M. J Brown.

Historical ballad poetry of Ireland; online

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Looked aghast and strange ;
The minstrel-group sat in dumbest show !
Had some great crime

Wrought this dread amaze,
This terror ? None seemed to understand !
'Twas then the time,

We were in the days
Of Cahal Mor of the Wine-red Hand.

I again walked forth ;

But lo ! the sky

Showed fleckt with blood, and an alien sun
Glared from the north,

And there stood on high
Amid his shorn beams, a skeleton \
It was by the stream
Of the castled Maine,


One Autumn eve in the Teuton's land
That I dreamed this dream

Of the time and reign
Of Cahal Mor of the Wine-red Hand I

A.D. 1316


"In 1315, during the reign in England of Edward II, Edward Bruce landed
In Ireland with 6,000 Scots. " He was at once joined by the Irish of the
north, and, presently, by Fedlim O'Connor, King of Connaught. . . . O 'Brian
of Thomond rose, and the chiefs of Munster and Meath . . . and many of
the Anglo-Irish settlers threw in their lot with the Irish, and Edward Bruce
was crowned at Dundalk." Kingdom of Ireland, C. G. Walpole. The battle
of Athenry was fought in the following year, 1316. On one side were the old
Irish under Fedlim, chief of the O'Connors, who was in alliance with Edward
Bruce, and on the other the Anglo-Irish under Birmingham. The Irish were
far more numerous, but they fought in their saffron shirts, while the Anglo-
Irish were clothed in mail. The result was a crushing defeat for the Irish.
O'Connor himself and most of his family fell, and scarce a Connaught clan but
had to mourn the loss of some of their chiefs, and in many cases all of them
were swept away. The battle, however, did not end the war between the
English and Irish, as the poet supposes.


ATHUNREE ! Athunree,
Erin's crown, it fell on thee !
Ne'er till then in all its woe
Did her heart its hope forego.
Save a little child but one
The latest regal race is gone.
Roderick died again on thee,
Athunree !



Athunree ! Athunree !
A hundred years and forty-three
Winter-wing'd and black as night
O'er the land had track'd their flight :


In Clonmacnoise from earthy bed
Roderick raised once more his head :
Fedlim floodlike rushed to thee,
Athunree !


Athunree ! Athunree !
The light that struggled sank on thee !
Ne'er since Cathall the red-handed
Such a host till then was banded.
Long-haired Kerne and Gallowglass
Met the Norman face to face ;
The saffron standard floated far
O'er the on-rolling wave of war ;
Bards the onset sang on thee,
Athunree !


Athunree ! Athunree !
The poison tree took root in thee !
What might naked breasts avail
'Gainst sharp spear and steel-ribbed mail ?
Of our Princes twenty-nine,
Bulwarks fair of Connor's line,
Of our clansmen thousands ten
Slept on thy red ridges. Then
Then the night came down on thee,
Athunree !


Athunree ! Athunree !
Strangely shone that moon on thee !
Like the lamp of them that tread
Staggering o'er the heaps of dead,


Seeking that they fear to see.
O that widow's wailing sore !
On it rang to Oranmore ;
Died, they say, among the piles
That make holy Aran's isles ;
It was Erin wept on thee,
Athunree !


Athunree ! Athunree !
The sword of Erin brake on thee !
Thrice a hundred wounded men,
Slowly nursed in wood or glen,
When the tidings came of thee
Rushed in madness to the sea ;
Hurled their swords into the waves,
Raving died in ocean caves :
Would that they had died on thee,
Athunree !


Athunree ! Athunree !
The heart of Erin burst on thee !
Since that hour some unseen hand
On her forehead stamps the brand :
Her children ate that hour the fruit
That slays manhood at the root ;
Our warriors are not what they were ;
Our maids no more are blithe and fair ;
Truth and Honour died with thee,


Athunree ! Athunree !

Never harvest wave o'er thee !


