Sunday 5 February 2012

Patrons in Poetry: Brigid, the Daughter of Duffy

Tradition records that the father of Saint Brigid was a pagan chieftain named Dubhthach. It is often claimed that this name has been anglicized as the modern Irish surname Duffy, and it is in this form that Irish-American poet, Denis A. McCarthy (1870-1931), presents Saint Brigid as the champion of the poor and generous to a fault, something which provokes a culture clash with her pagan father. The episode on which the poem is based is known from the hagiography of our national patroness, this, for example, is the version recorded in the Middle Irish homily preserved in the Leabhar Breac:
Then came Brigit, and her mother with her, to her father's house. Thereafter Dubthach and his consort were minded to sell the holy Brigit into bondage; for Dubthach liked not his cattle and his wealth to be dealt out to the poor, and that is what Brigit used to do. So Dubthach fared in his chariot, and Brigit along with him. Said Dubthach to Brigit: "Not for honour or reverence to thee art thou carried in a chariot, but to take thee to sell thee, and to grind the quern for Dunlang MacEnda, King of Leinster.” When they came to the King's fortress, Dubthach went in to the King and Brigit remained in her chariot at the fortress door. Dubthach had left his sword in the chariot near Brigit. A leper came to Brigit to ask an alms. She gave him Dubthach's sword. Dixit Dubthach to the King: "Wilt thou buy a bondmaid, namely, my daughter?" says he. Dixit Dunlang: "Why sellest thou thine own daughter?" Dixit Dubthach: "She stayeth not from selling my wealth and giving it to the poor." Dixit the King: "Let the maiden come into the fortress." Dubthach went for Brigit and was enraged against her, because she had given his sword to the poor man. When Brigit came into the King's presence, the King said to her: "Since it is thy father's wealth that thou takest, much more, if I buy thee, wilt thou take my wealth and my cattle and give them to the poor?" Dixit Brigit: "The Son of the Virgin knoweth if I had thy might with (all) Leinster, and with all thy wealth I would give (them) to the Lord of the Elements." Said the King to Dubthach: "Thou art not fit on either hand to bargain about this maiden, for her merit is higher before God than before men." And the King gave Dubthach for her an ivory-hilled sword, et sic liberata est sancta virgo Brigita captivitate.



BRIGID, the daughter of Duffy, she wasn't like other
young things,
Dreaming of lads for her lovers, and twirling her bracelets and rings;
Combing and coiling and curling her hair that was black
as the sloes,
Painting her lips and her cheeks that were ruddy and
fresh as the rose.
Ah, 'twasn't Brigid would waste all her days in such
follies as these -
Christ was the Lover she worshipped for hour after hour
on her knees;
Christ and His Church and His poor, - and 'twas many
a mile that she trod
Serving the loathsomest lepers that ever were stricken
by God.

Brigid, the daughter of Duffy, she sold all her jewels and
Sold all her finely-spun robes that were braided with
gold to the hems;
Kept to her back but one garment, one dress that was
faded and old,
Gave all her goods to the poor who were famished with
hunger and cold.
Ah, 'twasn't Brigid would fling at the poor the hard word
like a stone -
Christ the Redeemer she saw in each wretch that was
ragged and lone;
Every wandering beggar who asked for a bite or a bed
Knocked at her heart like the Man who had nowhere to
shelter His head.

Brigid, the daughter of Duffy, she angered her father
at last.
"Where are your dresses, my daughter? Crom Cruach!
You wear them out fast!
Where are the chains that I bought you all wrought in
red gold from the mine?
Where the bright brooches of silver that once on your
bosom would shine?"
Ah, but 'twas he was the man that was proud of his
name and his race,
Proud of their prowess in battle and proud of their deeds
in the chase!
Knew not the Christ, the pale God Whom the priests
from afar had brought in,
Held to the old Gaelic gods that were known to Cuchullin
and Finn.

Brigid, the daughter of Duffy, made answer, "O father,"
said she,
"What is the richest of raiment, and what are bright
jewels to me?
Lepers of Christ must I care for, the hungry of Christ
must I feed;
How can I walk in rich robes when His people and mine
are in need ?"
Ah, but 'twas she didn't fear for herself when he blustered and swore,
Meekly she bowed when he ordered his chariot brought
to the door;
Meekly obeyed when he bade her get in at the point of
his sword,
Knowing whatever her fate she'd be safe with her Lover
and Lord.

Brigid, the daughter of Duffy, was brought to the court
of the King,
(Monarch of Leinster, MacEnda, whose praises the poets
would sing).
"Hither, O monarch," said Duffy, "I've come with a
maiden to sell;
Buy her and bind her to bondage - she's needing such
discipline well!"
Ah, but 'twas wise was the King. From the maid to the
chieftain he turned;
Mildness he saw in her face, in the other 'twas anger
that burned;
"This is no bondmaid, I'll swear it, O chief, but a girl
of your own.
Why sells the father the flesh of his flesh and the bone
of his bone?"

Brigid, the daughter of Duffy, was mute while her father
replied -
"Monarch, this maid has no place as the child of a
chieftain of pride.
Beggars and wretches whose wounds would the soul of
a soldier affright,
Sure, 'tis on these she is wasting my substance from
morning till night!"
Ah, but 'twas bitter was Duffy; he spoke like a man that
was vext.
Musing, the monarch was silent; he pondered the question perplexed.
"Maiden," said he, "if 'tis true, as I've just from your
father heard tell,
Might it not be, as my bondmaid, you'd waste all my
substance as well?"

Brigid, the daughter of Duffy, made answer. "O monarch," she said,
"Had I the wealth from your coffers, and had I the crown from your head
Yea, if the plentiful yield of the broad breasts of Erin
were mine,
All would I give to the people of Christ who in poverty
Ah, but 'twas then that the King felt the heart in his
bosom upleap,
"I am not worthy," he cried, "such a maiden in bondage
to keep!
Here's a king's sword for her ransom, and here's a
king's word to decree
Never to other than Christ and His poor let her servitude

Edited by JOYCE KILMER, N.Y. 1917, 156-60.

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