As we celebrate St. Brigid's Day and the ancient pagan festival of Imbolc, we take a look at this beautiful Irish air Mná na hÉireann (Women of Ireland).
In 1996, English singer Kate Bush recorded the Irish rebel song, based on an 18th-century poem to the beautiful air composted by Seán Ó Riada. Her cover of Mná na hÉireann, which means Women of Ireland in Irish, is just enchanting and poignant in the run-up to St. Brigid's Day, a celebration of Ireland's matron saint.
The poem, Mná na hÉireann, imagines Ireland as a generous, beautiful woman suffering the depredations of an English master on her land, her cattle, or her self, and which demands Irishmen to defend her, or ponders why they fail to.
According to Donal Lunny, who contacted her for this contribution, "She was very excited with the idea of singing the Irish in a way that Irish speakers would understand, and of conveying the meaning of the song through the sounds of the words.
"I helped as much as I could. She had Seán Ó Sé’s recording of Mná na hÉireann as reference. She was as faithful to the pronunciations as she could possibly be. It was with characteristic care and attention that she approached it. She did not stint one bit.
"Of course, you’ll get people saying, `Oh, you’d know she doesn’t talk Irish straight off’. You wouldn’t know it straight off. I would defend her efforts as being totally sincere. No matter how perfect she gets it, she’s not an Irish speaker. This may rankle with some people."
You can listen to Kate Bush's version of Mná na hÉireann here:
Here is an English translation of Mná na hÉireann (Women of Ireland):
There's a woman in Ireland who'd give me a gem and my fill to drink,
There's a woman in Ireland to whom my singing is sweeter than the music of strings
There's a woman in Ireland who would much prefer me leaping
Than laid in the clay and my belly under the sod
There's a woman in Ireland who'd envy me if I got naught but a kiss
From a woman at a fair, isn't it strange, and the love I have for them
There's a woman I'd prefer to a battalion and a hundred of them whom I will never get
And an ugly, swarthy man with no English has a beautiful girl
There's a woman who would say that if I walked with her I'd get the gold
And there's the woman of the shirt whose mien is better than herds of cows
With a woman who would deafen Baile an Mhaoir and the plain of Tyrone
And I see no cure for my disease but to give up the drink.
Here is the Irish text of Mná na hÉireann:
(The verses most often performed by modern singers are the first two and the last.)
Mná na hÉireann
Tá bean in Éirinn a phronnfadh séad domh is mo sháith le n-ól
Is tá bean in Éirinn is ba bhinne léithe mo ráfla ceoil
Ná seinm théad; atá bean in éirinn is níorbh fhearr léi beo
Mise ag léimnigh nó leagtha i gcré is mo thárr faoi fhód
Tá bean in Éirinn a bheadh ag éad liom mur' bhfaighfinn ach póg
Ó bhean ar aonach, nach ait an scéala, is mo dháimh féin leo;
Tá bean ab fhearr liom nó cath is céad dhíobh nach bhfagham go deo
Is tá cailín spéiriúil ag fear gan Bhéarla, dubhghránna cróin.
Tá bean i Laighnibh is nios mhiste léithe bheith límh liom ar bord,
Is tá bean i bhFearnmhaigh a ghéabhadh bhéarsai is is sárbhinne glór,
Bhí bean ar thaobh cnoic i gCarraig Éamoinn a níodh gáire ag ól
Is tráth bhí ina maighdin ní mise d'éignigh dá chois ó chomhar.
Tá bean a leafgfadh, nífead is d'fhuaifeadh cáimric is sról,
Is tá bean a dhéanfadh de dh'olainn gréas is thairnfeadh an bhró
Tá bean is b'fhearr leí ag cruinniú déirce nó cráite re cró
Is tá bean 'na ndéidh uile a luífeadh lé fear is a máthair faoi fhód
Tá bean a déarnadh an iomad tréanais is grá Dia mór,
Is tá bean nach mbéarfadh a mionna ar aon mhodh is nach n-ardódh glór;
Ach thaisbeáuin saorbhean a ghlacfadh lé fear go cráifeach cóir
Nach mairfeadh a ghléas is nach mbainfeadh léithe i gcás ar domhan.
Tá bean a déarfadh dá siulfainn léi go bhfaighinn an t-ór,
Is tá bean 'na léine is fearr a méin ná táinte bó
Le bean a bhuairfeadh Baile an Mhaoir is clár Thír Eoghain,
Is ní fheicim leigheas ar mo ghalar féin ach scaird a dh'ól
*Originally published in January 2020. Updated in January 2022.