M. J Brown.

Historical ballad poetry of Ireland; online

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His Son, in the shape of a mortal, to teach them and guide

them aright.
Near the time of your birth, O King Conor, the Saviour of

mankind was born,
And since then in the kingdoms far eastward He taught,

toiled, and prayed till this morn,
When wicked men seized Him, fast bound Him with nails

to a Cross, lanced His Side,
And that moment of gloom and confusion was Earth's cry of

dread when He died.

" O King, He was gracious and gentle, His heart was all pity

and love,
And for men he was ever beseeching the grace of His Father

above ;


He helped them, He healed them, He blessed them, He

laboured that all might attain
To the true God's high kingdom of glory, where never comes

sorrow or pain,
But they rose in their pride and their folly, their hearts filled

with merciless rage,
That only the sight of His life-blood fast poured from His

heart could assuage.
Yet, while on the cross-beams uplifted, His Body, racked,

tortured and riven,
He prayed not for justice or vengeance, but asked that His

foes be forgiven."

With a bound from his seat rose King Conor, the red flush

of rage on his face,
Fast he ran through the hall for his weapons, and snatching

his s \vord from its place
He rushed to the woods, striking wildly at boughs that

dropped down with each blow,
And he cried : " We're I midst the vile rabble, I'd cleave

them to earth even so !
With the stroke of a high-king of Erin, the whirls of my

keen-tempered sword
I would save from their horrible fury that mild and that

merciful lord."
His frame shook and heaved with emotion, the brain-ball

leaped forth from his head,
And commending his soul to that Saviour, King Conor Mac

Nessa fell dead.



The druldlsm of Ireland, as pictured forth In the native records, differed In
many respects from that of GauL In pagan times the Druids were the exclu-
sive possessors of whatever learning was then known. They combined in
tlit'mst'lvrs all the learned professions : they \yere not only druids, but judges,
prophets, historians, poets and even physicians. . . . The druids had the
reputation of being great magicians ; and in this character they figure more
frequently and conspicuously than in any other. . . . Laegairo's Druids
foretold the coming of St. Patrick. Smaller Social History of Ireland, P. W.

A THOUSAND years had seen the shore
Of Erin by our race possessed,
Since the Milesian galleys bore

From Spain, into the unknown West.
A thousand years, and every year

A forest fell a clan arose,
And Scots of Ireland far and near

Had conquered fame and friends and foes.
Wise laws by Olamh 1 early framed

And Ogman's 2 letters spread as wide
As Scotia's blood, earth's homage claimed,

A homage then by none denied.

It was an island fair and bland,

Lying within its pale sea wall
Still belted round with forests grand,

Braving the stormy ocean's squall.
The trapper by the mountain rill

Watched for his prey with eager eye;
The elk still walked his native hill

In free and fearless majesty ;

1 Olamh. Ollam Todla (Ollav-Tola), who was King of Ireland seven or
eight centuries before the Christian era. (Joyce's Smaller Social History.)

* Ogman. Ogham was a species of writing, the letters of which were
formed by combination of short lines and points on, and at both sides of a
middle or stem line called a flex. (Joyce's Smaller Social History.)


The Asian arts as yet abode

By river, ford and chief's domain ;

And Druids to their thundering God
Gave thanks for seas of summer rain.

" The Druids ! " sad mysterious word

Whence comes that meaning unexpressed,
Which every Celtic pulse hath stirred,

Rousing old thoughts in brain and breast
Dear was the name to our first sires,

Dear every symbol of their line ;
Awe-struck they saw their altar-fires

And deemed their mystic chaunts divino.
O'er anger's heart the Druid's breath

Passed like the healing southern breeze,
And warriors on the field of death

Chaunted their odes in extasies.

'Twas past, a foreign rumour ran

Along the peopled Eastern shore,
A legend of a God and Man

And of a Crown and Cross He bore.
At first 'twas like a morning tale

Told by a dreamer to a few,
Till year by year among the Gael

More wide the circling story grew,
A mingled web of false and true,

'Twas passed about on every side,
The when, or where, they scarcely knew,

But all agree He lived and died
Far in the East the Crucified.

Travellers who had been long abroad,
Returning, shunned the public sight

To serve 'twas said the Unknown God
With harp and hymn and harmless rite.


One, bolder than the rest, essayed

To spread his creed on Leinster's shore.
But by a tumult sore dismayed

He fled and ventured back no more.
Palladius like a courier came

And spoke, and went or like St. John
To the broad desert breathed the Name

Of the Expected and was gone.
Leaving to every pagan sere

The future full of doubt and fear.

