M. J Brown.

Historical ballad poetry of Ireland; online

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Arranged by

With an Introduction by

The Educational Company of Ireland
Limited : : : : Dublin and Belfast



THE Editor's best thanks are due to the following Pub-
lishers, who very kindly gave free permission to use
their copyright poems in this collection :

Messrs. M. H. Gill & Son, Dublin.
Messrs. Maunsell & Co., Dublin
Messrs. Jas. Duffy & Co., Dublin.
Messrs. Sealy, Bryers & Walker, Dublin.
The Walter Scott Publishing Company.
Messrs. Gay, Brothers, New York.
Messrs. John Morris & Co., Philadelphia.
Messrs. Hodges, Figgis & Co., Ltd., Dublin.

To His Grace the Archbishop of Westminster for per-
mission to include poems of Aubrey de Vere.

To the following Authors for kind permission to re-
publish their poems :

Dr. George Sigerson (whose publishers, however, proved

Mr. Seamus McManus.
Mr. P. J. McCall.
Honourable Emily Lawless.
Mr. Stephen Gwynn.

Also to Mr. Arthur Griffiths for his kindness in lending
old files of the United Irishman.

The Editor has also to acknowledge kind and valuable help
given by the Rev. Father D' Alton, D.D., in the compilation



WHEN we have said that this is an attempt the first
so far as printed books go to carry out one of the
favourite ideas of Thomas Davis, little, we think, remains
to say by way of introducing it to the reader. We have but
to put before him Davis's own words about a similar project.
It had been proposed by a writer in the Nation to write ballads
on the great events in our annals and to collect them into a
Ballad History of Ireland. Here is Davis's comment :
" The first object of the projected work will be to make Irish
History familiar to the minds, pleasant to the ears, dear to
the passions, and powerful over the taste and conduct of the
Irish people in times to come. More events could be put into
a prose history. Exact dates, subtle plots, minute connexions
and motives rarely appear in ballads, and for these ends the
worst prose history is superior to the best ballad series ; but
these are not the highest ends of histor}^ To hallow or
accurse the scenes of glory and honour, or of shame and sorrow ;
to give to the imagination the arms, and homes, and senates,
and battles of other days ; to rouse, and soften, and strengthen
and enlarge us with the passions of great periods ; to lead us
into love of self-denial, of justice, of beaut}^ of valour, of
generous life and proud death ; and to set up in our souls the
memory of great men, who shall then be as models and judges
of our actions these are the highest duties of history, and
these are best taught by a Ballad History.

" A Ballad History is welcome to childhood, from its
rhymes, its high colouring, and its aptness to memory. As we


grow into boyhood the violent passions, the vague hopes, the
romantic sorrow of patriot ballads are in tune with our fitful
and luxuriant feelings. In manhood we prize the condensed
narrative, the grave firmness, the critical art, and the political
sway of ballads. And in old age they are doubly dear ; the
companions and reminders of our life, the toys and teachers
of our children and grandchildren. Every generation finds
its account in them. They pass from mouth to mouth like
salutations ; and even the minds which lose their words are
under their influence, as one can recall the starry heavens
who cannot revive the form of a single constellation." 1

We do not think that anything we might add could explain
more fitly than these words do the objects aimed at by this
publication. We merely sum them up by saying that it aims
at doing for Irish History what Da vis's projected Ballad
History would have done had it ever seen the light.

Several works that aim at doing all this for English History
have long since appeared. Such are the following, among
others :

Poems of English Heroes. Ed. by A. C. Auchmuty ; (Kegan
Paul), 1882. A new ed. has recently been brought out by
Messrs. Blackwood. [The old ed. does not mention Ireland.]
Poems and Ballads on English History. Published by Sir
Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1910, in three books (Junior, Inter-
mediate, and Senior), each covering the whole period. [One
poem about Ireland.]

English History in English Poetry. By C. H. Firth ; (Mar-
shall), 1911, pp. Ixi. -j- 240, covering period from French
Revolution to Death of Queen Victoria. [A section on Ire-
land, seven poems.]

English Patriotic Poetry, selected and arranged by
L. Godwin Salt, M.A. Cambridge University Press, 1911.

1 In 'The Song Lore of Ireland,' by Redfern Mason, a book published In America In
1910, I find the following: "Ireland's bardic poems, ballads, and folk-songs carry her
story back to the Christian dawn and even earlier. They are history with the added
charm of a personal note, a thrill of actuality, not to be found in annals and chronicles.
They sing the hopes and fears of the people in epic moments of their national life."


