For Peter Levi, Professor of Poetry at Oxford, it was ‘the greatest poem written in these islands in the whole eighteenth century’. The heartrending story of Eileen O’Connell (Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill) and Art O’Leary (Art Ó Laoghaire) has survived for two and a half centuries in history, folklore and art. It differs from most of the best known narratives of love and loss in the Irish tradition because Eileen and Art were real people. Though they came from families of relative privilege they lived subject to oppressive Penal Laws. Following a public dispute, on 4 May 1773 Art was shot and fatally wounded. Eileen rode to the scene and gave vent to her desolation. Now John FitzGerald, familiar since childhood with the topography of the poem, offers a commemorative translation, The Lament for Art O’Leary, a new slant in language that captures and communicates the physical intensity of Eileen’s love and bereavement. The book contains also Seán Ó Tuama’s edition of the original Irish and, for the first time in monochrome, Jack B Yeats’s illustrations made for the text.
In 1767 Eileen O’Connell from Derrynane in County Kerry set eyes on Art O’Leary in Macroom in County Cork. They married, had children, and lived in Raleigh House. Following Art’s death in 1773 she composed this caoineadh or lament.