Episode 19: Niall O'Gallagher

Niall O’Gallagher

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.

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