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Notes on the Poets of Clare by Thomas F. O’Rahilly

Brian Merriman

Brian Merriman [20] lived at Kilclaran, near Feakle, in east Clare. Of his early life nothing is known save that (as O’Donovan records), he “held a small farm near Loch Gréine, and kept a hedge school, of both which he made some money. He appears to have had little intercourse with other Clare poets of the day; neither Lloyd of Meehan nor any other contemporary poet once refers to him. Subsequently (after 1792 it would seem) he removed with his wife and two daughters to Limerick city, where he conducted a “very respectable and popular” mathematical school until his death in 1805). One of his daughters, Catherine, married Michael Ryan, a tailor, in Limerick; the other [21] daughter, Mary emigrated to London.

Merriman’s great work is the Cúirt an Mheadhoin Oidhche, written in 1780, which describes a vision in which a young woman and an old man, who appear as litigants before the fairy-queen Aoibheall, discuss sundry matrimonial problems with something more than frankness. The Cúirt is perhaps the most remarkable production in modern Irish: but unfortunately it’s scabrous subject-matter and its licence of language will always prevent it from enjoying that popularity to which its merits would otherwise entitle it. It has been several times edited; and an abridged edition for schools has also appeared. Apart from the Cúirt (which runs to over 1,000 lines) only two unimportant songs are known to have been composed by Merriman.


Tomás Ó Míocháin


Donnchadh Ruadh Mac Conmara