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Ochon agus Ochon O

May 27, 2009

Ochon agus ochon o

a traditional Irish lament which I learned in school in the words of the poem Caoineadh na dTri Mhuire, the Keening of the Three Mary’s. The repeated drone of the lament came back to me last week as I read the reports coming out of the Commission to Inquire into the Child Abuse in the industrial schools and reformatories during the middle years of the last century. Five volumes of material and thousands of pages of record. I wept for a generation of children lost in our own Irish version of a holocaust.

And those terms have been used. Those institutions have been described as concentration camps for Irish children. One commentator refused to let us away with describing the evil as a failure of the system. The evil abuse WAS the system, he says. Children were sent there for ‘offences’ as trivial as mitching school or for the misfortune of having only one parent. Indeed many were sent to the institutions to make money for the religious groups who ran them, the same misguided institutions now trying to protect themselves from bankruptcy by clinging to a wicked agreement to pay only one tenth of the compensation due and letting the State and the taxpayer pay the rest.

Government and judiciary in deferential cahoots with a bullying Church. And the rest of us silent in the face of abuse we all knew was going on. It’s a terrible time to be Irish.

Ochon agus ochon o.

All that we have gloried in in recent years has now been stripped away. Our vulgar excesses in the Tiger years have been laid bare for what they were. Our vainglorious government left naked and dumb. We scratch about in the dry earth for something to nourish our starving bellies and cling pathetically and desperately to the fantasy escape of sporting success. It’s a terrible time to be Irish.

All that is left to us is the faint hope that out of such desolation there will be some discovery of what is best in us. Something that hasn’t been starved by our excesses, nor strangled by our brutality

I read through the Book of Lamentations today.

How deserted lies the city, once so full of people. How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.
Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks….
Her fall was astounding; there was none to comfort her. ‘Look Lord upon my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed.’
The enemy laid hands on all her treasures.

How bitter is that final line.

Ochon agus ochon o.

Listen to the closing whine of the uileann pipes in this presentation of the Caoineadh.

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  1. karen permalink

    The pipes are beautiful. What does “ochon agus ochon o” mean?

  2. it kinda means O woe is me! or something like that, but I think that essentially, it’s untranslatable. The vowels make it sound like a groan

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