Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Teagasc Bhríde - Brigid's Instruction

Gaelic Journal, Vol. 4, No. 46 (1893)
We continue the octave of posts in honour of Saint Brigid with a look at one of the lesser-known poems preserved in the oral tradition - Teagasc Bhríde - Brigid's Instruction or Teaching. Daphne Pochin Mould on page 67 of her 1964 study of Saint Brigid introduces it thus:
A fairly long poem called Brigid's Instruction, Teagasc Bhríde, was known throughout Ireland from at least the beginning of the 18th century. Fragments have been collected from Irish speakers at the beginning of the present century. Brigid appears to the author of the poem and explains that she has been allowed back to earth to give him the instruction that will bring him to the City of Glory, where Jesus Christ sits with his mother beside him.
Ireland's first President, Dr Douglas Hyde (1860-1949), took down a version of the poem from a monoglot Irish speaker, Martin Rua O Gillarná from Lisanishka near Monivea, County Galway, and included it in the first volume of his Religious Songs of Connacht. I have reproduced only the English translation as I don't have time to transcribe the Irish original from the old script. The volume is available online if you wish to see both versions on facing pages. The illustration on the left is from another version referred to by Hyde in one of his footnotes. Somehow I doubt that Brigid's Instruction will have much appeal to either the neo-pagan followers of the goddess Brigid or to the contemporary followers of 'Celtic Christianity'. What we have here is an expression of an older strain of popular Irish Catholicism altogether:


The teaching of Breed for his good to the sinner,  
To take his father's advice and blessing, 
To plead for ever with Mary Mother, 
A guiding-star to our foolish women.

The Son of the Woman who earned no scandal, 
 The Son who never forgot the Father, 
 It was He himself who made our purchase, 
 And through His side that the lance's thrust went. 

 The poem goes on to say of those who have no pleasure in alms or in mercy : 

 The darkest night in this world at present 
 Dark without mist or stars or moonlight, 
 Is brighter than their day when brightest. 

 Could you come with me but once, and see it, 
 You would sooner be hacked in little pieces, 
 Be boiled, be burned, and be roasted,
Be put in an oven till you had perished, 
 Be ground in a quern with hundreds grinding, 
- Sooner than live in a sin that is mortal. 

 Go to Mass when you rise at morning, 
 As you should do, regard the altar. 
 See, Christ Jesus is thereby standing, 
 In the priest's hand is His sacred body. 

 Go home again when that is finished, 
 Give wanderers lodging until the morning, 
 Food and drink to him who is empty. 

 Is your friend ill, or on sick-bed lying, 
 Bring him whatever will give him comfort, 
- Never earn the curse of widow. 

 When to your bed you get at night-time 
 Go on your knees your prayers repeating, 
 Do the same when you rise next morning.

 What the poem chiefly teaches is to do good deeds : 

Do good deeds without lie or falsehood, 
 Do without lie good deeds on earth here, 
 That is the one straight way to follow, 
 That is the road, and go not off it.

D. Hyde, ed. and trans., Abhráin Diadha Chúige Connacht or The Religious Songs of Connacht, Cuid I (London and Dublin, 1906), 96-101. 

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