“Blackbird over Lagan water”

On its fifth anniversary the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry has an exhibition of images of The Blackbird of Belfast Lough – poet Ciaran Carson explains why it’s the Centre’s emblem and the Guardian has some of the images from the exhibition whilst Ian Sansom, writing at the Guardian’s bookblog, claims responsibility. “This weird little scrap of Irish syllabic verse, probably from the 9th century, consists of just 24 syllables, broken up into eight short lines, which have somehow continued to echo in modern Irish verse: the little lyric seems to have stuck; it has proved itself, in Seamus Heaney’s words, to have “staying power”.”

Int én bec
ro léc feit
do rinn guip

fo-ceird faíd
ós Loch Laíg,
lon do chraíb

And from the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry website

The small bird
yellow neb,
a note-spurt.

Blackbird over
Lagan water.
Clumps of yellow

Seamus Heaney

the little bird
that whistled shrill
from the nib of
its yellow bill:

a note let go
o’er Belfast Lough –
a blackbird from
a yellow whin

Ciaran Carson

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  • susan

    that was impossibly and transcendentally lovely, Pete. If only there was an audio version to download into our mobiles for traffic stops.

  • have to admit, out of the two, I like Carson’s better.

  • Pete Baker


    I don’t think Blackbird is in there, but the Centre’s website has a collection of audio clips.

  • Mick Fealty

    An Leabhar Mor has it like this:

    The little bird has whistled from the tip of his bright yellow beak; the blackbird
    from a bough laden with yellow blossom has tossed a cry over Belfast Lough.



  • susan

    Cheers, Pete. Now you’re cooking with diesel.

    I’ve just enjoyed a bit of Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin’s singing, and Michael Longley reading Douglas Dunn’s “The Friendship of Young Poets.”

    Thank the GOd you don’t believe in, it is Friday at last.

  • susan

    Beautiful Mick — both links.

  • Pete Baker

    Thank that god indeed, susan ;o)


    Here’s another version from the comments zone at Ian Sansom’s post

    one small bird
    whose notes heard
    sharply pointed

    whose notes fly
    on Loch Laig
    blackbirds branch


  • Ulster McNulty

    What strikes me is that “Int én bec” more than 1,000 years L8r is “An t-ean beag”. I wonder how it would have been translated into contemporary English. (“note-spurt” says “Seamus Heaney” to me).

  • Eee, it’s turned out nice again!

    I liked that.

  • Mick Fealty


    Heaney never confines himself to transliteration… He’s clearly after the essence of the poem… (and it grows on you after a bit…) Try reading a literal translation of Inferno… dull, dull, dull…

  • paddy

    oh come on! it is pretty, yet mediocre stuff. the reaction here is something akin to finding a piece of glass and praising it as a diamond.

    susan, you really need to get out more. one too many wkd with your friday lunch perhaps?

  • susan

    Oh piss off, Paddy. A little ebullience never killed anyone.

    Well, hardly anyone.

    I was thinking Paul Muldoon wrote a translation of “Blackbird,” but I couldn’t track it down. Anyone?

  • Pete Baker


    Hopewell Haiku?


    From whin-bright Cave Hill
    a blackbird might… will give thanks
    with his whin-bright bill.

    There’s certainly a direct referencing going on there.

    And here’s another version by Heaney

    The small bird

    let a chirp

    from its beak:

    I heard

    woodnotes, whingold, sudden:

    the Lagan blackbird.

    Which I should have remembered from when I noted Our Shared Japan.

  • susan

    Yes! Thank you, that was the one. I never noticed before how like a haiku the original poem is.

  • Pete Baker


    Glad to be of assistance. ;o)

  • susan

    Good to know!