Cead Mille Failte - Origin and Meaning

Dublin Penny Journal
Vol. 1, No. 7, August 11

It is perhaps not generally known from whence the famous expression of Irish hospitality, Cead Mille Failte, was taken. It occurs in the concluding stanza of Eileen a Roon, and is thus translated by Furlong:—

A hundred thousand welcomes,

Eileen a Roon! A hundred thousand welcomes,

Eileen a Roon! Oh! welcome ever more,

With welcomes yet in store,

Till love and life are o’er,

Eileen a Roon!

There are two songs entitled Eileen a Roon, Ellen, the secret treasure of my heart. The old version, from which the above stanza is taken, bears internal evidence of antiquity. The first line of the second stanza of it, “I would spend a cow to entertain thee,” proves that it was composed before coined money was in general use. The following is esteemed the most probable account of the circumstances which gave rise to it.

“Carol O’Daly, commonly called Mac Caomh insi Cneamha, brother to Donogh More O’Daly, a man of much consequence in Connaught, was one of the most accomplished gentlemen of his time, and particularly excelled in poetry and music. He paid his addresses to Ellen, the daughter of a chieftain named Kavanagh, a lovely and amiable young lady, who returned his affection, but her friends disapproved of the connexion. O’Daly was obliged to leave the country for some time, and they availed themselves of the opportunity which his absence afforded, of impressing on the mind of Ellen, a belief of his falsehood, and of his having gone to be married to another; after some time they prevailed on her to consent to marry a rival of O’Daly.

The day was fixed for the nuptials, but O’Daly returned the evening before. Under the first impression, of his feelings, he sought a wild and sequestered spot on the sea shore, and inspired by love, composed the song of Eileen a Roon, which remains to this time, an exquisite memorial of his skill and sensibility. Disguised as a harper, he gained access among the crowd that thronged to the wedding. It happened that he was called upon by Ellen herself to play. It was then, touching his harp with all the pathetic sensibility which the interesting occasion inspired, he infused his own feelings into the song he bad composed, and breathed into his ‘softened strain,’ the very soul of pensive melody.

In the first stanza he intimates, according to the Irish idiom, that, he would walk with her, that is, that he would be her partner, or only love for life. In the second, that he would entertain her, and afford her every delight. After this, he tenderly asks, will she depart with him, or, in the impressive manner of the original, ‘Wilt thou stay, or wilt thou come with me, Eileen a Roon.’ She soon felt the force of this tender appeal, and replied in the affirmative; on which, in an ecstacy of delight, he bursts forth into his ‘hundred thousand welcomes.’ To reward his fidelity and affection, his fair one contrived to ‘go with him,’ that very night.”

The other version was composed by a Munster bard of the seventeenth century, who endeavoured to excel, by a profusion of poetic embellishment, the original and sweetly simple song of Eileen a Roon.

The following is a specimen of the translation of it, by John D’Alton, Esq.

Blind to all else but thee,

Eileen a Roon!

My eyes only ache to see,

Eileen a Roon!

My ears banquet on thy praise,

Pride and pleasure of my days!

Source of all my happiness!

Eileen a Roon!

Handel is said to have declared that he would rather be the author of Eileen a Roon, than of the most exquisite of his musical compositions. Yet it has been palmed upon the public under the name of Robin Adair, as a Scotch melody.

Burns asserted that it and Molly Astore, which he termed Gramachree, were both Scotch: he was in error: but the circumstance is a proof of their merit, and his taste.

Robin Adair himself was an Irishman; he was ancestor of Viscount Molesworth; lived at Hollypark, in the county of Wicklow: and, early in the last century, was a member of the Irish parliament.