Never sweetly-breathing kine
Pant o'er golden meads of thine !
Barren be thou as the tomb ;
May the night-bird haunt thy gloom,
And the wailer from the sea,


Athunree ! Athunree !
All my heart is sore for thee,
It was Erin died on thee,

A.D. 1318


During the reigns of John, Henry III and Edward I, the Anglo -Normans
had been settling in Ireland in ever-increasing numbers. They had founded
monasteries and in many cases intermarried with the natives, but the mass of
the old Irish they robbed and plundered without mercy. They seized their
lands, destroyed or appropriated their churches, excluded the Irish from their
monasteries, scoffed at the Brehon law, and refused to give the old Irish the
status of English subjects or the protection of English law. Repeatedly the
oppressed Irish had asked for protection from the English king ; but the
English king was too much engaged with events at home, and his viceroy at
Dublin was too weak to curb the rapacity of the Anglo -Noi'man lords. Then,
as the Irish themselves could not unite, Domhnall O'Neill of Ulster sent his
well-known Remonstrance to the Pope, recapitulating all that the Irish had
Buffered, and informing his Holiness that they had invited over Edward Bruce,
brother of King Robert of Scotland. Bruce came in 1315, and was crowned
King of Ireland at Dundalk the following year. At first successful, he was
ultimately defeated in 1318 at Faugart in Louth.

HE is dead, dead, dead !
The man to Erin dear !
The King who gave our Isle a head

His kingdom is his bier.
He rode into our war ;

And we crown'd him chief and prince,


For his race to Abba's shore

Sailed from Erin ages since.
Woe, woe, woe !

Edward Bruce is cold to-day ;
He that slew him lies as low,

Sword to sword and clay to clay.


King Robert came too late !

Long, long may Erin mourn !
Famine's rage and dreadful Fate

Forbade her Bannockburn !
As the galley touch'd the strand

Came the messenger of woe ;
The King put back the herald's hand

" Peace," he said, " thy tale I know !
His face was in the Cloud ;

And his wraith was on the surge."
Maids of Alba, weave his shroud 1

Maids of Erin, sing his dirge I



The Statute of Kilkenny " enacted that intermarriages with the natives,
or any connexion with them as fosterers or in Hie way of gossipred should be
punished as high treason ; that the use of their name, language, apparel, or
customs should be punished with the forfeiture of lands and tenements ; that
to submit TO be governed by the Brehon laws was treason ; that the English
should not make war upon the natives without the permission or authority of
government ; that the English should not permit the Irish to graze upon
their lands ; that they should not admit them to any benefice or religious
privilege, or even entertain their bards." Plowden.

OF old ye warr'd on men : to-day
On women and on babes ye war ;
The noble's child his head must lay
Beneath the peasant's roof no more !


I saw in sleep the infant's hand

His foster-brother's fiercely grasp ;
His warm arm like as willow-wand,

Twines me each day with closer clasp !

O infant smiler ! grief -beguiler !

Between the oppressor and the oppress'd,
soft unconscious reconciler,

Smile on ! through thee the Land is bless'd.

Through thee the puissant love the poor ;

His conqueror's hope the vanquish' d shares :
For thy sake by a lowly door

The clan made vassal stops and stares.

Our vales are healthy. On thy cheek
There dawns each day a livelier red :

Smile on ! Before another week
Thy feet our earthen floor will tread.

Thy foster-brothers twain for thee
Would face the wolves on snowy fell :

Smile on ! the " Irish enemy "

Will fence their Norman nursling well.

The nursling as the child is dear ;
Thy mother loves not like thy nurse !

That babbling mandate steps not near
Thy cot but o'er her bleeding corse !

In justice to the English, it is but fair to say that these cruel laws were not
very rigidly enforced. And it is an honour to the Irish that, as the poem
tells, they had little intention of conforming to them. But they were not
without their evil effects, as will be seen.


A.D. 1399


The Statute of Kilkenny freshly stirred up Irish discontent, and the great
tribes were surging angrily when in 1399 Richard II arrived in Waterford
harbour with 30,000 archers and 4,000 men at arms. He intended by this
display of force to show the chieftains the uselessness of opposing him. Some
few were overawed and submitted, but Art MacMurrogh, Prince of Leinster
(descended from Donal, son of Dermot [Diarmid], of evil fame), opposed him
and Richard soon returned to England. The most heroic figure of his age,
Art spent his lifetime at war with the English, and died at New Ross in 1417.

HE l came in the night on a false pretence ;
As a friend he came ; as a lord remains :
His coming we noted not when or whence.

We slept : we woke in chains.
Ere a year they had chased us to dens and caves ;

Our streets and our churches lay drown' d in blood,
The race that had sold us their sons as slaves
In our land as conquerors stood.


Who were they, those princes that gave away

What was theirs to keep, not theirs to give ?
A king holds sway for a passing day ;

The kingdoms for ever live !
The tanist 2 succeeds when the king is dust :

The king rules all ; yet the king hath naught :
They were traitors not kings who sold their trust ;

They were traitors not kings who bought !

* Richard II on his first coming in 1394.