To this class of works, too, belongs a recent book of a more
ambitious kind, Poetry of Empire, a volume very handsomely
brought out by Messrs. T. C. & E. C. Jack. It is a collec-
tion of poems for boys and girls describing the most stirring
events of British History from the earliest to the present times,
chronologically arranged.

All of these publications, excellent as they are for the
purpose they aim at, are at one in practically eschewing Irish
history. Now I think it will be admitted by any one acquainted
with Anglo-Irish poetry that it contains patriotic and historical
lyrics in no way inferior to any that might be used to illustrate
British history. Indeed, Mr. L. Godwin Salt in his introduc-
tion to the book mentioned above admits more than this.
" There can be nothing," he says, " in our patriotic litera-
ture to compare with the poetry of the Celts, with its burden
of longing and regret, and its passionate outcry against tyranny
and injustice, since by a just law of compensation it is always
the downtrodden and exiles who have sung those ' sweetest
songs that tell of saddest thoughts.' '

The question of the relative literary merit of such poems
concerns us, however, but little. What concerns us is their
message to us as Irishmen. Necessarily they mean things to
us that they cannot mean to men of other nations. For,
beyond and above the fact that they are stirring or inspiring
or impassioned, is the fact that they tell of deeds that were
done or sufferings that were borne within our own land by our
fathers in the past. They are full of names that are memories.
Yet when all is said and much can be said for Anglo-Irish
poetry, we hold it to be at best but a temporary expedient.
Great literature I mean, of course, the literature of feeling
and imagination, not the literature of knowledge cannot be
written in a language that is not a nation's own. If a literature
at once distinctively national and great enough to be Euro-
pean is ever to be written in Ireland, it must be written, not
in the language of Sheridan and Moore and Goldsmith, but in
the long despised language of Keating.


Meantime for the days of such a literature may be as yet
far off we believe that the ballads that stirred Ireland so
deeply in the days of Davis and the Nation, with many other
such, written before and since, may have a message still for
our own generation.



IN this collection of Irish historical poems, it has been my
endeavour to show no prejudice political or otherwise, and I
have therefore, whenever possible, included poems on the same
events from different points of view. Unfortunately, in many
instances the poets have all looked from one point of view,
or their opponents' work has not sufficient literary value to
warrant its inclusion in the collection.

Poets, from their very nature, can never be reliable his-
torians. They feel too strongly, and they picture events in the
hot glare of their own feelings rather than in the cold light of
truth. Yet poetry is a very useful, almost an essential, accom-
paniment to the dull study of history. The heroes of the past
live again in song, and we realize their difficulties and achieve-
ments. In such a poem as Roger Casement's " Battle of
Benburb " we shudder and are yet uplifted as the battle
surges on to its final triumph. The prose account of such a
battle would scarce move us more than a game of chess. And
if our patriotism needs arousing, what Irish heart could help
echoing to the notes of love in Mangan's " Dark Rosaleen " ?

The preliminary notes to the poems throughout the book
are meant to connect the historical events and to make clear
anything obscure in the poems themselves.

M. J. B.


History of Ireland. John Collier.

Ireland. Hon. Emily Lawless.

People's History of Ireland. Finerty.

The Story of Ireland. T. D. Sullivan.

The Story of Ireland. Standish O'Grady.

The Kingdom of Ireland. Clias. George Walpole.

History of Ireland. Lecky.

Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland. Dr. Joyce.

Studies in Irish History. Compiled by J. Barry O'Brien.

Highways and Byways in Donegal and Antrim. Stephen

Fair Hills of Ireland. Stephen Gwynn.

Life of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Moore.

The Harp. 1859.

Historical and Political Addresses. J. E. Redmond, M.P.

Ireland and the Empire. T. W. Russell, M.P.



