This is a dramatic poem, written from the viewpoint of the famous queen,
Gormfhlaith. She was the daughter of one high king (Flann Sionna, ard rí from
878-916) and wife of another (Niall Glúndubh, ard rí from 916?-919 --- her third
husband). When he died fighting the Norse, legend has it that she lived and died
in poverty and starvation. (History doesn't.) She was used as an exemplar of how
quickly life can change, and it was popular to write "pityeful songs" from
Gormfhlaith's point of view. This poem is part of a whole collection of such
poems (the O'Gara MS).
Folamh anocht Dún Chearmna
Ríoghradh fhial an dúin duasbhuig
Gearr go rabhad 'na n-uathadh,
The Fort of Cearmna is empty tonight --
The generous fort of generous kings
A corncrake in the deserted ones,
* Dún Chearmna/The fort of Cearmna: a fort on the Old Head of Kinsale. Presumably, this would be a fort defending Ireland against the Norse -- but since Niall is dead, it's not doing that now. Nobody else can organize the forces, so Dún Chearmna is empty tonight.
* Ráth Chruachan is Ráth Teamhra/the ringfort Cruacha and the ringfort
Tara: Cruacha was the fort of the legendary queen Medbh of Connacht in the Táin
Bó Cuailnge. Tara was the fort of the high kings, abandoned after it was cursed.
Both had been long abandoned by the time of this poem's setting. There is no
new high king yet, so the desolation is twice as bad.