From Dr O’Donovan’s ‘Sketches in Carbery’:
John Collins, of Myross, whose name we have often quoted already, was a man gifted with natural qualities of a high poetical character, which, had
they been matured by art, or had he lived under more favourable circumstances, might probably have placed his name high on the roll of poets. However,
as we learn from the records of his life, he had to devote the greater part of his days to the drudgery inseparable from the office of a village schoolmaster,in order to support a wife and large family. The opportunities which university education, spare time, and command of money, give to others to cultivate the mind were wanting in his case, as, being thrown upon his own resources, he had to educate himself m a great measure, and at the same time procure a livelihood.
The late great Dr. John O’Donovan styles him the last Irish scholar, historiographer, and poet of Carbery, and the name by which he was popularly known through the South of Ireland was ” The Silver Tongue of Munster.”
Collins was born about the year 1754, at Kilmeen, to the north of Clonakilty ; his parents were of the farming class; he was descended from the O’Cullanes
(Anglicised into Collins), an Irish sept, who formerly occupied Castle Lyons (in East Cork), and the district around it. The only property he inherited, like the majority of his countrymen, lay in the gifts which nature had bestowed on him—a fluent tongue, a ready wit, and a sound constitution. He was destined at first for the priesthood, but did not long pursue his studies in that line, having no vocation for a clerical life.
He ultimately during his rambles took up his residence in Myross, where he taught school for a considerable period, and in which place he composed several beautiful poems in the Irish language, amongst others—”The Buachaill Bawn,” “An Ode on Timoleague Abbey,” very much admired (translated by Ferguson), and a translation in Irish of that charming poem of Campbell’s, ” The Exile of Erin,” which Irish scholars say excels the original.
The following is a translation of a portion of the ” Buachaill Bawn,” by Erionnache. One verse only is given, merely to convey some idea, although a faint
one, of Collins’s poetry. Irish poems do not admit well as a rule of being translated into English, both languages being so dissimilar in sound, mode of expression,
BUACHAILL BAWN (THE FAIR BOY).
With crimson gleaming the dawn rose, beaming
On branching oaks nigh the golden shore,
Above me rustled their leaves, and dreaming,
Me thought a nymph rose the blue waves o’er;
Her brow was brighter than stars that light our
Dim, dewy earth ere the summer dawn,
But she spoke in mourning : ‘ My heart of sorrow
Ne’er brings a morrow, Mo Buachaill Bawn !
Some of Collins’s manuscripts fell into the possession of a Mr. 0′ Grady, of Dublin. They were written about 1774, and beside his poems contained
a history of Ireland, which was left in an unfinished state. Collins died at Skibbereen, in the year 1816, at the age of 64 years.
From Collins Genealogy: http://www.araltas.com/features/collins/
Sean Ó Coileáin (1754 – 1817) of Corca Laoidhe was a poet in the old Gaelic tradition, when poets commanded respect and were given the hospitality of the king’s castle. Unhappily for Seán, the kings had all been deposed and the people who would have been his patrons were as poor as himself. He drank, but rather than making him happy, his drinking drove away his first wife and so enraged his second (her sister) that she set fire to the house. Sean was a reluctant schoolteacher, but his poetry must have been appreciated, for he was known as the “Silver Tongue of Munster”. There is some mystery surrounding a strangely melancholy poem of his which has been compared to Gray’s Elegy. Whether Ó Coileaán or an earlier poet wrote it continues to puzzle the folklorists.
The late Peadar Ó h-Annracháin (Cois Life of the Southern Star) was given Swanton’s papers by one of his daughters. They included a letter from John Collins of Union Hall, son of the poet Sean Ó Coileain, dated March 10th, 1845, concerning the authorship of the Irish translation of the ‘Exile of Erin’. Collins asserted his father’s claim.
Royal Irish Academy:
MS G 523
‘Amhráin agus dánta Sheághain Uí Choileáin, maille le beathaidh an fhilidh’. By (James Buckley?), 1926. 9 x 7 ins.