Page of

Author Poem or Poems

ARCHER, WILLIAM . . . . . . . .174

ANON 187, 206

BARRY, MICHAEL J 158, 162, 199

BLACKER, COLONEL . . . . . . . .169

CARBERY, ETHNA 83, 127, 139, 150, 214, 227

CASEMENT, ROGER . . . . . . . .155

CASEY, JOHN KEEGAN . . . . . . . .102

CONDON, T. 236


DAVIS, THOMAS . . . 160, 177, 189, 192, 194, 201, 203, 215
DE VERE, AUBREY . . 31, 52, 61, 66, 69, 70, 72, 89, 112, 122,

135, 149, 163, 167, 168, 175, 184, 200

DRENNAN, W . . 110, 141, 207


ELIZABETH, CHARLOTTE . . . . . . .165

EMMET, ROBERT . . . . . . . 221



EVA 241




Page of

Author Poem or Poems

GRIFFIN, GERALD ........ 44

GWYNN, STEPHEN ........ 248

INGRAM, JOHN KELLS . . . . . . . .219


KENEALY, WILLIAM ........ 49

MAGEE, THOMAS D'ARCY . . . . . 19, 29, 154, 172

MALONE, CARROLL . . . . . . . .212

MANGAN, JAMES CLARENCE . . . . 41, 64, 77, 98, 136

McCALL, P. J. 37, 48, 53, 91, 101, 128, 152

McCANN, M. J 95, 108, 119

McCANE, J. M 142

MCCARTHY, DENIS FLORENCE . . . 35, 142, 233, 237


MOORE, THOMAS . . . 21, 22, 55, 56, 57, 73, 185, 186, 231


O'TuoMY, JOHN 39

ROONEY, W 209, 252

SULLIVAN, T. D. 23, 229


WILDE, LADY . . 238

WILLIAMS, RICHARD D'ALTON .... 62, 87, 116




From the Coming of the Milesians to Euaidhu 0' Conor, 1166


At the dispersal of nations in the East three great branches of tho
human family are distinguished the Aryan, Turanian and the Semitic. It
is to the Aryan branch that the Celts belong. When they entered Europe
it is impossible to say; probably long before the dawn of history. They
were established on the Danube, perliaps 1000 B.C., and about four centuries
later they were settled in Gaul. Making this as their headquarters they
often invaded Italy, sacked Rome, and finally conquered North Italy and
settled there, while others of them crossed the Pyrenees and mingling their
blood with the Iberians formed the Celtiberians of North Spain. The Celts
also settled in Switzerland, in Illyria, Macedonia and Thrace ; and one adven-
turous band crossed the Hellespont and became masters of the province of
Galatia. Others passed over to Britain and Ireland, these probably belonging
to the first wave of Celts who entered Europe, and who were gradually pushed
west by the pressure of succeeding wavps of Celts rolling westward. It is
purely a matter of conjecture whether the Celts who settled in Ireland found
there an earlier race, as the Celts found the Iberians beyond the Pyrenees,
and it is also a matter of conjecture when they reached Ireland. But as the
Celts had become so strong in Gaul as early as 600 B.C., it is likely that by
that tune at least some adventurous spirits had crossed to Ireland.

LONG, long ago, beyond the misty space
Of twice a thousand years ;
In Erin old there dwelt a mighty race

Taller than Roman spears ;
Like oaks and towers they had a giant grace,

Were fleet as deers,

With winds and waves they made their 'biding place,
These western shepherd seers.

Their Ocean God was Man-a-nan, McLir, 1

Whose angry lips,
In their white foam, full often would inter

Whole fleets of ships ;

1 McLir means Son of the Sea. He was supposed to have control of the
weather, and so was worshipped by mariners.



Cromah their Day-God, and their Thunderer

Made morning and eclipse ;
Bride x was their queen of song, and unto her

They prayed with fire-touched lips.

Great were their deeds, their passions and their sports ;

With clay and stone
They piled on strath and shore those mystic forts,

Not yet overthrown ;
On cairn-crown'd 2 hills they held their council-courts ;

While youths alone,
With giant dogs, explored the elk 3 resorts,

And brought them down.

Of these was Finn, 4 the father of the Bard,

Whose ancient song
Over the clamour of all change is heard

Sweet-voiced and strong.
Finn once overtook Grainne, the golden-hair'd,

The fleet and young ;
From her, the lovely, and from him, the fear'd,

The primal poet sprung.

Ossian ! two thousand years of mist and change

Surround thy name
Thy Fenian heroes now no longer range

The hills of fame.
The very name of Finn and Goll sound strange

Yet thine the same
By miscalled lake and desecrated grange

Remains and shall remain !

1 Bride, or Bridget, was the daughter of the papran god Daerda and was her-
polf the Roddess of poetry and wisdom. The flrst famous Irish Christian who
boro the name was St. Bridget of Kildare.

* ('aim Is a mound of stones raised as a monument to the dead.

