The Merry Pedlar - 13th Oct. 1945


The Merry Pedlar - Text Version


It was on a fair day that Aindrias Mac Craith first arrived in Croom. Crowds thronged the fair green and jostled one another along the streets. All Coshma was thee: the hardy frieze-coated men in their knee breeches, the comely women in their cloaks and shawls. It was a great day in their lives; no one missed "the airy fair of Croom of the Jubilations."

"Nil ait I nEirinn eachtaigh oirir ur-ghlain,

Is fearr na e 's is feile pobul dluth-dhil,

Bionn gair ag eanlaith an aeir ag moladh an Duilimh

Le gairdeas cleibh ag Aonach Chroma an t-sughachais."

Mac Craith edged his way through the throng of people who were enjoying the sunshine after a heavy shower of rain. He was young and active, but the ragged clothes he wore pointed him out as one who possessed little of the world's goods. Under his arm he carried a large piece of frieze – the making of a new coat. A man who was cutting a drain to divert the water from his tent saw the stranger approach, and set him down as a pedlar. Mac Craith, seeing the man at work and ever anxious for a joke, said: "What do you intend to catch in the weir"? "Bosthoons," came the unexpected reply. Nettled at the answer Mac Craith moved on, determined to get his own back on the quick witted owner of the tent.


He collected a few friends, returned to the tent and called for drinks. All the time he waited an opportunity to kick up a row. Soon the landlord came in and Mac Craith at once accused him of having given an impertinent answer to a civil question earlier in the day. The landlord denied the charge, saying, "Look at all the bosthoons I've caught by keeping my tent dry." The reply was too much for Mac Craith. He burst out laughing and called for drinks all round. He drank freely and during the evening he lost his piece of frieze. That night the good-hearted landlord took him in and gave him lodgings. It was not until morning that Mac Craith discovered that his host was none other than Sean O Tuama an Ghrinn (Sean O Tuomy the ), Croom's own poet, across the gable of whose tavern was written a welcoming verse in Irish, which ran:

"Nil fanidhe na sar-fhear d'uaisle Gaoidheal,

Brathair de'n daimh ghlic na suairc-fhear groidhe,

I gcas go mbeadh laighreach gan luach na dighe,

Na beadh failte ag Sean geal Ua Tuama roimhe."

"Should one of the stock of the noble Gael,

A brother bard who is fond of good cheer,

Be short of the price of a tankard of ale,

He is welcome to O Tuama a thousand times here."

O Tuama laughingly poured out a jug of on Mac Craith's head, at the same time christening him "An Mangaire Sugach" – the "Merry Pedlar," an account of the exploit of the frieze the night before. And that was how those two became acquainted – Sean O Tuama an Ghrinn and Aindrias Mac Craith. From that moment they were fast and inseparable friends. Even in they are inseparable; for no lover of Irish poetry ever thinks of the one without remembering the other.


The Mangaire Sugach – for that is the name we shall call him in future – was not a pedlar, but a roving schoolmaster, setting up school wherever he could find a few pupils, then moving on when numbers fell.

In order to avoid any confusion, at this stage I should mention that when I started to write these weekly notes I stole Aindrias' sobriquet in a vain endeavour to hide my identity. Therefore, should anyone think that this article is autobiographical, I hasten to inform him, or her, that the original and the great Mangaire Sugach, of whom I'm now writing, passed away from this vale of tears over 150 years ago.

From the accounts that have come down we learn that the Mangaire was a wild rake of a man, fond of sport, good company and deep drinking, getting into more than one scrape with the clergy on account of his droch-iompar. It was after his banishment from Croom to Ballyneety that he wrote one of the loveliest of all his songs, lamenting his forced exile from "cois Maighe na gcaor" – "O Slan le Maigh" – "Goodbye to the Maigue." In Ballyneety the poor Mangaire's heart is broken. When he goes down the street the women appear at the doors surmising who he can be.

"Bid mna le cheile ag pleidhe da luadhadh,

Ca h-ait, cia h-e, ca taobh 'nar ghluais.

