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An Raibh tú ar an gCarraig?

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An raibh tú ar an gcarraig?Now, I was talking about Queen Anne, and I think Queen Anne was the most hated queen that ever lived, especially by the Irish, as she enforced the Penal Code that was started in 1695 during William’s reign.1 And when he died, everybody thought when he died, well, something good will come, but [unintelligible] from the frying pan into the fire, when Queen Anne came into power.

Now, there’s an awful lot of ‘don’ts’ – things you couldn’t do, I mean, everything – you couldn’t do anything, really. So, I may as well concentrate on one sort, the priests, the clergy couldn’t say mass in the churches; the teachers couldn’t teach school in the schools; the people, if they were heard speaking Irish, they were beheaded.2 But there was another thing: the people – as I said before, religion kept their sanity during that terrible period. And all the other crowd wanted, ‘Change your religion, and we’ll have you.’ Even the protestants was against some of the rules enforced by the other, Orange crowd that was installed by William in the north.

However, the people went out to the mountains, and they put slabs of stone, fixed them up and made an altar out of them to say mass. And that is where the song came from, An raibh tú ar an gcarraig? or ‘Were you at the rock?’ Now, the people had code words to say, ‘Were you at mass?’ – ‘An raibh tú ag3 an gcarraig?’ – that means, ‘Were you at mass?’ And anybody listening to them wouldn’t know what they were talking about. They couldn’t say, ‘Were you at mass?’ – ‘Were you at the rock?’.

Now this song was always in Irish, but I’m translating you what it’s about before I sing it for you. And there’s only two verses – there never was more – a question and answer. An raibh tú ar an gcarraig, nó an bhfaca tú féin mo ghrá? ‘Were you at the rock, and did you see my love?’ which was the mass he was talking about. An bhfaca tú gile, is finne agus scéimh na mná? ‘Did you see the beautiful face of the woman?’ He’s talking about the statue of the Blessed Virgin. An bhfaca tú an t-ubhal ba deise is ba ghlaise bláth? ‘Did you see the apple—’  It’s the chalice he was talking about. Nó an bhfaca tú mo Valentine, nó an bhfuil sí dhá claoi mar atáid a rá? The ‘Valentine’ he meant, the whole Catholic faith, or…the Church, ‘is it still prosecuted as it was?’

An raibh tú ar an gcarraig, nó an bhfaca tú féin mo ghrá?
Nó an bhfaca tú gile ‘s finne agus scéimh na mná?
Nó an bhfaca tú an t-ubhal ba deise is ba ghlaise bláth?
Nó an bhfaca tú mo Valentine, nó an bhfuil sí dhá claoi mar táid a rá?

Ó, bhí mé ar an gcarraig, agus chonaic mé féin do ghrá
Is chonaic mé gile, finne agus scéimh na mná
Agus chonaic mé an t-ubhal ba deise is ba ghlaise bláth
Is chonaic mé do Valentine is tá sí dhá claoi mar táid a rá.

Translation

Were you at the rock? Did you see my love?
Did you see the brightness, and fairness, and beauty of the woman?
Did you see the apple that is loveliest and freshest of blossom?
Did you see my Valentine – and is she still being persecuted as they say?

I was at the rock, and I saw your love
I saw the brightness, the fairness, the beauty of the woman
And I saw the apple that is the loveliest and freshest of blossom
And I saw your Valentine – and she is still being persecuted as they say.

Notes

1 Joe is referring to the period of the Penal Laws in Ireland, instituted following the accession of William of Orange (William III) to the English throne. The primary objective of this legislation was not so much to convert the population from Catholicism – that effort got underway only following the Famine in the mid-nineteenth century – but rather to ensure that the concentration of wealth and power was in protestant hands. The laws sought to limit the power of the clergy; religious orders and bishops were forbidden, and new churches had to be built of wood (instead of stone) away from main roads, thus making them harder to get to. Priests had to obtain a license from local magistrates before being allowed to preach.

Popular beliefs about this period of Irish history, however, maintain that the public celebration of the mass was proscribed and the Catholic priesthood actively persecuted – and as enforcement of the Penal Laws was largely left to local authorities, this may have been the case in some places. As a consequence, the practice of saying mass out-of-doors in out-of-the-way locations became widespread. To this day, people all over Ireland know the location of Mass Rocks in their locality, and in some cases these are still sites for annual celebrations of the mass, and keep alive the memory of the difficulties faced by generations of Roman Catholics.

Joe may be correct in asserting his community’s understanding of this song as referring to the celebration of mass during Penal times; apparently this idea was perpetuated when the song was taught in schools. Séamas Ennis, who often played it as a slow air on the pipes, apparently also believed that the song was allegorical. Nonetheless, it seems likely that the poem was originally composed as a love song. In Nua-Dhuanaire I (Dublin 1971), Breandán Ó Buachalla includes five verses – including the two given here – and refers to John O’Daly’s attribution of the poem, in Poets and Poetry of Munster (Dublin 1849), to a Tyrone poet named Dominic Ó Mongáin, who was supposed to have composed the verses for Eliza Blacker, who lived in Carrick, Co. Armagh, at the beginning of the eighteenth century. See also Tomás Ó Con Cheanainn, ‘Roinnt Seanchais faoi Amhráin Chonnacht’ in Áine Ní Chonghaile (ed.), Deile: Iris Mhuintir Chonamara i mBaile Átha Cliath (1998), p. 1.

2 Another law enacted at this time – and repealed only in 1782 – declared that ‘No person of the popish religion shall publicly or in private houses teach school, or instruct youth in learning within this realm.’ This restriction gave rise to the so-called ‘hedge-schools,’ where travelling school-masters undertook to teach children whose parents were able to pay. As regards the beheading of those heard speaking in Irish, while it’s true that the authorities executed or transported many people for what would today be considered trifling reasons, the assertion that they summarily beheaded people for speaking Irish might be questioned - at least until reliable historical evidence were presented.

3 Should it be ar an gcarraig or ag an gcarraig? Joe’s normal Irish for ‘at the rock’ would be ag an gcarraig – but the song uses the preposition ar ‘on’.


Introduction and song: UW 841404. Recorded by Joan Rabinowitz at University of Washingon on 9 April 1982. Additional remarks: UW 812901. Interview recorded by Fredric Lieberman, University of Washington, in 1981 or earlier.

 

 

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