3 The elk Is now extinct in Ireland ; it was an enormous specimen of antlercd

4 Finn. This was the famous Finn MaoumhaeJ, son-in-law of the Ardri
Coituac Mac Art, Grainne being Cormac's daughter.


The Druid's altar and the Druid's creed

We scarce can trace.
There is not left an undisputed deed

Of all your race,
Save your majestic song, which hath their speed,

And strength and grace ;
In that sole song, they live and love and bleed

It bears them on thro' space.

Oh, inspir'd giant ! shall we e'er behold,

In our own time,
One fit to speak your spirit on the wold,

Or seize your rhyme ?
One pupil of the past as mighty-soul'd

As in the prime,
Were the fond, fair, and beautiful, and bold

They, of your song sublime !

B.C. 1400

The Arrival of the Milesians


The Milesians were so called from their leader Milodh or Mileshis, and were
a Celtic people. The tradition was that they came from Spain, having come
to Spain after many wanderings on land and sea since they left their original
home in Scythia. While they were yet in Spain one of their dmids foretold
that their destined home was an island in the western sea. This was Ireland,
which is therefore often called Innisfail, or the Isle of Destiny.

THEY came from a land beyond the sea,
And now o'er the western main
Set sail, in their good ships, gallantly,

From the sunny land of Spain.
" Oh, where's the Isle we've seen in dreams,

Our destin'd home or grave ? "
Thus sung they as, by the morning's beams,
They swept the Atlantic wave.


And lo, where afar o'er ocean shines

A sparkle of radiant green,
As though in that deep lay emerald mines

Whose light through the wave was seen.
" 'Tls Innisfail 'tis Innisfail ! "

Rings o'er the echoing sea ;
While bending to heaven the warriors hail

That home of the brave and free.

Then turn'd they unto the Eastern wave

Where now their Day God's eye
A look of such sunny omen gave

As lighted up sea and sky.
Nor frown was seen through sky or sea,

Nor tear o'er leaf or sod,
When first on their Isle of Destiny

Our great forefathers trod.



The sons of Usnach \vc-e Xanise, Ainle and Ardan, all valiant warriors
among the Red Branch Knights. Deirdre was the daughter of Feuiiilim,
chief story teller of Conor Macnessa, King of Ulster. At her birth, which
occurred while the king and many others were being entertained at her father a
house, the king's druid predicted that she would one day bring many evils
on Ulster, and it was in consequence proposed to put her to death. But the
kiiifr intervened, and taking her with him had her brought up at one of the
castles of the Red Branch Knights, where, till near her fourteenth year she
never saw a man. When she was fourteen the king wished to make her
his wife, but Doirdre had already seen and become enamoured of Naoise
and by him and his two brothers she was taken to Alba (Scotland). King
Connor, however, sent Fergus Macroigh to Alba to invite Deirdre and the three
eons of Usnach back to Dieter, prhiiig his royal word that no harm would
befall them. But no sooner had they come into his power than the sons of
Usnach were attacked and slain, and Deirdre was taken possession of by the
king. A year later she died of grief. The king s druid also cursed Emania,
where the king resided, hcc;nisc tlio king had broken his word, and Emania
in time became a ruin. Further, Fergus Macroigh leaving Ulster took service
with the Queen of Connaught, who made war on Ulater. Thus was the pro-


phcoy of the druid fulflUed that Deirdre would bring many iUa on her native

It is plain from this poem that Moore believed that Conor Mac Nessa was
responsible for the base betrayal of the sons of Usnach.

A VENGING and Bright fall the swift sword of Erin
jLjL On him who the brave sons of Usna betrayed
For every fond eye he hath wakened a tear in

A drop from his heart-wounds shall weep o'er her blade.

By the red cloud that hung over Conor's dark dwelling
When Ulad's three champions lay sleeping in gore-

By the billows of war which so often, high swe.llrog,
Have wafted these heroes to victory's shore

We swear to revenge them ! no joy shall be tasted,
The harp shall be silent, the maiden unwed.

Our halls shall be mute and our fields shall be wasted
Till vengeance is wreaked on the murderer's head.

Yes, monarch ! though sweet are our home recollections,
Though sweet are the tears that from tenderness fall ;

Though sweet are our friendships, our hopes, our affections,
Revenge on a tyrant is sweetest of all.