On one occasion he turned Protestant, but the local minister, having every good reason to doubt the sincerity of his "conversion," would have nothing to do with him. The Mangaire then addressed a poem to Sean O Tuama, complaining that he was now neither Protestant nor Papist. But for all his waywardness he was a gifted singer. That poor wretch of a man, so often seen reeling from the tavern to the miserable hovel he called home, was one of the sweetest poets an age of song was to produce, a man whose poems will endure as long as the Irish language lives. He was a real lyrist, not unlike Burns and in his songs he gives us an insight into his wild and vagrant life. He had a profound knowledge of the Irish language and his poetry is full of magic and melody. He belonged to that strange Hidden Ireland of the 18th century, that Ireland that flowered with such profusion of poetry under the blasting winter winds of oppression. If he was careless and intemperate, much of it was due to a hellish code of laws then being enacted for the utter degradation of the old race.

Rake that he was, he could often be found in the company of Sean Clarach, Sean O Tuama, Father Nicholas O'Donnell and those other poets of the Maigue, declaiming the hero-tales of Greece and Rome and discussing current European politics. Those remarkable men arose in an age when learning of every kind was banned in Ireland and sprang from a people dubbed as ignorant and illiterate by their oppressors. They were the last guardians of the thousand year old ure of the Gael and with their passing the Irish language, the repository of that ancient ure, faded and died in the rich plains of Limerick.


It is doubtful if the Mangaire Sugach would ever have written a verse of poetry were it not for the encouragement and friendship of Sean O Tuama. He had written nothing before he came to Croom and after the of Sean o Tuama he lapses into silence. Thee was always a welcome for him in Sean's tavern. A story is told of a trick he played on O Tuama's wife, Muireann.

One day soon after his arrival in Croom he called into O Tuama's to benefit under the terms of Sean's poetic welcome. Now, Mrs. O Tuama had just been giving her husband "who-began-it" about all the free drink being consumed by thirsty bards, when whom should Sean see approaching but the Mangaire, and immediately he made a strategic retreat to his room. The Mangaire saw the move, and went over to the keyhole, and said:-

"Ma's tu Sean is nar duit e mar


Is go bhfuil I n-airde ar chlar i

mbuaic do thighe:

Da mbheadh mac deagh-athar la

gan luach na dighe,

Go mbeadh mile failte ag Sean

Gheal Ua Tuama roimhe."

Sean never budged. The poor Mangaire was very thirsty, but he hadn't a halfpenny in his pocket. A sudden inspiration came to him; he introduced himself to Mrs. O Tuama as a well-to-do man from the locality and told her that his men were on the way to Limerick with corn and that they'd be passing through Croom shortly. He requested her to fill out ten or twelve glasses of her choicest liquors for them, and as well treated herself to a drink. From time to time he went to the door, exclaiming "what can be keeping them." And after each visit to the door he tossed off one of the drinks. In record time all the glasses were empty. He then remarked that the men must have taken another road, regretted that he hadn't any money on him, but promised payment on his return from Limerick. Next day Sean himself paid his wife the bill with money that he had borrowed from the priest for the purpose.


It seems strange to meet such names as An Mangaire Sugach – "The Merry Pedlar" – Sean O Tuama an Ghrinn – Sean O Tuomy the – and Cromadh an tSughachais – Croom of the Jollification, in the darkest and saddest days of our country's history. Though the tears of Penal Ireland sparkled the laughter of the Maigue poets. , reckless Aindrias Mac Craith, only one thing could kill the soul of mirth and fun in him – the of his bosom friend, Sean, he left Croom and sang no more. Since that day when he first edged his way though Croom fair, hugging a piece of frieze under his arm, to make a coat to replace his poor rags, he had written songs of such exquisite loveliness that critics rank the composer as one of the most melodious of all the poets who wrote in the Irish language. Where he went after leaving Croom we do not know. As he did not die until some time after 1790 he must have lived though many years of hardship and poverty. He had outlived Sean Clarach by almost 40 years and his friend, Sean O Tuama, by nearly 20. He had seen the last of the great Maigue School of Poetry and his declining years were saddened by the decay of the old language in the district where once it flourished. It was in a farm-house near Bulgaden that, worn and aged by a careless and intemperate life, he at last yielded up his wild and restless spirit. He was buried in Kilmallock Churchyard, but no cross or stone marks his resting place. With a few alterations we can apply the lines on O Carolan to him:-

"Here some rich man, forgotten lies,

Under a cross that sweeps the skies;

And there, among the nameless throngs,

An Mangaire Sugach, maker of songs."

previousPrevious - The Man Of The Roads - 2nd Dec 1944
Next - Book-Keepers I've Known - 23rd Nov. 1946next