Mad Suibhne (Mad Sweeney)

Suibhne and `Eorann :

Author: Suibhne Geilt (Mad Sweeney) c.A.D. 1175

Now `Eorann, who had been Suibhne’s wife, had by that time married G`uaire son of Congal son of Scannl`an….And Suibhne came to the place where `Eorann was. G`uaire had gone hunting that day… And the madman settled on the lintel of the hut in which `Eorann was, and spoke these words: “Do you remember, girl”, said he “the great love we had for each other when we lived together? And now sleep and comfort are your lot” said he, ” and it is not so with me.” Suibhne then spoke as follows, and `Eorann answered him:


1. Sleep is your lot, lovely `Eorann, committed to a bet with your lover. It is not so here with me: long have I been restless.

2. Lightly great `Eorann, did you say these pleasing words, that you would not live were you be parted for a single day from Suibhne.

3. Today it can be quickly seen that you set little store by your old friend: you are warm on the good down of a bead; I am cold without till morning.

`Eorann: 4. Welcome to you bright madman: you are my dearest of all men; though sleep be its lot, my body is wasted since the day I heard you were as naught.

Suibhne: 5. Dearer to you is the king’s son who leads you to the carefree banquet: he is your chosen wooer; you seek not your old friend.

`Eorann 6. Though the king’s son should lead me to carefree banqueting-halls. I should prefer to pass the night in the narrow hollow of a tree with you, O husband, were it in my power.

Suibhne: 7. It were better for you to give love and affection to the husband who has you as his one wife than to an uncouth famished dreadful fear inspiring wholly-naked madman.

`Eorann: 8. Were my choice of all the men of Ireland and Scotland given me, I should prefer to live blamelessly on water and cress with you.

Suibhne: 9. No path for a loved lady is that of Suibne here on the track of trouble: cold are my beds at Ard Abla; my cold dwellings are not rare.

`Eorann: 10. It saddens me indeed, toiling madman, that you should be unsightly and in distress; it grieves me hat your skin has changed its color and that briars and thorn-bushes should tear you.

Suibhne: 11. I speak not to find fault with you, tender radiant gentle lady: Christ son of Mary (mighty bondage), He it is who has brought me to wretchedness.

`Eorann: 12. I wish we could be together, in order that feathers might come over our bodies and that I might roam through light and dark with you every day and every night.

Suibhne: 13. I have spent a night in Mourne of the pleasant sounds; I have traveled to the lovely estuary of the Bann; I he roamed over Ireland to its limit; I have visited the monastery of the grandson of S`uanach.

He had hardly said those words when the host coming in from every direction filled the encampment. He then rushed away in wild flight, as he had often done.


Anonymous, c. A.D. 1175: Speech-poem within the prose narrative of Buile Suibhne.,(The Madness of Suibhne)


Little antlered one, little belling one,

melodious little bleater,

sweet I think the lowing you make in the glen.

Home sickness for my little dwelling has come upon my mind,

the calves in the plain, the deer on the moor.

Oak, bushy, leafy, you are high above trees;

Hazel, little branchy one, wisdom of hazel nuts.

Alder, you are not spiteful, lovely is your colour,

you are not prickly where you are in the gap.

Blackthorn, little thorny one, black little sloe bush,

Apple tree, little apple tree, violently everyone shakes you.

Bramble, little humped vine, you do not grant fair terms;

tearing me till you are sated with blood.

Yew, you are conspicuous among tombs;

Rowan, little berried one, sacred is your lovely white blooms.

Holly, little protector, door against storms;

Ash tree weapon in the hand of the warrior, baneful are you.

Birch, smooth, blessed, proud, melodious,

how lovely is each entangled branch at the top of your crest.

Aspen, as it trembles from time to time

I hear its leaves rustle and think it is the foray;

Ivy, you are familiar in the dark woods.

A year to last night

have I been among the gloom of branches,

between flood and ebb,

without covering around me.

Without a pillow beneath my head,

among the fair children of men;

there is peril to us, O God,

without sword, without spear.

Without the company of women;

save brooklime of warrior-bands—

a pure fresh meal—

watercress is our desire.

