This is, as I understand it, a prayer to St. Catherine, as well as other saints and of course to God. St. Catherine of Alexandria was the patron saint of students, scholars and philosophers, so naturally she was popular with the learned poets of Ireland. Today (as with most people who ever lived) there is no historical proof of her existence or martyrdom. But according to legend, St. Catherine was a philosopher who frequented the Library of Alexandria. She was ordered by the Emperor to argue the Christian case against 50 pagan philosophers. She confounded them with her wisdom, so the angry Emperor killed the philosophers (another Irish hymn to Catherine says that God would punish the emperor for killing men of learning!), and then Catherine.
This translation is slightly altered from my original version. I
was finally able to find a copy of Volume 2 of Aithdiogluim Dana at
Ohio State, and have corrected some translation mistakes I'd made. Anyway, the
text originally came from 24 P 25 103. Another version of 17 stanzas
is in The Book of the Dean of Lismore.
Réalta [an] chruinne Caitir Fhíona
fóiridh forgla clann gach chóigidh
ann ar éagaibh.
Caitir Fhíona inghean [chasda]
craobh na buaidhe,
gnúis mar blath na habhla úire
Abhra uaine ag inghin Gréigríogh
nar ghabh guidhe
[a-táid] i ndath a gruadh gile
's snuadh na suibhe.
Snuadh na suibhe [is] samhradh gréine*
'n-a gruaidh chorcha,
iomdha glún as a fréimh feactha
'n-a céibh choptha.
Ar deilbh corrshúl Caitreach-fíona
nír cínn Gréigbean,
súil chorr nachar fhéagh ar óigfhear
béal donn déidgheal.
Gnúis mar abhaill, ucht mar eala
ógh nar truailleadh,
nír ghile clúimh ná a bas bháingheal
súil ghlas ghruaidhgheal.
Ní fhaghaim ógh ar a gruaidhse
gan a guidhe
go síntear brat ar mo bhuile
ó Mhac Muire.*
Brighid Éireann agus Alban
ógh na n-oiléan
is í an blath braoingheal na mbanóg
Athrachta fhóireas na Luighnigh
lór a déine
is í an bhanóg bhoinnfhionn Bhúille*
Ciarán Caoimhfhionn, Colam Cille
caomh an fhoireann
Pádraig, Martain, Mongan, Manann
An Tríonóid, mórMhuire is Míchéal
aoinmhíle déag banógh mBúille
Star of the world, Catherine,
the helper of the Greeks,
Helping the chosen children, saving each,
there at their dying.
Catherine, honored daughter,
branch of virtue,
a face like fresh appleblossom,
green brow. *
A green brow on the Greek king's daughter *
not captured by a suitor --
in the shade of her cheeks is brightness
and a berry's color.
Berry's color and sun's garland*
in crimson cheeks --
many a knee bending from the source
in tufted locks.
In the shape of her curved eyes, Catherine
is not surpassed by Greek women.
Curved eyes do not look at a young man --
bright-toothed dark mouth.
Face like an apple, breast like a swan,
a virgin not violated.
Down is not brighter than her shining white hand--
green eyes, bright cheeks.
The virgin with her cheeks will not be found
without my suit;
stretch your cloak over my madness,
son of Mary.*
Brigid of Ireland and Scotland,
the virgin of the islands --
she is the misty-bright flower of the young women,
Athrachta, helper of Limerick --
is the white-soled young woman of the Boyle,*
Gentle white Ciaran, Columcille--
gentle the company--
Patrick, Martin, Mongan, Manann,
The Trinity, great Mary and Michael --
eleven thousand noble virgins of the Boyle,
flower of pure virgins.
* abhra uaine/green brow: "uaine" means green or greenery. McKenna translates this as "dark brow", but I have a feeling it could also refer to the laurel crowns you sometimes see on pictures of saints (because of St. Paul's comparison of life to a race, and Heaven to the athlete's laurel). It would be especially fitting for Catherine as a Greek Egyptian to wear such a crown of victory.
* inghin Gréigríogh/the Greek king's daughter: I don't know if it means anything, but a good number of Irish fairytales have the hero meet up/quest for/marry the king of Greece's daughter. Anyway, as far as I know, European legends of St. Catherine of Alexandria do not make her a princess -- just a philosopher.
* samhradh gréine/sun's garland: sunshine.
* ó Mhac Muire/son of Mary: Jesus.
* Bhúille/the Boyle: a river
* an Tríonóid/the Trinity: the Holy Trinity. (I told you God got into this prayer. Nothing like rounding out a prayer or hymn by getting the Trinity into the last verse.)
* everybody: popular Irish saints, or (Martin, Mary and the archangel Michael) saints popular in Ireland. Back then, anyway.
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