27 July-Brian Merriman and The Midnight Court

Brian Merriman, who wrote the poem ‘The Midnight Court’ (Cúirt an Mhéan Óiche), was a native of Co Clare, Ireland. ‘The Midnight Court’, probably the most famous poem in the Irish language has over 1,000 lines. It is widely regarded as the finest comic poem in Irish literature. Merriman was a farmer, poet and in later life, a teacher.

Brian Merriman was born in Ennistymon Co Clare on the west coast of Ireland in 1749. When he was a child his family moved to live near the town of Feakle about 55km from where the poet was born. Brian grew up there in the townland of Killanena near Lough Graney.

At the time education was usually provided in what were called ‘hedge schools’. It is thought that Merriman was educated at a hedge school. Hedge schools became a feature of rural Ireland during the 18th and 19th centuries. While classes were sometimes held outdoors, they were mostly held in barns and private houses. Irish, English and Mathematics were usually taught. Other subjects such as Latin, History and Music depended on the teacher available. The teacher was usually a local educated man or a poor travelling scholar and payment was by subject.

In 1787 at the age of 38 Merriman married Kathleen Collins in Feakle. The couple had two daughters. In 1797 he was awarded prize of two spinning wheels by the Royal Dublin Society for the flax he had grown on his farm. Shortly thereafter the family moved to Limerick in 1802 where Merriman had been appointed as a teacher of mathematics.

The Midnight Court, which he wrote around 1780 is set on the shores of Lough Graney. It runs to over a 1,000 lines and is full of humour and sarcasm. The poet in a dream is brought before the court of Queen Aoibheall, judge and queen of the Fairies. There the women of Ireland accuse the men of waiting until they are too old to marry. When they finally do marry they are unable to perform in the bedroom. An old man defends the attitude of the men but his young wife gives a derisive account of his performance as a husband.

Lady of Craiglea, you must assess

The extent of Irish women’s distress,

How, if the men continue with their ways,

Alas, women will have to make the plays

By the time the men are disposed to wed

They’re no longer worth our while to bed

And it’ll be no fun to lie below

Those old men who are so weak and slow

He is sentenced to be flogged but the poet awakens to realise it was all a nightmare.

Though the poem was written in around 1780 it was not published until 1850. It has been translated into English on many occasions. A translation by the author Frank O’Connor was banned by the Irish Censorship Board in 1946. The poem has also been translated into other languages including Japanese. The Merriman Summer School is held each year in County Clare, usually in the month of August.

Brian Merriman, author of ‘The Midnight Court’, died in Limerick in the year 1805 On This Day.

FF2015 – Runic Cult – Priestess (Gold) – Immateria Unseelie Court Midnight by Tigist Sapphire on 2015-05-02 11:10:31

Ennistymon photo

Main St. Ennistymon, Co Clare

Photo by National Library of Ireland on The Commons

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