Acher in Gaíth

Is acher in gaíth innocht,
fu·fúasna fairggae findḟolt:
ni·ágor réimm mora minn
dond láechraid lainn úa Lothlind.

Detail from "The Viking Terror" by Denis Brown

Sharp the Wind

The wind is sharp tonight,
it tosses the white hare of the ocean:
I fear not the coursing of the clear sea
by the fierce warriors from Lothlainn.

[Just a short poem while I’m still trying to get back into the habit of things.]

I thought I had hardly any translation work for this one, but discovered to my joy that I had nearly the whole piece translated! Just a few words required checking, and we were good to go. As always with Old Irish texts, the edition is that of the teaching materials prepared by Professor A.A of my university; he has taught me everything I know of Old Irish.

This piece comes from a 9thC MS of Priscian’s Institutiones Grammaticae known as ‘The St. Gall Priscian’. You can find all sorts of interesting things about it here, in a thoroughly beautiful and accessible online edition. The wonders of the modern age! This really is the best time to be into medieval studies (or it would be if our field had any funding). Our anonymous poet scrawled this poem about his homeland in the margins of the text- presumably recalling the poem itself from home, as I do not believe the St. Gall monastery had any number of Viking raids.

For Vikings are, of course, ‘the fierce warriors from Lothlainn’ of the final line. My notes claim that ‘Lothlainn’ means something like ‘lake-country’, while the Irish Language Dictionary simply notes it as “The name of some part of Scandinavia; Norway; sometimes Denmark; …`used vaguely for Germany or Scandinavia’.” Either way, it is clear that the placename refers to Scandinavia in some way.

The poet does not fear these fierce chaps because it storms outside, making the seas impassable. Vikings rarely raided during storm seasons because it is a good way to drown. Later in the so-called ‘viking age’ Scandinavian raiders set up local bases in order to raid all year.

A final note on language: both fairggae (gen. s. of fairrge) and mora (gen. s. of muir) appear to mean ‘sea’ or ‘ocean’; my notes have both words as ‘sea’. Yet the Irish Language Dictionary notes that muir is the word used when referring to a specific sea (cf. Modern Irish Muir Éireann (Irish Sea), Mhuir Chaisp (Caspian Sea)). The stock phrase mora minn (here ‘clear sea’) also appears to be interpreted or refer specifically to the Irish Sea in some texts. As is my usual policy, I translate such terms literally rather than figuratively- but one could interpret the third line to mean ‘Irish Sea’ specifically rather than a general ‘clear sea’.