432 A.D.


King Laegaire, who was High King of Erinn when St. Patrick commenced
his mission, was son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. On St. Patrick's visit to
Tara, King Laegaire's proceedings were regulated by the advice of his two
chief druids, Lucetmail and Lochru.

THE land is sad and dark our daj^s :
Sing us a song of the days that were !
Then sang the Bard in his Order's praise

This song of the chief bard of King Laeghaire. 1

The King is wrath with a greater wrath

Than the wrath of Niall or the wrath of Conn !
From his heart to his brow the blood makes path

And hangs there a red cloud beneath his crown.


Is there any who knows not from south to north
That Laeghaire to-morrow his birthday keeps ?

1 It is said that King Laeghaire became a Christian but relapsed into
paganism, thinking he would disgrace his ancestors if he abandoned the
religion which they professed.


No fire may be lit upon hill or hearth
Till the King's strong fire in his kingly mirth
Leaps upward from Tara's palace steeps !


Yet Patrick has lighted his paschal fire

At Slane it is holy Saturday,
And bless'd his font mid the chaunting choir I

From hill to hill the flame makes way :
While the King looks on it, his eyes with ire

Flash red like Mars, under tresses grey.


The great King's captains with drawn swords rose ;

To avenge their Lord and the State they swore ;
The Druids rose and their garments tore ;
*' The strangers to us and our gods are foes."
Then the King to Patrick a herald sent,
Who said, " Come up at noon and show
Who lit thy fire and with what intent ?

These things the great King Laeghaire would know."


But Laeghaire concealed twelve men in the way
Who swore by the sun the saint to slay.

When the Boyne waters began to bask,
And the fields to flash in the rising sun,

The Apostle Evangelist kept his Pasch,
And Erin her grace baptismal won :

Her birthday it was ; his font the rock,

He bless'd the land and he bless'd his flock.




Thon forth to Tara he fared full lowly :

The Staff of Jesus was in his hand ;
E'ght priests paced after him chaunting slowly,

Printing their steps on the dewy land.
It was the Resurrection morn ;
The lark sang loud o'er the springing corn ;
The dove was heard and the hunter's horn.


The murderers stood close by on the way,
Yet they saw naught save the lambs at play.


A trouble lurk'd in the King's strong eye

When the guests that he counted for dead drew ni^h.

He sat in state at his palace gate ;

His chiefs and his nobles were ranged around ;
The Druids like ravens smelt some far fate ;

Their eyes were gloomily bent on the ground.
Then spake Laeghaire : " He comes beware !
Let none salute him, or rise from his chair ! "


Like some still vision men see by night,

Mitred, with eyes of serene command,
Saint Patrick moved onward in ghostly white :

The Staff of Jesus was in his hand.
His priests paced after him unafraid.
And the boy Benignus, 1 more like a maid,
Like a maid just wedded he walk'd and smiled,
To Christ new-plighted, that priestly child.

i Benignus was a native of Meath, one of St. Patrick's first converts, always
ore of hi.s most attached followers, and before his death was coadjutor to St
PJ rack in the see of Armagh.



They enter'd the circle ; their hymn they ceased ;

The Druids their eyes bent earthward still :
On Patrick's brow the glory increased,

As a sunrise brightening some breathless hill.
The warriors sat silent : strange awe they felt :
The chief bard, Dubtach, rose up and knelt!


Then Patrick discoursed of the things to be

When time gives way to eternity,

Of kingdoms that cease, which are dreams, not things,

And the kingdom built by the King of Kings.

Of Him, he spake, Who reigns from the Cross ;

Of the death which is life and the life which is loss ;

And how all things were made by the Infant Lord

Arid the Small Hand the Magian kings adored.

His voice sounded on like a throbbing flood

That swells all night from some far-off wood,

And when it was ended that wondrous strain

Invisible myriads breathed low, " Amen ! "


While he spake men say that the refluent tide

On the shore beside Colpa ceased to sink.
And they say the white deer by Mulla's side

O'er the green marge bending forebore to drink :
That the Brandon eagle forgat to soar ;

Thq-t no leaf stirr'd in the wood by Lee.
Such stupor hung the island o'er

For none might guess what the end would be.