Taniatry was a mode of tenure that prevailed among various Celtic tribes, according
to which the tanist or holder of honours and lands held them only for life, and his
successor was fixed by election (dictionary).


Brave Art Mac Murrough ! Arise, 'tis morn !

For a true king the nation hath waited long,
He is strong as the horn of the unicorn,

This true king who rights our wrong !
He rules in the fight by an inward right ;

From the heart of the nation her king is grown ;
He rules by right ; he is might of her might ;

Her flesh and bone of her bone !



Thomas, sixth Earl of Desmond, loved and married Catherine MacCormac,
the daughter of one of his dependants. He first saw her and was struck by
her beauty, when taking shelter in her father's house near the Abbey of Feale,
after a hunt. The young Earl's family considered themselves insulted by
his marriage, and made his life so unhappy in Ireland that he retired to Nor-
mandy, where he died in 1420. His uncle Thomas succeeded to his estates.

BY the Feal's wave benighted, no star in the skies,
To thy door by Love lighted, I first saw those eyes.
Some voice whispered o'er me as the threshold I crossed
There was ruin before me, if I lov'd, I was lost.

Love came, and brought sorrow too soon in his train ;
Yet so sweet that to-morrow twere welcome again.
Though misery's full measure my portion should be,
I would drain it with pleasure if pour'd out by thee.

You, who call it dishonour to bow to this flame,
If you've eyes, look but on her, and blush while you blame.
Hath the pearl less whiteness because of its birth ?
Hath the violet less brightness for growing near earth ?


No Man for his glory to ancestry flies,

But women's bright story is told in her eyes ;

While the Monarch but traces through mortals his line,

Beauty, born of the Graces, ranks next to Divine 1


1478 TO 1607


From Gerald, Earl of Kildare, as Lord Deputy, to the Flight of
the Earls. 1478 to 1607



From the Irish

One of the last acts of Edward IV with regard to Ireland was to make
Gerald, the eighth Earl of Kildare, Lord Deputy. Gerald retained this office
for fourteen years, from 1478 to 1492.

At this time the Wars of the Roses were raging in England, and the English
had very little power in Ireland ; the Pale, indeed, was reduced to a single
county. In 1494 Sir Edward Poynings was sent over as Lord Deputy, with
orders to crush the adherents of Perkin Warbeck a (pretender to the English
crown, who gained much support in Ireland), and to reform the Parliament.
The Earls of Ormonde and Kildare joined him ; he subdued the chiefs of
Ulster, and summoned a Parliament at Drogheda. Acts were passed to the
effect " that no future parliament was to be held in Ireland until (1) the Lord
Lieutenant and Council had certified to the King the causes and considerations
of and the acts to be brought before such an assembly, and (2) until these
had been approved under the Great Seal of England." (Collier.) The Earl
of Kildare was now sent to England as a prisoner, and attainted of high
treason. But King Henry was too wise to condemn the great Earl. The
King had a pretty wit, and the courage to indulge it. " All Ireland," he cried
to Kildare's accusers, "all Ireland ye say cannot rule this man, then let him
rule all Ireland." And the Earl was forthwith reinstated as Lord Deputy in
1496, and was the King's faithful lieutenant as long as his rule lasted, viz. to
1513. It was he who fought and won the battle of Knockare in 1504. A few
years of peace followed. But Henry VIII, when he came to the throne did
not leave Ireland in peace as his predecessor had done. Fearing the power
of the Geraldines, he summoned Gerald, the ninth Earl of Kildare, to London,
on a false and flimsy charge of treason. Gerald left his son Thomas to act as
deputy in his absence. This gallant youth, hearing an exaggerated story of
his father's wrongs, impetuously renounced his allegiance to the English crown
and ro&e in rebellion. Hot-headed and thoughtless as he was, Silken Thomas
yet succeeded in defying the government for two years. But at length he was
betrayed by his foster brother. Parez and his stronghold of Maynooth was
taken by the English general. Sir William Skefflngton. Skefflngton shewed
his contempt for the traitor by hanging him.

Thomas and his five uncles were treacherously taken prisoners, in face of
a direct promise that they would not be harmed, sent to London, and executed.
The poor old Earl Gerald died of a broken heart in nil London prison.

His Irish wife succeeded in concealing her little son, a boy of ten or
twelve, who was afterwards sent to Rome, where he was educated.

