Beauty then and now

Below is an extract from a praise poem composed by Muireadhach Ó Dálaigh in the early thirteenth century. The subject of the poem is Cathal Croibhdhearg Ó Conchobhair, king of Connacht. There is a photo of a possible sculpture of Cathal in the Images.

Pupils should read the extract from the poem below with the teacher and then work in groups to answer the following questions. Some of the questions can be addressed using Ideas Funnels, in which the designated facilitator helps the group prioritise answers from those which have been put forward. The groups will also need to select a time-keeper, a scribe and someone to present to the class.

Diobhruigis sgoth a sgingi,
uaidh ag imirt fhithchille:
cúl réidhshleamhain tais do theilg
dá bhais mhéirleabhair mhíndeirg.

Súil chochlach uaine aga,
dá bhais mhíne mhérfhada,
is bonn tana saor sleamhain,
mala chaol donn druimleabhair.

He casts his fine clothes off
while playing a board-game,
he pushes back his smooth-sleek hair
with his long-fingered, fine-red hand.

He has a deep-set, green eye,
two smooth, long-fingered hands,
a slender, noble, smooth foot,
a delicate, dark, long-ridged brow.

From Angela Bourke et al. (eds), The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, iv (Cork, 2002), p. 297; translation adapted.


  • What was the purpose of this poem?
  • Look at how the poet describes Cathal’s hair, hands, eye, foot and eyebrow. Do you think Cathal liked being described in this way? Do you think Cathal actually looked like this? Why / Why not?
  • If a poet were praising a man’s appearance today, what features might be mentioned?
  • If praising a woman, what features might be mentioned?
  • What influences our ideas of attractiveness today?
  • Do you think that poems like this one by Muireadhach Ó Dálaigh influenced ideas of attractiveness in the past?

The power of adjectives

Adjectives are the descriptive words which modify nouns. Using interesting adjectives can improve a piece of creative writing and help readers to imagine the characters and the scene. Adding well-chosen adjectives can change ‘the dog ran into the woods’ to ‘the trained dog ran into the deserted woods’ or ‘the fluffy dog ran into the magical woods’ or ‘the black dog ran into the creepy woods’.

Rewrite the following sentence in different ways, adding adjectives so that it can be a line from (a) a detective novel, (b) a fairy-tale, and (c) a horror story:

The man walked along the lake until he came to a house

Teachers and pupils can come up with sentences of their own and rewrite them for different contexts such as a news report, an advertisement, a teenager’s blog.


Drama and art

Working in small groups, script and act out a short play in which one person is forced to change their hair-style. The dialogue should cover points such as: why the person chose the style they have already, what this style shows about their interests or their background, and how they think the new style might change people’s impression of them.

Create an image of what the glib or the cúlán might have looked like. Either draw or make a collage using parts of different images from magazines or photos which have been downloaded and printed.