Merriman appears to have been born illegitimately in Ennistymon, County Clare. His mother was surnamed Quilkeen and his father's identity remains unknown.
Shortly after his birth, his mother married a stonemason who was working on the walls of the Deerpark estate in Ennistymon. The family moved to Feakle and some years later Merriman is known to have owned a 20 acre (81,000 m²) farm in the area. He is also known to have taught the hedge school nearby in the townland of Kilclaren. He married around 1787 and had two daughters. In 1797, the Royal Dublin Society awarded him two prizes for his flax crop. Around 1800 he moved to County Limerick, where he ran a school until his death. He is buried in Feakle graveyard.
Cúirt An Mheán Oíche
The poem begins by using the conventions of the Aisling, or vision poem, in which the poet is out walking when he has a vision of a woman from the other world. Typically, this woman is Ireland and the poem will lament her lot and/or call on her 'sons' to rebel against foreign tyranny. In Merriman's hands, the convention is made to take a satirical and deeply ironic twist.
In the opening section of the poem, a hideous female giant appears to the poet and drags him kicking and screaming to the court of Queen Aoibheal of the Fairies. On the way to the ruined monastery at Moinmoy, the messenger explains that the Queen, disgusted by the twin corruptions of Anglo-Irish landlords and English Law, has taken the dispensing of justice upon herself. There follows a traditional court case under the Brehon law form of a three-part debate.
In the first part, a young woman calls on Aoibheal declares her case against the young men of Ireland for their refusal to marry. She complains that, despite increasingly desperate attempts to capture a husband via intensive flirtation at hurling matches, wakes, and pattern days, the young men insist on ignoring her in favor of late marriages to much older women. The young woman further bewails the contempt with which she is treated by the married women of the village.
She is answered by an old man who first denounces the wanton promiscuity of young women in general, suggesting that the young woman who spoke before was conceived by a Tinker under a cart. He vividly describes the infidelity of his own young wife. He declares his humiliation at finding her already pregnant on their wedding night and the gossip which has surrounded the "premature" birth of "his" son ever since. He disgustedly attacks the dissolute lifestyles of young women in general. Then, however, he declares that there is nothing wrong with his illegitimate children and denounces marriage as "out of date." He demands that the Queen outlaw it altogether and replace it with a system of free love.
The young woman, however, is infuriated by the old' man's words and is barely restrained from physically attacking him. She mocks his inability to fulfill his marital duties with his young wife, saying that she was a homeless beggar who married him to avoid starvation. She vividly argues that if his wife has taken a lover, she well deserves one. She then calls for the abolition of priestly celibacy, alleging that priests would otherwise make wonderful husbands and fathers. In the meantime, however, she will keep trying to attract an older man in hopes that her unmarried humiliation will finally end.
Finally, in the judgement section Queen Aoibheal rules that all laymen must marry before the age of 21, on pain of corporal punishment at the hands of Ireland's women. She advises them to equally target the romantically indifferent, homosexuals, and unmarried skirt chasers who boast of the number of notches on their belts. Aoibheal tells them to be careful, however, not to leave any man unable to father children. She also states that abolishing priestly celibacy is beyond her mandate and counsels patience.
To the poet's horror, the younger woman angrily points him out as a 30-year-old, bachelor and describes her many failed attempts to attract his interest in hopes of becoming his wife. She declares that he must be the first man to suffer the consequences of the new marriage law. As a crowd of infuriated women prepares to flog him into a quivering bowl of jelly, he awakens to find it was all a terrible nightmare.
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