This Earl of Onnond was prominent throughout the whole reign of Elizabeth



and died in 1614, In extreme old age. Few who know anything of the history
of the time will deny that he was an able man. But it is difficult, especially
lor an Irish Catholic, to agree with the praises of the poet ; for Ormond was
a Protestant and a bigot, a supporter of Elizabeth in all her cruelties, and it
was he who was largely responsible for the desolation of Munster during the
Desmond wars.

STRIKE the loud lyre for Dark Thomas, the Rom*sn, J
Roman in Faith, but Hibernian in soul !
Him who, the idol of warrior and woman,
Never feared peril and never knew dole.
Who is the man whom I name with such rapture ?

Who but our Ossory's and Ormond's great Chief
He whom his foes battled vainly to capture
He whom his friends loved beyond all belief !

Him the great Henry 2 gave rubies and rings to

Him the King Edward for fleetness admired ;
Even as his body, his spirit had wings, too,

And defied efforts that Death alone tired.
Southward this morn into deep Tipperary,

Northward ere night on the shores of the Erne,
Always he showed his contempt of those chary

Shifts of the soul that no BUTLER could learn !

Oriel of streams, and Duhallow of Harbours,

Yielded him shorewards their silver and gold 3
All he despised ! as those greenwoods and arbours

Girdling his towers from the ages of old.
Riches he loved not his trust and his treasure

Lay in the might of his far-flaming sword ;
War was his pastime and battle his pleasure,

And his own glory the God he adored !

Thrice and a fourth time, he humbled Clan Caura ; 4
His were the warriors that wasted Dunlo

How his bands ravaged and fired Glen-na-Maura,
Who throughout green Inisfail doth not know ?

* Thomas the Roman is wrong, for Ormond was a Protestant.
Henry VIII. 3 Their white and yellow fish. * The MacCarthles.


Munster beheld his achievements of wonder,
Connaught and Ulster his bands left bereaven ;

Wrath, like the wrath of his lightning and thunder
Cast into shade the high anger of Heaven !

Woe unto us ! This great man has departed !

Quenched lies his lamp in the dust of the tomb !
He, the land's giant, the great Lion-hearted !

He, even he, hath succumbed unto Doom !
Rest is his lot for whom Life yielded no rest

Darkling and lone is his dwelling to-night
On the proud thousand-yeared oak of the Forest

Hath on a sudden come blastment and blight !

Toll ye his funeral dirge, ye dark waters,

O'er which so often his fleets held their march !
Mourn for the Earl, thou Terna of Slaughters ;

Build up his pillar and laurel his arch !
Thy foes were his, and with them he warred only

Weep for him, then, from the depths of thy core !
Weep for the Chief who hath left thee thus lonely

One like to him thou shalt never see more !

Oh ! for myself my two eyes are as fountains

Flowing, o'erflowing, by night and by morn
Gloomily roam I on Banba's grey mountains,

Feeling all wretched, all stricken and lorn.
Jewels and gold in profusion he gave me

Would they, not he, were now under the sod !
I shall soon follow him ; these cannot save me

Death is my guerdon, but, Glory to God !

Glory to God in the Highest and Lowest !

His are the Power and the Glory alone
Pay Him, O, Man, the high homage thou owest

Whether thou rest on a footstool or throne !


Yet may his glory be mirrored in others
As in the waves the rich poop of the bark ;

And the mean man stands apart from his brothers,
Who doth not trace it in Thomas the Dark.



The Queen (Elizabeth) directed Sydney, her Deputy In Ireland, to reduce
O'Neill either by kindness or by force. She even offered Shane the title of
Earl of Tyrowen. Shane received the proposal with haughtiness expressive
of his contempt for English titles of honour as compared with the name of

I SCORN your Lady's honours I scorn her titles vain,
A Prince am I of high degree and of a fair domain ;
Peace have I never craved of her, but ever she from me ;
I am a king in kingly right, and hold my kingdom free.

Heremon's blood is in my veins I feel it swelling high,
And Eoghain's, of the iron arm, and of the flashing eye ;
Their forms are melted into dust their spirit is not gone.
I owe no fealty to your Queen, and I will yield her none.

She boasts her ancient Norman line, but tell me can she trace

A pedigree as long and proud as of my royal race ?

And can she dream that I would stand among her modern

Whose sires were princes in the land for twice a thousand

years ?

What, though indeed at last arose a traitor to his line,
(Alas the day ! that I should name the recreant sire of
mine ! *)

i The recreant sire of mine was Conn O'Nelll (Shane's father), the first Earl
of Tyrone.


My trusty glaive has gained again the rights of Cinel-Eoghain,
And by its flash will I maintain my kingdom of Tir-Eoghain.

