Pádraig Ó Miléadha (1877 – 1947)
Poet of Ireland and of Wales.



Pádraig Ó Míléadha was born in West Waterford, in the district known since as ‘Na Déise’ (‘The Decies’), in 1877. He was brought up by his grandfather, Muiris. The old man could speak no English, yet, when Pádraig had completed his elementary education at the local National School, where teacher Patrick Keating ensured that he was given a thorough grounding in English, he could neither read nor write in his home language because Irish, like the shamrock in the famous song, was “by law forbid” to be taught in Irish schools. As a teenager he made it his business to acquire those skills on his own initiative.

About 1903 Pádraig left Ireland and ended up in Clydach in the Swansea Valley. He found employment in the local Mond Nickel Works and eventually met and married Ellen Cullinan, who had also emigrated from ‘Na Déise’. Their children went to the local Catholic school where they found themselves immersed in English which was the only language of education in Wales at that time. However, they lived in an area where practically everyone spoke Welsh so the children learned some Welsh informally, especially songs.

Pádraig, however, was mainly concerned about his own language and devoted himself to the work of ‘Conradh na Gaeilge’ (the ‘Gaelic League’, founded in 1893 by Douglas Hyde) which in those years had a network of branches in South Wales. He was in great demand as a teacher at the evening classes arranged by the ‘Conradh’, sometimes travelling as far as Merthyr Tydfil after completing an exhausting day at the nickel works.

He got involved in local politics and was elected a member of the parish council, holding his seat until he returned to Ireland.

He was also very interested in political developments in Ireland in the years leading up to the First World War – he even organised a local ‘battalion’ of volunteers prepared to fight for Home Rule – they drilled using brushes and shovels and paraded around the area to the tolerant amusement of their Welsh neighbours!

He took an active part in trade union activities at his workplace and finally lost his job there because he took the side of the workers during a strike which closed the Mond Nickel Works for three months in 1922.

He went back to Ireland with his wife and children. The family had been impoverished during the long strike and in Ireland they had to confront a land in the throes of civil war. After many months of hardship, endured with the help of family and friends, Pádraig succeeded in getting a job as a teacher of Irish.

He remained in that post until his health broke during the Second World War. He died in 1947 and was buried in the cemetery at Túr an Fhíona (‘ Tooraneena’).

Then, in 1977, 100 years after his birth, the President of Ireland, Cathal Ó Dálaigh, unveiled a plaque placed over his grave. Why, one might ask, would the President of Ireland be interested in such an apparently ordinary chap?

Although he had never received more than the elementary education offered at his local school and had spent almost twenty years as a factory worker, he had always been interested in books, literature, music and song. During the years in Clydach his children inherited a tradition of Irish music, song and dance which his grandchildren and great grandchildren maintain to this day. He himself wrote verses, poems and songs in both English and Irish which are now a cherished part of the cultural heritage of County Waterford. They are also a completely unacknowledged part of the cultural heritage of Wales.

Two of his compositions have a particular link with Wales.

The first is his masterpiece, Trí Glúine Gaedheal (‘Three Irish Generations’), a poetic record of some of the events of Irish history from the 1840s to the 1930s. The final part of the 112 page work deals with his own experiences in Wales and with his return to Ireland. Here is a completely unexpected eyewitness account of the experiences of an Irish emigrant in the Swansea Valley in the early years of this century. He describes the lone voyage, the first sounds of Welsh, the search for work, the almost lunar landscape of rapid development, the frenzy of the people caught up in the maelstrom, the Dante–like scenes in a coalmine, the noxious fumes that daily assailed the workers in the nickel factory, the work of the trade union, and the strike that resulted in his return to Ireland. A translation of this part of his book is reproduced below.

This unique book is in stock at Cardiff Central Library.

The second composition of note is his song, Sliabh Geal gCua, a poem in song that has become accepted as one of Ireland’s greatest songs of exile and one of the classics of the language this century. It was written in Wales.

