which the medium is a language other than Gaelic. Questions relating to authorship, attribution and poetic voice are of particular interest; the collection has a playful and intimate quality which manifests itself in the coterie verse to which poets of various backgrounds (both professional and amateur) have contributed. The amateurs include churchmen and aristocrats, the latter seeming to embrace both men and women. If so, we have evidence of a mixed gender coterie composing love-lyric in Gaelic Scotland at least half a century before we find similar evidence in Lowland Scots tradition (in the case of the Maitland Folio and Quarto). A further question is whether we are dealing with a single coterie centred on the court at Inveraray of the Earl of Argyll (probably Cailéan/Colin, the first earl (d. 1492)), or with two interconnected coteries, the second revolving around his cousin, Donnchadh (Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy (d. 1513)).1 Either way, the Campbells are dominant figures; this is particularly interesting from a broader Scottish perspective because of this family’s connections with the king and involvement at the highest levels in the Scottish court. 125 We are currently dependant to a large degree for our corpus of lovelyric on BDL, although there is material in other manuscripts that has yet to be subjected to proper scrutiny.2 Edinburgh, NLS Advocates MS 72.1.36 has been described as ‘an intriguing and under-worked collection’ ranging from the ‘mildly misogynistic to the outright unpalatable’3 and contains a copy of our most famous love-lyric, ‘Soraidh slán don oidhche aréir’ (‘Farewell ever to last night’). Few of its poems have received detailed treatment or yet appeared in print.4 Further examples are to be found elsewhere; NLS Advocates MS 72.1.34 contains the poem ‘Cá h-ainm atá ar Fearghal Óg’ (‘What reputation has Fearghal Óg’), in which the Irish poet Fearghal Óg Mac an Bhaird is warned off by an un-named and clearly Scottish love-rival,5 while the Red Book of Clanranald is significant not only in containing another copy of ‘Soraidh slán don oidhche aréir’ but in assigning it to Niall Mór Mac Muireadhaigh (or Mac Mhuirich), a member of Gaelic Scotland’s premier learned family, who is thought to have flourished c. 1580. Niall Mór is also credited with the authorship of a well-known satire on the bagpipes, ‘Èatroman muice ò hò’ (‘The bladder of a pig, o ho’).6 However, while this poem is written in what is unquestionably vernacular Scottish Gaelic, his love poem is written in a form of Classical Early Modern Gaelic: the literary language that was the preserve of the professional poet classes of the highest order, in both Scotland and Ireland, and that was also practised by the aristocracy in both countries.7 There are love-lyrics in vernacular Scottish Gaelic that may be dateable to our period and which are also distinguishable in prosodic terms from the poetry preserved in BDL; for example, ‘’S e MacAoidh an duine treubhach’ (‘MacAoidh it is who’s the man of valour’), or ‘Craobh an Iubhair’ as it is also known, is composed in accentual metre and is thought to date from the late sixteenth century.8 This composition is a world away from the courtly poems in syllabic metre witnessed in BDL and elsewhere; here the lover is elevated by raw...


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