Iseabal Ni Mheic Cailean

The title ‘Ní Mheic Cailéan’ would normally belong to the daughter of the Earl of Argyll, and appears to do so here. The poems attributed to this Iseabal – referred to, for ease of discussion, as ‘Iseabal the younger’ – are distinguished by their titles within the pages of B from the text which was probably composed by her mother the Countess (noted as 'Contissa Ergadien Issobell'). Iseabal the younger was married to Aonghas Óg Mac Domhnaill, son of John, last hereditary Lord of the Isles (Clancy 2010, p. 114), who was murdered at his father’s behest in 1490 (Clancy 2005, pp. 163‒4). Her poem was almost certainly composed before 1520, after which point there is a marked lack of datable items included in B (MacGregor 2006, 62). 


Isbell ne vek Callein [i] 

Atá fleasgach arm o thí,
A Rí na ríogh go rí leis!
A bheith sínte ré mo bhroinn
Agus a chuim ré mo chneis! 

Dá mbeith gach ní mar mo mhian
Ní bhiadh cian eadrainn [gu brath][ii]
Gé beag sin dá chur i gcéill,[iii]
’S nach tuigeann sé féin mar tá. 

Acht ní éadtrom gan a luadh [iv]
Sgéal as truaighe linn ’nar ndís:
Esan soir is mise siar,
Mar nach dtig ar riar a rís.

[i]  Title from NLS Adv. MS 71.1.37, Book of the Dean of Lismore [B], p. 285, its only source. Text from Watson 1937, pp. 307‒8, edited from B; for litterim transcription see Quiggin 1937, p. 77. This song is a rare example of Gaelic-language amour courtois, the lyric of ‘courtly love’ so popular in contemporary medieval Europe. McLeod & Bateman note (DnS, p. 286) that Gaelic examples are “more playful than many of their counterparts, as if a combination of tone and motif, rather than the whole philosophy of chivalrous love had been transmitted”. Songs of a far lewder tone, notably Donnchadh Campbell of Glenorchy’s celebration of his potent penis (cf. DnS, pp. 262‒5 & Gillies 1983, pp. 59 & 66‒71), are examples of the subsequent ‘backlash’ against the “studied manner of [amour courtois]”, with its emphasis upon chastity and sublimation rather than physical attributes and consummated relationships).

[ii] This phrase inserted by Watson to restore the correct syllable count of the line (1937, p. 308).

[iii] Cf. the phrase cuir an ceill ‘an expression (of feelings)/ to make known/ declare’ (Dwelly).

[iv] Watson reads ‘gan a luing’, ‘unless his ship [should] come’; the present emendation follows Gerard Murphy (1937, 252 n. 5), who notes that exactly the same phrase occurs in Iseabal the younger’s other poem within B , and that “the writing of ng for gh (= dh) is doubtless modelled on the writing of ng in words such as ceangal in the literature where some Scottish dialects have ceaghal”. 

Iseabel 'the younger', Mhic Cailein’s daughter

There is a youth of keen resolve,
O King of kings, may there be fortune with him!
May he be stretched out beside me
With his chest against my heart! 

If things were as I wish them,
No distance between us there’d be,
Yet there’s little to be declared,
Since he doesn’t understand how things are. 

But it’s not easy to hold my peace about it –
A tale which saddens us both –
He is bound east, but I’m facing west,
And our mutual desire will not be attained.

CLANCY, Thomas Owen. (2005). ‘Court, king and justice in the Ulster Cycle’, in Medieval Celtic literature and society, ed. FULTON, Helen; pp. 163–83. Dublin.
CLANCY, Thomas Owen. (2010). ‘A Fond Farewell to Last Night’s Literary Criticism: Reading Niall Mór MacMhuirich’, in Cànan & Cultar / Language & Culture: Rannsachadh na Gàidhlig 4, eds. MUNRO, Gillian & Richard V. A. COX; pp. 109‒27. Edinburgh.
DnS: MCLEOD, W. & Meg BATEMAN, eds. (2006). Duanaire na Sracaire: The song-book of the pillagers. Edinburgh.
GILLIES, W. (1983). ‘The Gaelic poems of Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy (III)’, Scottsh Gaelic Studies 14/1; pp. 59‒83.
MACGREGOR, Martin. (2006). ‘The view from Fortingall: The worlds of the Book of the Dean of Lismore’, Scottish Gaelic Studies 22; pp. 35‒87.
MURPHY, G. (1937). [Review of] Scottish verse from the Book of the Dean of Lismore, ed. W. J. Watson, Béaloideas 7, pp. 245-8.
QUIGGIN, E. (1937). Poems from the Book of the Dean of Lismore. Cambridge.
WATSON, W. J. (1937). Scottish verse from the Book of the Dean of Lismore. Edinburgh.