Then whispered the King to a chief close by,
" It were better for me to believe than die ! "


Yet the King believed not ; but ordinance gave

That those who would might believe that word :
So the meek believed, and the wise, and brave

And Mary's Son as their god adored.
Ethnea and Fethlimea, his daughters twain
That day were in baptism born again ;
And the Druids, because they could answer naught
Bow'd down to the faith the stranger brought.
That day upon Erin God pour'd His Spirit,
Yet none like the chief of the Bards had merit.
Dubtach ! He rose and believed the first,
Ere the great light yet on the rest had burst.

It was thus that Erin, then blind but strong,
To Christ through her chief bard paid homage due :

And this was a sign that in Erin, song
Should from first to last to the Cross be true 1


ON Tara's hill the daylight dies,
On Tara's plain 'tis dead.
" Till Baal's unkindled fires shall rise

No fire must flame instead."
'Tis thus the King commanding speaks,

Commands and speaks in vain ;
For lo ! a fire defiant breaks
From out the woods of S"ane t


For there in prayer is Patrick bent,

With Christ his soul is knit ;
And there before his simple tent

The Paschal fire is lit.
" What means this flame that through the night

Illumines all the vale ?
What rebel hand a fire dare light

Before the fires of Baal ? "

O King ! when Baal's dark reign is o'er,

When thou thyself art gone,
This fire will light the Irish shore

And lead its people on.
Will lead them on full many a night

Through which they're doomed to go.
Like that which led the Israelite

From bondage and from woe.

This fire, this sacred fire of God,

Young hearts shall bear afar
To lands no human foot hath trod

Beneath the Western Star.
To lands where Faith's bright flag unfurl'd

By those who here have knelt
Shall give unto a newer world

The sceptre of the Celt;.


521 A.D.


St. Columba was born in 521 at Gartan, Co. Donegal, and lived to 597. . . .
"After he came to be a youth he went to Strangford, where he studied under
St. Finian. . . . Columba was ordained and lived for a whilo in a monastery
at Glasnevin, near Dublin ; thence he returned to his own country and founded
his first monastery at Derry, the first of those many foundations which earned
him his title of Columkilln (Dove of the Churches) they are too many to
enumerate here." (Highways and Byways in Donegal and Antrim, by Stephen
Gwynn.) . . There soon arose disputes between Columba and Diarmid Ard-
ri of Ireland. St. Columba had a dispute with St. Finian over the ownership
of a copy of the Psalter. The matter was referred to the arbitration of Diar-
mid, but St. Columba, was not satisfied with his decision. Angry at what he
considered the king s injustice, the saint stirred up the northern Clan-na-Niall
against Diarmid, whom they defeated at CooKlrevny (Caildreimhne). Another
battle was the consequence of a dispute between St. Columba and St. CoDgall,
of liangor. But the Saint bitterly repented, and his penance was surely
terribly severe. It was nothing less than perpetual exile from the land he
loved with all his great fiery heart. He left Ireland in 5(53, and founded the
great monastery of lona, where he spent the remainder of his days.

O! SON of my God, 'twere pleasant,
If I with my own dear train
Could glide and go, o'er the deluge-flow

To mine Erinn back again !
O'er Moylurg and a'past Binn Eigny,

And across Lough Foyal's breast,

Where the gull's keen cry, and the swan's sweet sigh
Would herald my homing quest !

How eager and glad my corrach

My Dewy Red would fly
To that Eastern nook whence the fishers look,

With a sad sea-farer's eye,
For nothing can cheer my exile,

Nor kine, nor corn, nor gold
I but sit alone, and make my moan,

For the better things of old.


Ah ! nothing can cheer my exile !

O, King of the Secrets, see
My woe to-day that Cool's red fray 1

Turned once my face from thee !
Thrice happy, thou son of Dirna, 2

In thy holy cell apart,
At DUITOW'S fane where every strain

Is a pleasure to the heart !

There the west wind murmurs music

Among the leafy elms ;
And the blackbird sings, as he claps his wings

From a flight to sunlit realms ;
And the cattle on green Binn Grencha

Are lowing at break of day ;
And the cuckoos fly with a cooing cry

O'er the brink of dewy May.

Ochone ! I have left in Erinn

Earth's three most precious things
Blest Durrow's rood, loved Derry's wood,

And Laidag's land of springs !
How I loved cascaded Erinn

In all except her wrongs,
Where Congal's face and Cannach's grace

Made my sweet song of songs !

Cool's red fray. Cooldrevny.

* 1 he son of Dinina was Cormac, abbot of Burrow, ns well as bishop, a
contemporary and also a personal friend of St. Columkillo.



