Poem written by Ulster poet Peadar Ó Doirnín (1704–1796). It is most famous as a song, and especially set to an air composed by Seán Ó Riada (1931–1971). As a modern song, 'Mná na hÉireann' is usually placed in the category of Irish rebel music; as an eighteenth-century poem it belongs to the genre (related to the aisling) which imagines Ireland as a generous, beautiful woman suffering the depredations of an English master on her land, her cattle, or her self, and which demands Irishmen to defend her, or ponders why they fail to. The poem also seems to favor Ulster above the other Irish provinces.
Kate Bush recorded her rendition in 1995 for the 1996 compilation album Common Ground - Voices of Modern Irish Music. According to Donal Lunny, who contacted her for this contribution, 'She was very excited with the idea of singing the Irish in a way that Irish speakers would understand, and of conveying the meaning of the song through the sounds of the words. I helped as much as I could. She had Seán Ó Sé’s recording of Mná na hÉireann as reference. She was as faithful to the pronunciations as she could possibly be. It was with characteristic care and attention that she approached it. She did not stint one bit. Of course you’ll get people saying, `Oh, you’d know she doesn’t talk Irish straight off’. You wouldn’t know it straight off. I would defend her efforts as being totally sincere. No matter how perfect she gets it, she’s not an Irish speaker. This may rankle with some people.'
The track was reviewed as 'impressive' by Hot Press, saying that Kate’s 'fiery interpretation….may well prove to be among the most controversial cuts on Common Ground'. Indeed the Irish Times review of Common Ground singled out Kate as 'fumbling her way through' the song. NME was more positive about the track: "Since Lunny made a significant mark on her 'Sensual World' album, she repays him with a swooning version of 'Mná na hÉireann' (Women Of Ireland) that’s as good as anything she’s done this decade."
Kate Bush's performance of 'Mná na hÉirann' was covered by Niki Romijn.
Kate about 'Mná na hÉireann'
It was fun and very challenging …..I will eagerly await comments from all Irish-speaking listeners in particular. I’m sure Ma gave me a helping hand! (Kate Bush Club Newsletter, December 1995)
Donal Lunny about 'Mná na hÉirann'
Not being an Irish speaker, she had to learn the words phonetically and took enormous pains over that. We exchanged, at the time I think it was faxes, of phonetic versions of it and spoke over the phone, went over the pronunciations, and eventually she got it pretty well. (Kate Bush sings as Gaeilge - Donal Lunny on working with a legend, RTÉ Radio 1 (Ireland), 4 September 2020)
Ta bean in Éireann a phronnfadh sead damh is mo shaith le n-ol
Is ta bean in Éireann is ba bhinne leithe mo rafla ceoil
No seinm thead; ata bean in Éirinn is niorbh fhearr lei beo
Mise ag leimnigh no leagtha i gcre is mo tharr faoi fhod
Ta bean in Éireann a bheadh ag ead liom mur bhfaighfinn ach pog
O' bhean ar aonach, nach ait an sceala, is mo dhaimh fein leo;
Ta bean ab fhearr liom no cath is cead dhiobh nach bhfagham go deo
Is ta cailin speiriuil ag fear gan Bhearla, dubhghranna croin
Ta bean a dearfadh da siulann leithe go bhfaighinn an t-or
Is ta bean 'na leine is is fearr a mein no na tainte bo
Le bean a bhuairfeadh Baile an Mhaoir is clar Thir Eoghain
Is ni fhaicim leigheas ar mo ghalar fein ach scaird a dh'ol
Kate Bush: vocals
Nollaig Ni Chathasaigh: solo violin
Laoise Kelly: Irish harp
Strings arranged and conducted by Fiachra Trench
The Irish Studio Orchestra: strings