Without a foray with a king,

I am alone in my home,

without glorious reavings,

without friends, without music.

Without sleep, alas!

let the truth be told,

without aid for a long time,

hard is my lot.

Without a house right full,

without the converse of generous men,

without the title of king,

without drink, without food.

Alas that I have been parted here

from my mighty, armed host,

a bitter madman in the glen,

bereft of sense and reason.

Without being on a kingly circuit,

but rushing along every path;

that is the great madness,

King of Heaven of saints.

Without accomplished musicians,

without the converse of women,

without bestowing treasures;

it has caused my death, O revered Christ.

Though I be as I am to-night,

there was a time

when my strength was not feeble

over a land that was not bad.

On splendid steeds,

in life without sorrow,

in my auspicious kingship

I was a good, great king.

After that, to be as I am

through selling Thee, O revered Christ!

a poor wretch am I, without power,

in the Glen of bright Bolcan.

The hawthorn that is not soft-topped

has subdued me, has pierced me;

the brown thorn-bush

has nigh caused my death.

The battle of Congal with fame,

to us it was doubly piteous;

on Tuesday was the rout;

more numerous were our dead than our living.

A-wandering in truth,

though I was noble and gentle,

I have been sad and wretched

a year to last night.

O woman who pluckest the watercress

and takest the water,

thou wouldst not be without something to-night

even though thou didst not take my portion.

Alas, O woman!

thou wilt not go the way that I shall go;

I abroad in the tree-tops,

thou yonder in a friend’s house.

Alas, O woman!

cold is the wind that has come to me;

nor mother nor son has pity on me,

no cloak is on my breast.

If thou but knewest, O woman,

how Suibhne here is:

he does not get friendship from anyone,

nor does anyone get his friendship.

I go not to a gathering

among warriors of my country,

no safeguard is granted me,

my thought is not on kingship.

I go not as a guest

to the house of any man’s son in Erin,

more often am I straying madly

on the pointed mountain-peaks.

None cometh to make music to me

for a while before going to rest,

no pity do I get

from tribesman or kinsman.

When I was Suibhne indeed

and used to go on steeds—

when that comes to my memory

alas that I was detained in life!

I am Suibhne, noble leader,

cold and joyless is my abode,

though I be to-night on wild peaks,

O woman who pluckest my watercress.

My mead is my cold water,

my kine are my cresses,

my friends are my trees,

though I am without mantle or smock.

Cold is the night to-night,

though I am poor as regards watercress,

I have heard the cry of the wild-goose

over bare Imlech Iobhair.

I am without mantle or smock

the evil hour has long clung to me (?),

I flee at the cry of the heron

as though it were a blow that struck me.

I reach firm Dairbre

in the wondrous days of Spring,

and before night I flee

westward to Benn Boirche.

If thou art learned, O fair, crabbed one,

my field …

there is one to whom the burden thou takest

is a grievous matter, O hag.

It is cold they are

at the brink of a clear, pebbly spring—

a bright quaff of pure water

and the watercress you pluck.

My meal is the watercress you pluck,

the meal of a noble, emaciated madman;

cold wind springs around my loins

from the peaks of each mountain.

Chilly is the wind of morn,

It comes between me and my smock,

I am unable to speak to thee,

O woman who pluckest the watercress.

The woman:

Leave my portion to the Lord,

be not harsh to me;

the more wilt thou attain supremacy,

and take a blessing, O Suibhne.


Let us make a bargain just and fitting

though I am on the top of the yew;

take thou my smock and my tatters,

leave the little bunch of cress.

There is scarce one by whom I am beloved,

I have no house on earth;

since thou takest from me my watercress

my sins to be on thy soul!

Mayest thou not reach him whom thou hast loved,

the worse for him whom thou hast followed;

thou hast left one in poverty

because of the bunch thou hast plucked.

May a raid of the blue-coated Norsemen take thee!

Thine has not been a fortunate meeting for me,

mayest thou get from the Lord the blame

for cutting my portion of watercress.

O woman, if there should come to thee

Loingseachan whose delight is sport,

do thou give him on my behalf

half the watercress thou pluckest.

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