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Oíche Nollaig na mBan

irish literature poems in irish

Seán Ó Ríordáin, (1916-1977), is one of the most highly regarded Irish language poets of the 20th century, and 'Oíche Nollaig na mBan' is one of his most well known poems.


Nollaig na mBan / Women's Christmas

The 6th of January marks the final day of the Christmas festivities, and in Ireland this date is often referred to as 'Nollaig na mBan'. Traditionally women would have done a lot of the cooking and work in the home over the Christmas, and so this was a special day on which they would not do the cooking, and would instead be looked after.


Hopefully the domestic chores are becoming more equally balanced these days! Nonetheless the tradition of Nollaig na mBan continues. It's still a great occasion for women to get together and enjoy each other's company, to go out for a good meal, and just to catch up. It is also increasingly being used as an occasion to fundraise for charities which do important work in improving gender equality and combatting domestic abuse. 


But back to the poem...

So, it's not actually about a bunch of women out having a party as you might expect.

Instead, the subject matter is a bit more sombre. Seán Ó Ríordáin was plagued by ill health throughout his lifetime, and suffered from tuberculosis, a disease which was rampant in Ireland during his lifetime.

In the poem Ó Riordáin describes a raging storm on the eve of Nollaig na mBan (on the 5th January). The sounds of the words chosen and the images created bring a clear picture of the howling storm immediately to mind. In the second verse the poet states that he hopes that a similar storm will arrive on the day of his passing, with the hope that the storm will distract him from his passing from this world.

Incidentally, 'Nollaig na mBan' is another of those phrases that is used in everyday English language conversation in Ireland. It's nice to see phrases like these being resurrected, and becoming part of everyday conversation.


The Irish word for 'women'

Here are two forms for the word 'women' in Irish:

mná (the nominative form)

ban (the genitive form)

Note the major difference between these two forms. 

The nominative form (the basic form) is used in sentences where 'women' are carrying out the action; or the recipients of the action.

The women are coming / Tá na mná ag teacht

He praised the women / Mhol sé na mná

You'll also see this word on the door of the ladies bathroom in pubs and restaurants.


The genitive form is used to denote possession, or for description.

Women's coats / cótaí ban (lit. coats of women)

The women's coats / cótaí na mban (lit. the coats of the women)


You will already have come across this form of the word if you ever visited 'Sliabh na mBan' in Co. Tipperary (lit. the mountain of the women); or Trá na mBan / Ladies Beach (lit. the beach of the women) in Galway city.


Nollaig na mBan / January 6th

Nollaig na mBan is literally 'the Christmas of the women' and happens on January 6th.

Note that 'oíche' (night) coming before 'Nollaig na mBan' refers to the evening before January 6th, i.e. January 5th. It doesn't refer to the night of the 6th of January.


More poems by Seán Ó Ríordáin

If you liked this poem have a listen to another poem by the great Cork poet:

Fill Arís

The Learn Irish Through Poetry course contains more poems by Ó Ríordáin, along with poems by Máirtín Ó Direáin and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill.

The poems on the Learn Irish Through Poetry course are all recited by Joe Ó Fatharta, a native Irish speaker from Indreabhán in Co. Galway.  Joe is also the voice on the audio recordings on the Learning Irish Through Literature, and on the Beyond Beginner courses. 

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