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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon


Recently while listening to a Kerry soprano singing "Oh The Pale Moon was ris...." something struck me. As youngsters we had this stupid question, ”Who is the oldest man in the world? Sean O’ Farrell, because he was at the rising of the moon”. The setting of the moon doesn’t even get a place in such trivia.

If I were a moonset I would be considering taking some legal action on the grounds of discrimination. I’d certainly be badgering the celestial Equality Officer. I'd be a bit peeved. OK, the rising of the moon is well documented. Poets revere it, artists immortalize it and it even seems to have played a significant role in Ireland's fight for freedom. What with shining on dying rebels and casting its beams over shining pikes. And didn't Lady Gregory have plans to ;".....all change places at the rising of the moon"? Once it rises majestically into the night sky we have numerous requests for it; "guide the traveller his way". ".....shine on the one I love" and many more.

But when did you last hear a romantic ballad about "The Setting of the Moon"?

I'm after scanning a list of jigs, reels and hornpipes and I couldn't find one tune named after the aforementioned phenomena. You can go through every housing estate in Ireland and you won't find a setting moon depicted in a wrought-iron gate. It is inspiring when "rising over Claddagh", Dancing “on Monan's rill" or even hiding: "behind the hill". Although the latter position can draw some criticism. (An old friend of mine.........was walking in Ballinastockan one dark night when he, involuntary, left the road and dropped a few feet into an unfenced field. On extricating himself from the briars, the, more printable extract of his comment was: "'d be shinin' of a bright night".)

Why is there not one word of praise for the moon going down? Surely there is some form of moon-loving flora, which "turns to her God when she sets". Well if there is Thomas Moore mustn't have known about it. Coleridge was there as ; "The moving moon went up the sky", but he must have retired before it. Dylan Thomas must have though it didn’t set at all. He referred to, “ . . . the moon that is always rising”.

Why don't we see a beautiful Colleen with an Irish Wolfhound, at a round Tower backed by a beautiful moonset?

Have you ever felt compelled to write about the setting moon? I must say I haven't, because in all fairness I have to say I haven't ever seen a moon set. And come to think of it even my philosophical friend in West Wicklow, who was somewhat of a nocturnal rambler, didn't say he had ever witnessed the lunar setting. ( He did once claim that America was farther away than the moon; on the grounds that you can see the moon......)

Maybe the oppressor got the celestial bodies mixed up. Perhaps it was the MOON that didn't set on the Empire!

In a recent Irish Times piece “Weather Eye” man, Brendan McWilliams, gave us a comprehensive account (in lay-man’s terms) of how and why the setting time of the moon varies during the lunar month. It sets about fifty minutes later each time. This means that at one stage, during the “new-moon” period it actually sets during daylight and consequently we can’t see it. But that is no excuse for people of a literary inclination not writing about it. Poets often write about things they can’t see. Isn’t that what abstract composition is all about?

Well if none of the rest of you are going to write it I’ll have a go myself. Here’s my attempt at a haiku:

Where were you Sean o’ Farrell
When the moon was going down.
And why did . . . ?

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