Transformational Transactions: Eochaidh Ó hEodhasa’s poem to James I (1603)
This essay examines Eochaidh Ó hEodhasa’s 34-quatrain ‘Mór theasda dh’obair Óivid’ (‘Much is wanting from Ovid’s work’), in which the Fermanagh master-poet and ollamh to the Maguires formally acclaims James VI and I on his 1603 accession to the triple crown of England, Scotland and Ireland, elegantly claiming that the resulting unprecedented metamorphosis has both rendered Ovid’s work lacking and utterly transformed the Irish psychic and political landscape. The poem’s unusual praise for a sitting English monarch has drawn considerable attention, a number of critics viewing it as evidence of the narrowly self-interested or even apolitical nature of bardic poets as a group. However, when examined more closely, the poem demonstrates a sustained concern with collective Irish interests and a serious attempt to reconcile king and subjects to one another, toward which end its high-flown praise is resolutely turned. The poem portrays the Irish not as the wild, irredeemable rebels familiar from early modern anglophone representation by Edmund Spenser, John Derrick, and others, but as long-suffering objects of pity deserving of fair treatment by a moderate, impartial, and kindly king. The poem demonstrates a bardic poet adroitly turning his art toward an urgent, yet tricky communal end as he defends Irish interests after defeat with all the means at his disposal.
About the Irish Studies Seminar
The Newberry Library Irish Studies Seminar brings together scholars to advance understanding of Irish culture both nationally and globally. The Irish Studies Seminar is supported by Mr. and Mrs. William F. Mahoney and Christine and Michael Pope, the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs, and the DePaul University Irish Studies Program.