Translated by J. C. MANGAN

" The Fianna, or Fena of Erinn, so far as we can trace their history with
rmy certainty, lasted for about a century. They attained their t-Toatcst power
in the reign of Cormac mac Art (254-277) under their most renowned coru-
in.-imier, Finn, the son of Curnal, or Finn Mac Coole as he is commonly called,
King Cormac s son-in-law, who is recorded in the Annals to have been killed
beside the Boyne, when an old man." Joyce, Smaller Social History of
Ancient Ireland.

IT makes my grief, my bitter woe,
To think how lie our nobles low,
Without sweet music, bards, or lays,
Without esteem, regard, or praise.

0, my peace of soul is fled,

I lie outstretched like one half dead,

To see the chieftains old and young,

Thus trod by the churls of the dismal oongue :

Oh ! who can well refrain from tears,
Who sees the hosts of a thousand years
Expelled from this their own green isle
And bondsmen to the Base and Vile ?
0, my peace, etc.

Here dwelt the race of Eoghan 1 of old,
The great, the proud, the strong, the bold,
The pure in speech, the bright in face,
The noblest House of the Fenian race !
O, my peace, etc.

i Eoghan Mor, King of Munster in the second century. Ho was a rival
of Conn of the hundred battles.


Here dwelt Mac Cumhal l of the Flaxen Locks,
And his bands the first in Battle's shocks ;
Dubhlaing, Mac Duinn, of the smiting swords,
And Coillte, first of heroic lords.
O, my peace, etc.

The Goll, who forced all foes to yield,
And Osgur, mighty on battle-field,
And Conall, too, who ne'er knew fear,
They, not the Stranger, then dwelt here.
O, my peace, etc.

Here dwelt the race of Eibhear 2 and Ir
The heroes of the dark blue spear,
The royal tribe of Heremon, too,
That King w r ho fostered champions true.
0, my peace, etc.

And Niall 3 the Great of the silken gear,
For a season bore the sceptre here
With the Red Branch Knights, who felled the foe
As the lightning lays the oak-tree low !
my peace, etc.

The warrior Brian 4 of the Fenian race,
In soul and shape all truth and grace,
Whose laws the Princes yet revere,
Who banished the Danes he too dwelt here.
O, my peace, etc.

1 For an account of all the other heroes mentioned In the poem, see Keating'a

Pronounce Even.

3 Niall of the Nine Hostages (Naoi n Giallaidh), Monarch of Ireland at the
close of the fourth centuryt was one of the most gallant of all the princes of
the TTltonian Race. . . . He was killed A.D. 406 during one of his invasions
of (in ul. (Note in Poets and Poetry of Munslcr.)

* Brian (surnumed) Bounnha - of the Tribute (Brian Boru) became King
of Ireland A.D. Kx/2, and was killed at the battle of Clontarf on April 23, 1014.


Alas ! it has pierced my inmost heart,
That Christ allowed our Crown to depart
To men who defile His Holy Word
And scorn the Cross, the Church, the Lord '
0, my peace, etc.

Ireland in the Seventh Century



To Ireland, the Land of Saints and Scholars, came many foreign nobles
and princes to receive an education not to be had in their own countries.
Prince Alfrid, a Saxon prince afterwards King of the Northumbrians, was one
of these students, and was in Ireland according to Ven. Bede about the year
684. His original poem, of which this is a translation, is still extant in the
Irish language.

I FOUND in Innisfail the fair,
In Ireland, while in exile there,
Women of worth, both grave and gay men,
Many clerics and many lay men.

I travelled its fruitful provinces round,
And in every one of the five 1 I found,
Alike in church and in palace hall,
Abundant apparel, and food for all.

Gold and silver, I found, and money,
Plenty of wheat and plenty of honey ;
1 found God's people rich in pity,
Found many a feast and many a city.

1 *rhe two Meaths then formed a distinct province called IMeath.


I also found in Armagh l the splendid,
Meekness, wisdom, and prudence blended,
Fasting, as Christ hath recommended,
And noble councillors untranscended.

I found in each great church moreo'er,
Whether on island or on shore,
Piety, learning, fond affection,
Holy welcome, and kind protection.

I found the good lay monks and brothers
Ever beseeching help for others,
And in their keeping the holy word
Pure as it came from Jesus the Lord.

I found in Munster unfettered of any,
Kings and Queens, and poets a many
Poets well skilled in music and measure,
Prosperous doings, mirth and pleasure.

I found in Connaught the just, redundance
Of riches, milk in lavish abundance ;
Hospitality, vigour, fame,
In Cruachan's 2 land of heroic name.

