The Dawning of the Day . . . an Irish song and the strange tale of a sunken city off the coast of Co Louth

The Dawning of the Day . . . an Irish song and the strange tale of a sunken city off the coast of Co Louth

There are many strange tales in the myths and folklore of Ireland. One, several variants of which can be found in different localities, concerns the idea of a city or village beneath a lake or the sea. Sometimes, as in the legend of the mysterious island of Hy Brazil, the underwater realm becomes visible once every seven years. An extraordinary deluge tale was once recounted in the folklore of a fishing village called Blackrock (Na Creagacha Dubha), on the County Louth coastline near Dundalk.

A wonderful photo of the breaking dawn at Blackrock beach by Barry Kieran.
This village, which mostly fronts on to Dundalk Bay, faces out across the restless waters, offering its residents lovely views of the Cooley Mountains, whose undulating peaks roll out eastwards into the Irish Sea.

Blackrock's flood lore relates to a local version of a well-known song called Déalradh án Lae, 'The Dawning of the Day', written by James Clarence Mangan.

A note appended to the song in a manuscript by transcriber Nicholas O'Kearney says: "This song is founded on a tradition prevalent among the people in the vicinity, that an ancient city, with fine land adjoining it, are seen every seventh year by the fishermen off Blackrock shore near Dundalk. The bard, remembering the legends of Gerald Iarla in Mullach-Elim, and O'Neill in Aileach, considers the appearance a favourable sign for Ireland's liberation."

"It may have happened, time out of mind, that a city and land in this part of the Island were encroached on by the sea. A great causeway, built with huge mountain stones, has been traced from Dunany to Cooley Point, a distance of more than seven miles across the Bay of Dundalk . . . The old people used to tell many stories of the inhabitants of the enchanted city, and assert that some of their offspring still live at Blackrock."

Here is Mangan's translation of the song:

'Twas a balmy summer morning
Warm and early,
Such as only June bestows;
Everywhere the earth adorning,
Dews lay pearly
In the lily-bell and rose.
Up from each green leafy bosk and hollow
Rose the blackbird's pleasant lay,
And the soft cuckoo was sure to follow.
'Twas the Dawning of the Day!

Through the perfumed air the golden
Bees flew round me:
Bright fish dazzled from the sea,
'Till medreamt some fairy olden
World-spell bound me
In a trance of witcherie.
Steeds pranced round anon with stateliest housings,
Bearing riders prankt in rich array,
Like flushed revellers after wine-carousings—
'Twas the Dawning of the Day!

Then a strain of song was chanted,
And the lightly
Floating sea-nymphs drew anear.
Then again the shore seemed haunted
By hosts brightly
Clad, and wielding shield and spear!
Then came battle-shouts—and onward rushing—
Swords and chariots, and a phantom fray.
Then all vanished; the warm skies were blushing
In the Dawning of the Day!

Cities girt with glorious gardens
Whose immortal
Habitants in robes of light
Stood, methought, as angel-wardens
Nigh each portal,
Now arose to daze my sight.
Eden spread around, revived and blooming;
When . . . lo! as I gazed, all passed away—
. . . I saw but black rocks looming
In the dim chill Dawn of Day!

I'm not entirely sure whether this old song is related to the one very well known in modern times as sung by the likes of Mary Fahl (see video below). Luke Kelly sang Patrick Kavanagh's poem 'On Raglan Road' to the air of 'Dawning of the Day'.

With thanks to Barry Kieran for permission to use his beautiful photo of Blackrock.
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