The Four Poets of Kerry
You’re visiting Killarney, right? You want to find out all you can about the history of the town, right? You want to be able to bewilder the natives with your impressive knowledge of the town’s folklore? Then read on and discover one of Killarney’s best kept secrets….
Across the road from the Franciscan Friary on the edge of Killarney Town Centre lies the Sky Woman. The Sky Woman is a statue but unless you were to read the inscription carved upon its base you would be at a loss trying to work out for whom or indeed for what the statue is commemorating.
As you may have guessed from the title of this passage, the Sky Woman is dedicated to the four poets of Kerry; four of the greatest literary minds ever to come out of the province of Munster. Their names are Pierce Ferriter, Geoffrey O’Donoghue, Aodhagán O Rathaile and Owen Roe O’Suilleabháin. The oldest (Ferriter) was born in 1600 and the youngest (O’Súilleabháin) was born in 1748.
They lived in a very troublesome period in Irish history as it was during this period that much of the country was planted by English settlers and Irish noble families, from whom the poets would receive most of their patronage, lost their land and their titles. After the Flight of the Earls in 1607 (Google it, basically all of the Irish noblemen who were trying to get rid of the English fecked off to Italy and the country was left in a right heap) Ireland became a very hopeless and desperate place. This is where these poets came in.
They gave voice to the anguish and suffering of the people of Ireland. They longed for a return to the old, pre-Anglo days when Irish noblemen and women ruled the land.
Pierce Ferriter was an aristocrat from Ballyferriter (Near Dingle) and was known as the “Gentleman Harper of Kerry” as he was a keen harpist. His family lost their land to the English during the Cromwellian Conquest of the country and he was hanged for his part in an attempted rebellion in 1653. He left a large literary collection and his name is still held in the highest regard amongst the literary aficionados of Kerry. After he died, Geoffrey O’Donoghue became the poet laureate of Kerry until his death in 1677.
After O’Donoghue came Aodhagán O’Rathaile. O’Rathaile is a very important poet for it was he who created the style of poetry known as the Aisling. Aisling means “vision” in Irish. In the Aisling, Ireland comes to the poet in the form of a woman – or a spéirbhean – and bemoans her sorry state.
O’Rathaile was replaced by Owen Roe Ó’Súilleabháin who was more of a celebrity than the others. He was a household name during his short lifetime and his poems about merry-making and loving women were recited all over Ireland. He did have a serious side too and like the others wrote poems about Ireland’s sorry state.
Three of the poets (O’Donoghue, O’Rathaile and O’Suilleabhan) were buried in Muckross Abbey which is just a short stroll from Killarney Holiday Village. So if the mood takes you one evening, why not head down for a look. There’s some mighty fine scenery to be seen along the way.
The Sky Woman statue was erected in 1940 and remains there to this day as a poignant reminder of Kerry’s proud literary past and a possible inspiration to any future Owen Roe Ó’Súilleabháins or Pierce Ferriters.