I found in the country of Connall 3 the glorious,
Bravest heroes, ever victorious ;
Fair-complexioned men and warlike,
Ireland's lights, the high, the starlike !

* Armagh was one of the greatest of the Irish monastic schools.

Cruachan in Roscommon was the site of the royal palace of the Connaught

3 Connal Carnach, one of the Great Red Branch Champions.


I found in Ulster, from hill to glen,
Hardy warriors, resolute men ;
Beauty that bloomed when youth was gone,
And strength transmitted from sire to son.

I found in the noble district of Boyle

(MS. here illegible])
Brehon's 1 Erenachs, weapons bright,
And horsemen bold and sudden in fight.


I found in Leinster, the smooth and sleek,
From Dublin to Slewmargy's peak ;
Flourishing pastures, valour, health,
Long-living worthies, commerce, wealth.

I found besides, from Ara to Glea,
In the broad rich country of Ossorie,
Sweet fruits, good laws for all and each,
Great chess players, men of truthful speech.

I found in Heath's fair principality,
Virtue, vigour and hospitality ;
Candour, joyfulness, bravery, purity,
Ireland's bulwark and security.

I found strict morals in age and youth,
I found historians, recording truth ;
The things I sing of, in verse unsmooth
I found them all I have written sooth.

1 Brehon, a law judge Erenach was a steward of church property, at first
B cleric, but in the decay of the Irish monasteries, consequent on the Danish
wars, he was frequently a usurping layman.




The Danes or Northmen first came to Ireland in 795. They began to attack
and plunder the rich monasteries. Later on they sold their services in war
to one king against another, and gradually becoming more wealthy and
powerful they ousted some of the Irish kings and ruled in their stead.

WHY weepest thou, Erin ? Why droop thy green
bowers ?

Why flows all in purple the wave of Cullain ?
Why sink the young maidens like rain-laden flowers ?
Why hushed are their songs on the desolate plain ?
Ruin and sorrow are o'er them spread
Revel and freedom and mirth are fled.

Hath the demon of pestilent airs been out

To taste the sweet breath of thy mountain gale ?
To scatter his death-breathing vapours about.

And wave his dark wings o'er thy blooming vales ?
Like the wind that mourns in the winter bowers.
Blasting the fairest of health's young flowers ?


No ; poison and pestilence have no share

In the ruin that moulders our strength away

Happy are those who breathe that air,

And die at the sight of their hope's decay.

But the ocean's breezes fan our skies

The plague spirit tastes their breath and dies.



But a demon more deadly the Northman has flown
From his lonely hills so chilling and grey ;

He hath left his rude mountains of heath and stone,
For the fairest that bloom in the light of day

And Erin has dropp'd her shield and sword,

And wears the yoke of a heathen lord.


The blood of the royal the blood of the brave
Are blent with the willows of dark Cullain

Our king is a gay and a gilded slave
And ours are the ruins that blot the plain.

The Ravens of Denmark are seen on our walls,

And the shout of the spoiler 1 is loud in our halls.


Weep on, then, lost island ! thy honours have fled
Like the light on a lake that is troubled and broken ;

Thy Snake hath hid his coward head

The words of thy grief and shame are spoken.

Thou hast not left one lingering light.

To bless with a promise thy cheerless night.

1 The Danes at first lived by plunder, but they gradually began to found
settlements along the coast, especially at Dublin, Waterford and Limerick,
an 1 enriched themselves by trade. They continued, however, to plunder tho
natives and despoil the monasteries.


976 A.D.


"Those belonging to tho princely house of Desmond are known as Eugenians,
being descended from Owen (Koghan), the eldest son of Ollill Olum, King of
Minister ; those belonging to that of Thomond being descended from Cormac
Cas, the second son, are named Dalcassians." History of Ireland, Collier.
The patrimony of the Dalcassians was Co. Clare. The Dalcassians obtained
the upper hand in the time of Brian Born. In 976 Mahou, Dalcassian King
of Minister, was slain by agents of the Molloy, King of Desmond. Mahon
had been invited to a friendly conference to Bruree, the residence of Dono-
van, chief of Hy Fidhgheinte, and had been promised safe conduct. In spito
of this he was detained forcibly by Donovan, then sent south to Donoyan'8
confederate Molloy, and murdered on the way at a place called Redchair on
the confines of Limeiick and Cork.

LAMENT, Dalcassians ! the E agle of Cashel is dead,
The grandeur, the glory, the joy of her palace is fled ;
Your strength in the battle your bulwark of valour is low !
But the fire of your vengeance will fall on the murderous foe.

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