Pádraig would often go with his wife and children to the seaside – Swansea Bay, Mumbles, the many coves of Gower. There he would sit and think of his childhood home, of his own language and of the grand old people who had spoken that language all around him in his earliest years.
One day, either as he sat by the sea or back home in Clydach, he wrote down the lovely words which we reproduce below together with an English translation.

Sliabh Geal gCua

Ó a Shliabh geal gCua na féile, is fada uait i gcéin mé,
Im’ shuí cois cuain im’ aonar go tréithlag faoi bhrón;
An tuile bhuí ar thaobh díom ‘dir mé ‘gus tír mo chléibhe,
Is a Shliabh geal gCua na féile nach géar é mo sceol?

Dá mbeinnse i measc mo ghaolta i Sceichín glas na séimhfhear,
Nuair a scaipeann teas na gréine ó spéir gheal gan smál;
Nó dá mbeinnse ansiúd fé’n réaltain nuair a thiteann drúcht ar fhéar ann,
Ó a Shliabh geal gCua nár dhéirc sin dá m’ fhéidir é ‘ fháil!

‘Sé mo léan nach bhfuair mé tógaint le léann is mórchuid eolais,
I nGaoluinn uasal cheolmhar ba sheolta mo bhéal;
Ó thabharfainn cuairt thar sáile is thabharfainn bua thar barr chugat,
Mar a Shliabh geal gCua ba bhreá liom thú ‘ ardú fé réim.

Mo ghrása thall na Déise, ‘dir bhánta, ghleannta is shléibhte,
Ó shnámhas anall thar tréanmhuir táim tréithlag gan bhrí;
Ach ó b’ áil le Dia me ‘ ghlaoch as, mo shlánsa siar go hÉirinn,
Agus slán le Sliabh na Féile le saorghean óm’ chroí!

As sung on Youtube

The first verse above followed by a new translation into Welsh was sung in Cardiff on St. Patrick’s Day 2003.

Bright Sliabh gCua

O bright Sliabh gCua of the welcomes,
You are far from me, my home,
As I sit I am weak with sorrow,
Here by this sea alone;

The golden tide just by me
Is twixt me and my heart’s land,
O bright Sliabh gCua of the welcomes,
My story is not so grand.

Were I among my own folk,
Kindly men in Skeheens green,
Where the heat of the sun is scattered
From a sky of flawless sheen;

Oh, were I now beneath the stars
As dew falls on grass there,
Oh, you bright Sliabh gCua,
‘Twould be an gift so rare!

Oh, I am sad that I wasn’t reared
With learning and with art,
In the noble melodious Irish tongue
My mouth would have its part;

And I would go back across the sea,
And I would give you pride,
And I would love to see, Sliabh gCua,
Your fame go worldwide!

There is my love, the Decies,
Every meadow, hill and vale,
Since I came o’er the mighty sea
I have grown weak and pale;

But since God Himself has called me here,
My greetings go back home,
Back to that hill of welcomes,
From my heart, with love alone!



Published in The Green Dragon No 4, Autumn 1997.

Translation ©: Wales Famine Forum.

Note: ‘Sliabh gCua’ (pronounce: ‘shleeve gooa’ ), is an upland area north of Dungarvan.

One of the most pleasing recordings of ’Sliabh Geal gCua, that by the singer Mary Greene, may be found on the CD, The Land You Love the Best.

A link to all three of Mary Greene’s CDs

Pádraig Ó Miléadha
Scéal Phádraig Uí Mhiléadha sa Ghaeilge.
The story of Pádraig Ó Miléadha in Irish.

Hanes Pádraig Ó Miléadha (yn y Gymraeg)
Gyda’r testun llawn yn y Wyddeleg yn ogystal â fersiwn ‘cywirach’ yn y Gymraeg.
An account of Pádraig Ó Miléadha in Welsh with the full text in Irish together with a more ’correct’ translation into Welsh.

An English ‘translation’ (as ’accurate’ as could be achieved by an amateur) of part a long poem by Pádraig Ó Miléadha, ‘Trí Glúine Gaedhal’ (‘Three Generations of Gaels’) published in Dublin in 1953. In the section translated he gives a graphic account of his journey to, life in and eventual return to Ireland from the Swansea Valley, South Wales.

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