"I have alluded to doubts suggested in my mind by the facts of authentic
history as to whether King Conor Mac Nessa Avas likely to have played the
foul part attributed to him in this celebrated Bardic Story (The Fate of Deirdre
and the Sons of Usnach). ... AD that can be said is, that no other incident
recorded of him would warrant such an estimate of his character ; and it is
certain that he was a man of many brave and noble parts. He met his death
under truly singular circumstances. The ancient bardic version of the event
is almost literally given in the f oUowing poem by Mr. T. D. Sulli van. "The Story
of Ireland, by A. M. Sullivan.

TWAS a day full of sorrow for Ulster when Conor
Mac Nessa went forth

To punish the clansmen of Connaught who dared to take
spoil from the north ;


For his men brought him back from the battle scarce better

than one that was dead,
With the brain-ball of Mesgedra buried two -thirds deep in

his head.
His royal physician bent o'er him, great Fingen, who often

Staunched the war-battered bodies of heroes, and built them

for battle once more,
And he looked on the wound of the monarch and heark'd to

his low-breathed sighs,
And he said, " In the day when that missile is loosed from his

forehead, he dies.

" Yet long midst the people who love him King Conor

Mac Nessa may reign,
If always the high pulse of passion be kept from his heart

and his brain :
And for this I lay down his restrictions : no more from this

day shall his place
Be with armies in battles or hostings or leading the van of

the chase ;
At night when the banquet is flashing his measure of wine

must be small,
And take heed that the bright eyes of women be kept from

his sight, above all ;
For if heart-thrilling joyance or anger awhile o'er his being

have power
The ball will start forth from his forehead, and surely he dies

in that hour."

Oh ! woe for the valiant King Conor, struck down from the

summit of life,
While glory unclouded shone round him, and regal enjoyment

was rife


Shut out from his toils and his duties, condemned to ignoble

No longer to friends a true helper, no longer a scourge to his
foes !

He, the strong-handed smiter of champions, the piercer of
armour and shields,

The foremost in earth-shaking onsets, the last out of blood-
sodden fields

The mildest, the kindest, the gayest, when revels ran high in
his hall

Oh, well might his true-hearted people feel gloomy and sad
for his fall !

The princes, the chieftains, the nobles, who met to consult

at his board,
Whispered low when their talk was of combats, and wielding

the spear and the sword :
The bards from their harps feared to waken the full pealing

sweetness of song
To give homage to valour or beauty, or praise to the wise and

the strong ;
The flash of no joy-giving story made cheers or gay laughter

Amidst silence constrained and unwonted the seldom-filled

winecup went round ;
And, sadder to all w T ho remembered the glories and joys that

had been,
The heart swaying presence of woman not once shed its light

on the scene.

He knew it, he felt it, and sorrow sunk daily more deep in

his heart ;
He wearied of doleful inaction, from all his loved labours apart.


He sat at his door in the sunlight, sore grieving and weeping

to see
The life and the motion around him, and nothing so stricken

as he.
Above him the eagle went wheeling, before him the deer

galloped by,
And the quick-legged rabbits went skipping from green glades

and burrows anigh,
The song birds sang out from the copses, the bees passed on

musical wing,
And all things were happy and busy, save Conor Mac Nessa

the King !

So years had passed over, when, sitting midst silence like

that of the tomb
A terror crept through him as, sudden, the moonlight was

blackened with gloom.

One red flare of lightning blazed brightly, illuming the land-
scape around,
One thunder peal roared through the mountains, and rumbled

and crashed underground ;
He heard the rocks bursting asunder, the trees tearing up by

the roots,
And loud through the horrid confusion the howling of terrified

From the halls of his tottering palace came screamings of

terror and pain,
And he saw crowding thickly around him the ghosts of the

foes he had slain !

And as soon as the sudden commotion that shuddered through

nature had ceased,
The king sent for Barach, his druid, and said : " Tell me

truly, priest,


What magical arts have created this scene of wild horror and

dread ?
What has blotted the blue sky above us and shaken the earth

that we tread ?
Are the gods that we worship offended ? What crime or what

wrong has been done ?
Has the fault been committed in Erin, and how may their

favour be won ?
What rites may avail to appease them ? What gifts on their

altars should smoke ?
Only say, and the offering demanded, we lay by your

consecrate oak.'*

" O king," said the white-bearded druid, " the truth unto me

has been shown ;
TL-jre lives but one God, the Eternal ; far up in high Heaven

is His throne.
He looked upon men with compassion, and sent from His

kingdom of light

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Online LibraryM. J BrownHistorical ballad poetry of Ireland; → online text (page 1 of 13)