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Interesting Implications in a Poem by Gilbride the Scot

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Gille Brighde Albannach (Gilbride the Scot) flourished as a jobbing poet in the early decades of the 13th Century.

He and his friend Muireadhach Ò Dàlaigh (Murdoch O’Daly [1180 – 1222 AD], the founder of the Clan MacMhuirich – nowadays called the Clan Currie) spent some time around 1219 AD on the rather disastrous Fifth Crusade to Damietta in Egypt.

About that time, 1219, Gille Brighde wrote a stirring poem entitled A ghille gabhas an stiūir (“Lad who takes the helm”) about their sea voyage from Cyprus to Egypt in appalling weather. In it he describes them praying for deliverance from the storms in terms that raise interesting speculations.

Gerard Murphy, writing in Éigse: A Journal of Irish Studies (Volume 7 (1953), pp 719) which he edited, in his paper “Two Irish Poems Written from the Mediterranean in the Thirteenth Century” stated, “He prays for help to Mary Magdalen, and to Brigid, after whom he is named”.

Actually, in the context it appears that he is conflating Brigid with Mary:

“…a Muire mhōr… a banamail barrbhuidhe. A Brigid, a bruinne glan…” […great Mary… O modest one with the yellow locks. Brigid of the bright bosom…].

The peculiar sentiments appear in verses 5 to 7:

As dorcha na neōillsi a-noir
tic ō Acras ‘nar n-aighoigh;
tarr, a Muire Mhagh-dā-lén,
7 glan uile in t-aighēr.

[These clouds from the East are dark
As they drive us from Acre;
Come, Mary Magdalen*,
And wholly clear the air.]

Fiar is tarrsna thēid ma long,
a Muire magrūn mērchorr;
do ghuidhe re dīrgad dūnn,
a Muire mīnglan mhaghrūn.

[My ship sails crosswise and obliquely,
O tapering-fingered Mary of Plain-mysteries*;
May your intercession avail to set us straight,
O gentle bright Mary of Plain-mysteries.]

Tuccas aighidh ort fēine
a hucht Crīst, do chaīmchēle;
to(i)rche, a chūl slatach sleman,
d’atach dūnn in Dūilemhan.

[I have approached thee,
In the name of Christ, thy goodly spouse;
Come, ye of the smooth-tressed hair,
To intercede with the Creator on our behalf.]

(Note: The italics are letters that have been conventionally added so as to make sense of the abbreviations used. The “7” was a common abbreviation for “agus”, “is”, or “‘s” meaning ‘and’.)

*”Muire magrūn” ‘Mary of Plain-mysteries’ refers to the mysterious meaning that Mary Magdalen’s name seems to have in its Gaelic form, i.e. “Mary, Plain of two Sorrows” (Muire Magh-dā-lén).

The interesting implications for these Thirteenth Century Gaels are that for them:

1. Mary/Muire is Mary Magdalen, rather than Mary the Mother of Christ;
2. Christ and Mary Magdalen were husband and wife;
3. Mary Magdalen was seen as having intercessory saintly powers with the Creator;
4. Might these be Celtic Christian beliefs, and might they thus be indicative of survivals of the Old Way despite Roman suppressions and persecutions?

London, Friday 9 August 2013.

© D Rosser-Owen 2013 All Rights Reserved

Written by David Rosser Owen

November 25, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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