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Leaving Certificate 2015

Eilean Ni Chuilleanain

Higher Level

To Niall Woods and Xenya


Ostrovskaia married in Dublin on
9th September 2009.
N Chuilleanin composed this poem for, and read it on the
occasion of, the wedding of her son Niall Woods, and his
bride, Xenya Ostrovskaia. Poems like this, written to
celebrate a wedding, are called epithalamiums.
The poem captures stories from both cultures but more
importantly it highlights the unity of cultures in folktales.
The names and places in these stories are different but
the messages and the journeys are often very similar.
The poem is ultimately a mothers blessing to her son and
daughter-in-law as they embark on a new life together.
(There is an old folktale in which three sons head out to fulfil a quest. Their
mother asks them before they leave do you want the whole loaf and no blessing
or half the loaf and my blessing? The first and second sons say the whole loaf, it is
a long journey and they feel they will need food. However, when they come to a
test of character they fail. The third son says half the loaf and your blessing. Then
he meets a hungry person and gives the bread to him, receiving valuable advice
on how to pass the test. The first two sons do not trust the journey. They do not
realise that they will be looked after and they guard their possessions from fear.
The third son is the eternal optimist, the hoping and trusting one who lives from
an open heart and is taken care of. He ends up getting the princess, the kingdom
and rescuing his two older brothers along the way. Her son was very familiar with
this folktale and would have appreciated the sentiment that she was expressing
here.)

Stanza one:
The poet is directly addressing her son and his bride. She
tells him that when two people look out and see the
same star then that is the right time to set out on a new
journey, in this case marriage.
Stars can symbolise hopes and dreams, N Chuilleanin
insinuates that when you have found someone who sees
the same star, you know your time has arrived. The star
has brought them to the point of the steeple.
The poet reminds her son to make provision for the
journey ahead. Does this imply that they will now have to
provide for themselves? Is her role as mother and provider

Leaving Certificate 2015

Eilean Ni Chuilleanain

Higher Level

dissolved? The use of run-on-lines convey the long winding


path that lies ahead of the young couple.
Stannza two:
N Chulleanin instructs the couple to embark on their own
journey.
The poet then lists some well-known characters from fairy
stories; Sleeping beauty in her high tower and a talking
cat. The story of sleeping beauty is, of course, one which
conveys the awakening power of love and the obstacles
which must be overcome for that love to be realised.
By introducing the talking cat, N Chuilleanin prepares
the couple for the discoveries they will make about each
others weaknesses and faults. The entwining of the two
stories is wonderfully evocative as the reader considers
how closely united love and truth really are.
Stanza three:
In this stanza N Chuilleanin marries both the Irish and
Russian folktale traditions. She speaks of the firebird that
stole the golden apples from the garden of the emperor.
This is a reference to the Russian fairy tale of Ivan
Tsarevich, the firebird, and the Grey Wolf.
The tale concerns a hero who must steal golden apples
from the garden of the Emperor. Like the Prince in the
sleeping beauty tale, the hero will have many obstacles to
overcome before he can be victorious.
Perhaps the poet is suggesting that every journey of love
requires some struggle, determination is needed if
happiness is to be achieved. The reference to the myth
concerning the King of Irelands son, reminds us that love
should not be taken for granted.
Stanza four:
N Chuilleanin refers to the book of Ruth. This story from
the Old Testament is about a woman called Ruth who is
rewarded for her faithfulness, kindness and integrity with

Leaving Certificate 2015

Eilean Ni Chuilleanain

Higher Level

prosperity and protection. This may be the poets hope for


her son and daughter-in-law; she wishes they remain
faithful and kind to each other.
The final line indicates that N Chuilleanan is giving them
her blessing and her belief that they will live happily ever
after: You will have to believe me, she lived happily ever
after
The reference to fairy tales and legends is very appropriate.
Apart from the obvious associations of fairy tales with magic and
romance, there is also the added advantage that the poem is not overpersonalised. It could be a poem for any young couple setting out on a new

journey in their lives. Points to Note:


Themes: Celebration of love./Trust
Language-conversational and deceptively simple.
Free verse-Run on lines in each stanza convey a sense of movement-of a

journey.
Personification of the star in the first stanza
Use of alliteration See...star....same...steeple
Reference to fairytales-adds to romance. Also each one mentioned speaks

of courage and perseverance=key to happiness.


Illustrates the kindness and wisdom of the mother.

Ni Chuilleanins poetry is formed by the theme of crossing; the crossing from


one realm of experience to another, from the realms of the everyday and
ordinary to the realms of the spirit world and the world of the other
From your study of her poetry, would you agree with this statement?