ST MUNGO and the robin is one the best-loved stories about Glasgow’s patron saint. Celebrated in Glasgow’s city crest, it tells how the young Mungo restored a dead bird to life after it had been killed by his classmates, who’d blamed him for the deed. Now, some 1500 years after the miracle is reputed to have taken place, it has inspired a poignant new poem by Niall O’Gallagher.

An T-Eun Nach D’rinn Sgèith (The Bird That Never Flew) forms part of a sonnet series about St Mungo and St Enoch, which O’Gallagher wrote following his appointment as Glasgow’s first Bàrd Baile Ghlaschu (Gaelic Poet Laureate) in 2019. It will be published in his forthcoming book, Fo Bhlàth (Flourishing), but to celebrate St Mungo’s Day (which fell on January 13), Herald readers can enjoy it here along with Peter Mackay’s translation.

“The poem is in the voice of St Serf, Mungo’s teacher and effectively his adoptive father,” explains O’Gallagher. “He’s telling what happens when Mungo’s classmates falsely accuse him of having killed the robin in the hope that he’ll be punished. As well as the patron saint of Glasgow, St Mungo is the patron saint of bullied children.”

The original legend is “a very beautiful and very powerful story” and although it dates from the sixth century, O’Gallagher says he imagined the events happening “in the playground of a 1980s Scottish primary school, like the one I attended”. The other poems he wrote as Bàrd Baile Ghlaschu are about Mungo’s mother, St Enoch, and St Serf, who took her in after she was cast out by her father because she was pregnant.

“There is a thread in all these poems which is really about refugees,” says O’Gallagher. “Here we have a mother and child fleeing violence, arriving in a new place where they don’t speak the language and haven’t two pennies to rub together. I think that’s a story many people living in Glasgow would relate to. I come from an Irish immigrant background and that was in my mind when I was coming across these stories.”

O’Gallagher feels “very lucky” that the sonnets have been translated by Peter Mackay – a bilingual Gaelic poet with “a very intimate understanding of the language”, who has succeeded in making the works “sing” in English. “Of course, it sounds different in English. It has to: a piece of music sounds different on the piano than on the harp. But a poem that works should survive translation.”

Fo Bhlàth is published later this month and O’Gallagher is now working on a verse-novella with the support of a Scottish Book Trust Ignite Fellowship. Aptly titled Litreachan Plàighe (Plague Letters), it will be told through a series of letters between characters who find themselves separated from each another.

The Ignite Fellowship offers a £2000 bursary and “tailored creative support” to help established writers work on specific projects. Poet and performer Courtney Stoddart and artist and filmmaker Raman Mundair also received awards for 2021. For O’Gallagher, who’s completed three published anthologies to date, the fellowship offers “a chance to really break the back of something which is quite new for me: a work of fiction in verse. I’m really excited to get the chance to do that”.

Fo Bhlàth is published later this month by Clàr, £9.99, and available to pre-order from or



Laigh an t-eun gun ghluasad air an làr.

Thàinig iad nan gràisg: ‘Is ann a dh’eug

brù-dhearg, mharbh esan e’, ’n gille sèimh

a rinn iad a thrèigsinn mar bu ghnàth.

Cha tug e an aire ach, le gràdh,

rinn e nead le làmhan agus shèid

anail shocair, thlàth air a dà sgèith

sgaoileadh beatha feadh gach ite ’s cnàmh’.


Dh’fhan i tiotan air a bhois

a’ ceilearadh air leth-chois

mus do thog i oirre tron an sgleò.


Theich a threud ach cha do chlisg

an gille le làmhan brisg’,

cluas sa lios ri bualadh sgèith an eòin.





The bird lies stock-still on the ground.

The gang moves in: “the robin’s deid –

he kilt him”. The quiet boy is betrayed,

as happens when stuff goes down,

but he pays no heed and lovingly

makes a nest with his hands and blows

soft, warm breath into her bones,

her feathers, and fills her wings with life.


She hovers an instant on his palms

on one leg, singing,

then takes off into the dark.


Everyone else long gone, the boy still cups his hands

and, unflinching,

listens for a wingbeat in the yard.