Go, tell her, tho' MacCarty Mor has bent him like a churl,
And risen from beneath her hand, a belted English Earl ;
That Shane the Proud is prouder far, and not for England's

Would he exchange the name O'Neill, or lay its honours


Say that ye found him all prepared for peace, or for the fray,
Standing upon his native hill, as stern, as free as they ;
And that, were all the rest her slaves, there would he stand

Defying from their rocky crests, the foemen of Tyrone.



Assassinated A.D. 1567


Shane's was a wild and stormy life, and ended, not unfitly, In assassination.
His war with Elizabeth in his earlier years was a worthy one, for he so sturdily
defended his faith and his country that the Queen decided to leave him alone.
But his nature was passionate and turbulent, and he quarrelled with all the
neighbouring chiefs. He ran away with the wife of the Chief of the O'Donnels,
and that clan, some years later, defeated him in battle. He sought refuge
with the Scotch MacDonalds, but he had always treated them with such pride
and scorn that he could expect little help at their hands. And he got little.
He was assassinated by a Scot in 1567 and his head was sent to Dublin and
exposed on a pike on tho wails of Dublin Castle.

ON thy wild and windy upland, Tornamona,
High above the tossing Moyle

Lies in slumber deep and dreamless now a warrior
Weary worn with battle-toil.



On his mighty breast the little Canna blossom

And the scented bog-bines trail,
While the winds from Lurigaiden whisper hush-songs

Round the bed of Shane O'Neill.

Time was once, O haughty warrior, when you slept not

To the crooning of the wind ;
There was once a Shane whom daisies could not smother

And whom bog weeds could not bind
Once a Shane with death shafts from his fierce eye flashing,

With dismay in fist of mail
Shane whose throbbing pulses sang with singing lightning

Shane, our Shane, proud Shane O'Neill !

Him the hungry Scot knew and the thieving Saxon,
Traitorous Eireannach as well,

For their mailed throats often gurgled in his grasping
As he hurled their souls to Hell.

Sassenach now, and flouting Scot and Irish traitor
Breathe his name and turn not pale.

Set their heel upon the warrior's breast, nor tremble-
God ! the breast of Shane O'Neill !

Will you never, O, our chieftain snap the sleep cords ?

Never rise in thunderous wrath
Through the knaves and slaves that bring a blight to westward,

Sweeping far a dread red swath.
O'er the surges shout, you on Tornamona,

Hark the soul shout of the Gael.
Rise, O Chief, and lead us from our bitter bondage,

Rise, in God's name, Shane O'Neill !


A.D. 1574

(Belfast Castle, November, 1674)

Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, to whom Elizabeth made a grant of half
the county of Antrim and the barony of Farney in Monaghan came to Ireland
and endeavoured to effectually occupy the territory given him. Repeatedly
harassed by the Scots and by the O'Neills of Clanaboy, he retaliated by com-
mitting murder, killing on a large scale. Then he made peace with Brian
O'Neill, and accepted that chief's invitation to a feast. He came in apparent
friendship, with a large retinue, and after the feast he and his followers basely
set upon O'Neill's attendants whom they killed to the number of 200. O'Neill
himself, with his wife, Essex sent prisoners to Dublin, where they were

FROM Brian O'Neill in his northern home
Went swiftly a panting vassal,
Bidding the lord of Essex come
To a feast in his forded castle,
To a friendly feast where the gleaming foam
Of the wine -cup crowned the wassail.

To Brian O'Neill came his gentle wife,
And wild were her eyes of warning ;

" A banquet-chamber of blood and strife
I dreamt of 'twixt night and morning,

And a voice that keened for a chieftain's life-
But he laughed, as he kissed her scorning.

" In peace have I bidden the strangers here,

And not to the note of battle ;
My flagons await them with bubbling cheer,

I have slaughtered my choicest cattle ;
And sweetest of-harpings shall greet thine ear,

A ruin ! o'er the goblets' rattle."


In pride he hath entered his banquet hall,

Unwitting what may betide him,
Girded round by his clansmen tall,

And his lady fair beside him ;
From his lips sweet snatches of music fall,

And none hath the heart to chide him.

Hath he forgotten his trust betrayed

In the bitterest hour of trial ?
Hath he forgotten his prayer half-stayed

At the Viceroy's grim denial ?
And the bloody track of the Saxon raid

On the fertile lands of Niall ?

Essex hath coveted Massareene,

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Online LibraryM. J BrownHistorical ballad poetry of Ireland; → online text (page 4 of 13)