Poetry Centre

Episode 19: Niall O'Gallagher talks to Niall Munro

  • Niall O'Gallagher and the cover of Fo Bhlàth

    In this episode, Niall Munro talks with the Gaelic poet Niall O’Gallagher. 

    Niall studied and then taught at the University of Glasgow before going on to work as a journalist. As Niall mentions in the podcast, it was in his early days as a journalist that he began writing the poems that went into his first collection, Beatha Ùr (New Life), published by Clàr in 2013. Three years later, he published Suain nan Trì Latha (Three Nights Dreaming), in which - and again you’ll hear Niall discussing this - he made use of classical Gaelic forms to write modern love poems. A third collection, Fo Bhlàth (Flourishing), has just been published. Niall recently won the Gaelic prize in the Wigtown Poetry Competition in 2020 for his poem, ‘Penelope’.

    Niall has worked as a translator of poetry from Gaelic, Irish and Catalan, including work by Christopher Whyte (shortlisted for the Saltire Scottish Poetry Book of the Year in 2019) and he has also published Scottish Gaelic versions of work by the Irish poet Biddy Jenkinson in the Gaelic journal STEALL, where he acts as poetry editor.

    In 2019 Niall was named Bàrd Baile Ghlaschu, the City of Glasgow’s first Gaelic Poet Laureate. He is currently editing a selection of poems celebrating Glasgow and Gaelic. 

    In the conversation, Niall talks about how he came to write in Gaelic, links between the Irish language and Scots Gaelic, and the kinds of traditional Gaelic metres and rhymes that Niall employs. He also discusses his decision not to translate his own work, the historical and contemporary Gaelic community of writers and readers in Glasgow, and Niall’s work as Glasgow’s Gaelic Poet Laureate. Niall reads - in Gaelic and in English - three poems, 'Leisgeul a' Bhàird' / ‘Apologia Poetica’, ‘Scottish National Dictionary’, and 'An t-Eun Nach d' Rinn Sgèith' / ‘The Bird That Never Flew’.

    You can find the poems that we discuss below and you can find out more about Niall’s work on his website, or follow him on Twitter.

    Do tell us what you think of the podcast by e-mailing us or getting in touch via social media - we’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Thank you for listening!

  • Leisgeul a' Bhàird

    Na càin gach dàn le mearachd:
    tha 'n ùghdar gun sgoilearachd.
                   Rinneadh gach sreath an dòchas
                   nach dìteadh an òglachas.

    Is mi a' sgrìobhadh bàrdachd
    cho cearbach le comhardadh
                    chan fhonnmhor ceòl na h-aicill
                    mar thoradh air m' an-fhaicill.

    Cha deach mi riamh nam fhilidh
    an rannaigheachd 's deibhidhe
                    chan fhaigheadh brìgh bhom dhìcheall
                     a' sgrìobhadh nan dàn-dìreach.

    Mar sin, na toir an aire
    do bhochdainn mo dhuanaire
                  ach gabh i, ged nach cante
                  gu bheil m' obair ealanta.

    Niall OGallagher

    Apologia Poetica

    Don’t blame each poem for its faults:
    their author is untaught.
                Each verse was done in hope
                the zest of youth’s below reproach. 

    For the poems that I write
    are so clumsy in their rhymes,
                their aicill-music irks:
                I’m too careless at my work.                     

    I never learnt to be a filí
    skilled in verse forms, in the deibhidhe,
                all my efforts are defeated
                when I write in classic metres.           

    And so pay no attention
    to the faults of my collection
                but accept it, though it proves
                there’s no art to my oeuvre. 


    by Niall O’Gallagher

    Translated by Peter Mackay, from Suain nan Trì Latha

    Scottish National Dictionary

                Owing to the influx of Irish and foreign
                immigrants in the industrial area near Glasgow
                the dialect has become hopelessly corrupt.

                BHO RO-RÀDH AN FHACLAIR 1931

    Rinn iad an trusadh anns gach clachan
    briathran glan an achaidh is an tiùrr;
    sgrìob iad air falbh salann agus ùir,
    gan sgùradh, rèidh airson an fhaclair.
    Dh'fhàgadh cainnt Ghlaschu anns na claisean
    is i saillte le blas coimheach, ùr:
    foghairean Thir Chonaill, smùid
    nan taighean-ceàird, ùrnaighean gallda.

    Dh'fhàgadh iad gun chomas labhairt,
    seachranaich ghuth no dachaigh
    is an cainnt ro bhorb 'son a' chlòth'

    a dh'fhigheadh le luchd an fhaclair;
    chòmhdach dùint' do mhuinntir Ghlaschu,
    am blas searbh ag èirigh ma an ceò.

    Niall OGallagher

    Scottish National Dictionary

               Owing to the influx of Irish and foreign
               immigrants in the industrial area near Glasgow
               the dialect has become hopelessly corrupt.

    From every village, from every field and every shore,
    they gathered the words, scraped the earth and salt
    from them, polished them and placed them
    in perfect order for their dictionary, 

    but left the Glasgow dialect in the gutters,
    with its strange sounds and unfamiliar phrases,
    a vocabulary of smoky factories and alien prayers,
    a language of migration from the hills of Donegal, 

    and left the people without the power of speech,
    poor wanderers without a voice, without a home,
    their language too brutish for the fine fabric of words

    that the compilers of the dictionary had woven,
    its cover closed to the people of Glasgow, a reek
    of bitterness lingering like the smoke in the sky above.


    by Niall O’Gallagher

    Translated by Deborah Moffatt, from Fo Bhlàth

    An t-Eun Nach d'Rinn Sgèith

    Laigh an t-eun gun ghluasad air an làr.
    Thàinig iad nan gràisg: 'Is ann a dh'eug
    brù-dhearg, mharbh esan e', 'n gille sèimh
    a rinn iad a thrèigsinn mar bu ghnàth.
    Cha tug e an aire ach, le gràdh,
    rinn e nead le làmhan agus shèid
    anail shocair, thlàth air a dà sgèith
    sgaoileadh beatha feadh gach ite 's cnàmh'.

    Dh'fhan i tiotan air a bhois
    a' ceilearadh air leth-chois
    mus do thog i oirre tron an sgleò.

    Theich a threud ach cha do chlisg
    an gille le làmhan brisg',
    cluas sa lios ri bualadh sgèith an eòin.

    Niall OGallagher

    The Bird That Never Flew

    The bird lies stock-still on the ground.
    The gang moves in: 'the robin’s deid –
    he kilt him'. The quiet boy is betrayed,
    as happens when stuff goes down,
    but he pays no heed and lovingly
    makes a nest with his hands and blows
    soft, warm breath into her bones,
    her feathers, and fills her wings with life. 

    She hovers an instant on his palms
    on one leg, singing,
    then takes off into the dark. 

    Everyone else long gone, the boy still cups his hands
    and, unflinching,
    listens for a wingbeat in the yard. 


    by Niall O’Gallagher

    Translated by Peter Mackay, from Fo Bhlàth