An Áirc ba Dheise

The Most Beautiful Ark

Véarsa 1 Verse 1
Dá mb’agamsa bheadh tabhairt a hainm ar dtúis If I were the one who had the right to name her first,
Do chuirfinn a clú thar Vénus. I would make her more famous than Venus herself.
Go gcuirfeadh sí cúbhar ar fhairgíbh[1] dúbha For she would make white foam on the dark seas
Mar a bheadh seabhac chum[2] colúr do thraochadh. Like a hawk, swooping down on a dove.
Ní ansan a bhíonn an seó ach mar [a] thuilleann sí ór But it is not that which is her greatest achievement but, rather, how she earns gold
Ar chlocha móra is ar ghéar-shruith, Despite big rocks and heavy currents,
Ag imeacht le cóir an Daingean fé sheól Leaving Dingle under full sail and in good order
A foireann ag ól is ag glaoch ann. Her crew drinking and calling out.
Véarsa 2 Verse 2
‘Sí an áirc is deise is is breátha le feiscint She is the most beautiful ark and the finest to be seen
Ó bhun na Snuíme go Dubhluisg, From the mouth of the River Sneem to Dubhluisg,
Ó ríbhéar na Sionainn go Rinn[3] Chúil Uisce From the Shannon estuary to Rinn Chúil Uisce
Is don Spáinn go ritheann sí a cúrsa. And down to Spain, where she sets her course.
Ní gheillfeadh sí do thuille ná do ghaoth a bheadh ‘na coinne She would not yield to high seas nor to the wind blowing against her
Is do thabharfadh léi a foireann gan fiontar And she would bring her crew home without risk.
Agus Dia go mbainfeadh sé an béal don fhile And by God, even a poet would be deprived of the ability to speak
Nach [i]na véarsaí mar sin a dúirt é. [From regret] that it was not in his verses she was made.


The beauty and vigour of the words echo the energy and movement of the tune in An Áirc ba Dheise. Despite having only two verses this song feels complete and is a joy to sing. I particularly love the image of the black hawk swooping down on a white dove in verse one.

It is tempting to think that this is a west Kerry song, collected by Goodman in his native place because of the reference to ‘An Daingean’ in the first verse. The other placenames mostly suggest a Munster origin for this song too. Sneem is in south Kerry, Rinn Chúil Uisce is in the parish of Aghadown, west Carbery, Co. Cork and the mouth of the Shannon has Kerry on its southern bank and Clare on its northern shore. The only exception is ‘Dubhluisg.’ One possible candidate is a townland called ‘Duibhis’ in the barony of Erris on the coast of Co. Mayo. There is another townland in Mayo which is called ‘Duibhlis’ but that is inland. The ‘Áirc’ may well have been based in Dingle and plying her trade all along the south-western and western coasts of Ireland, even travelling as far south as Spain. Praise-poems or praise-songs for boats are not very common in the Munster tradition but there are some. Particularly well-known in west Kerry is Beauty Deas an Oileáin written by the poet Seán Ó Duinnshléibhe in 1880 and still very popular to this day. Another west Kerry song in praise of a boat is An Lóchair. This was composed by Dónal Ó Muircheartaigh who died in Árd na Caithne c.1870 according to Breandan ‘ac Gearailt in volume 1 of An Blas Muimhneach.

More usually, however, amhráin about boats or the sea tend to deal with tragic events such as drownings: An Charraig Aonair, of which Goodman has a version, is a good example. Other events include shipwrecks or personal loss, such as the poet’s heartbreaking loss of his whole library in Amhrán na Leabhar by the south Kerry poet Tomás Rua Ó Suilleabhain.

I have not found An Áirc ba Dheise in any other printed or manuscript source.

[1] Dative plural of ‘farraige.’

[2] ‘chun’

[3] The MS has ‘Binn’ but this is an error.