The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 541

Padraic Colum’s “A Connachtman” consists of nine ballad quatrains in which the lyric persona, an old singer from the west of Ireland, imagines his own wake. In a song full of pity and sadness, as well as humor, he views death, on one hand as a mythic continuum of past, present, and future and, on the other, as an irretrievable closure of life. Death makes him look back to his past and remember the numerous joys of life he has shared with his friends. Also, his wake helps him realize that the account of his travels and exploits, retold by the old and admired by the young, has given his life the aura of a Celtic bard. It is this mythic quality that makes it possible for the lyric persona to reunite with the land and its ancient spirit. Yet, together with emphasizing the importance of tradition as a repository of racial identity, the ballad draws the reader’s attention to the idea that death severs humanity’s direct connection with nature and the simple pleasures and beauty of life.

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In the opening stanza of the ballad the old peasant singer presents to the reader, in a rather humorous way, his greatest “fear”: a large and noisy wake at which “hundreds” of people come to show their respect. Considering himself modest and insignificant, he remembers, in the second and third stanzas of the ballad, his past travels in the rural, and, thus, most authentic, Irish provinces of Connacht and Munster. A friend of many “good men,” he lets no one surpass him in physical strength, skill, or generosity. He is “foremost” in sports and arts: “In music, in song and in friendship/ In contests by night and by day,” traditional masculine qualities that earn him his companions’ respect and affection. These joyful memories, however, are interrupted in the fourth stanza by the coarse reality of death. The lyric persona addresses those present at his wake, and one of his friends in particular, with a request—he asks him to “Make smooth the boards of the coffin/ That shortly will cover my face.”

This brief loss of confidence, however, is counterbalanced by the next four stanzas, in which the singer envisages Ireland’s response to his death. “The old men,” the repository of folk history, will remember him and spread gallant stories about him, while the young generation’s “sure and clearpraise” of him promises further life to his “deeds.” No one is silent, not even “the young girls” who, with heads bent in respect, “will pray” for him “near the door.”

The ballad reaches its climax in the eighth stanza with the appearance of the “Three Women,” a mythic trio closely associated with Mother Ireland, who have come to complete the wake by singing their funeral song of lamentation for the peasant bard. The mythic qualities of this appearance close the circle of life and death by reuniting hero and land. However, despite death’s heroic characteristics, in the last stanza the lyric persona redefines the nature of his “grief”: the sad realization that he will never “hear,/ When the cuckoo cries in Glenart” and that “the wind that lifts when the sails are loosed/ Will never lift [his] heart.”

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 414

Colum is known for the simple and lyrical quality of his verse. Although he writes his verse in English, he is considered one of the most talented representatives of the Catholic peasant tradition in Ireland during the first decades of the twentieth century. Thus, as a folklorist, storyteller, and poet, he strives to reproduce in his verse the vitality of rhythm and the simplicity of Irish folk songs and traditional ballads. In “A Connachtman” Colum demonstrates this by following the quantitative meter (determined by the relative duration of sound), a characteristic feature of Old and Middle Irish prosody, instead of the accentual-syllabic (qualitative) rhythm used in English versification. For example, Colum employs predominantly the anapestic foot—a three-beat foot with stress on the third syllable—which allows him to achieve the musical and songlike qualities he desires. Also, the end rhymes the poet uses in the b positions of the rhyme scheme abcb of the ballad are primarily masculine—it is the final accented syllable that contains the repetition of sounds: “place” and “face,” “say” and “pray,” “day” and “away.” This results in a powerful rhyme, easy to remember and quite frequent in folk songs.

In addition to rhyme, Colum emphasizes assonance and alliteration in end rhyme or internal rhyme positions—two factors that also contribute to the musical quality and the simplicity, in a very positive sense, of “A Connachtman.” Assonance, for example, is frequently substituted for true end rhyme in the b lines: “boys” and “voice.” The first stanza presents an instance of alliteration: “my wake won’t be quiet,/ Nor my wake-house a silent place.” Other examples of vowel and consonantal alliteration include: “going home in the dawning,” “down from the Mountain,” “I bore the branch,” and “the deeds in my days.”

In “A Connachtman” Colum’s efforts to preserve ancient Celtic elements in contemporary Irish life are also revealed in the notable combination of traditional Irish versification, mythological subject matter, and symbols with commonplace situations of contemporary peasant life in rural Ireland, such as the wake of a dead peasant singer. Thus, the mention of the country fairs with their traditional Gaelic sport and music “contests by night and by day,” together with the central role of the divine female trio, the “Three Women” who “come down from the Mountain” in order to sing “the Keen” for the dead poet and escort his body, help re-create an image of ancient Ireland and some of its most respected men—the minstrel-poets.

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