M. J Brown.

Historical ballad poetry of Ireland; online

. (page 6 of 13)
Online LibraryM. J BrownHistorical ballad poetry of Ireland; → online text (page 6 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook




Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, being anxious to prevent the English and
Anglo-Irish forces of Meath and Leinster from joining the Lord Deputy in
Ulster or co-operating with Sir Conyers Clifford in Connaught, deputed Tyrrell,
Lord of Fertullagh, in Westmeath, to act for him in those provinces with this
object in view. Young Barnwell, Baron of Trimbleston, with 1,'00 men of
Meath, was marching to meet his English friends, when he was intercepted
in the Pass since that day known as Tyrrell's Pass by Tyrrell and his friend
O'Connor of Offally in Kildare, a very valiant soldier. How Tyrrell with his
400 men overcame Barnwell and his 1,000 is made clear in the foil

BY the flow'ry banks of Brosna the burning sunset fell
In many a beam and golden gleam on hill and mead

and dell ;
And from thy shores, bright Ennell, to the far-off mountair


Over plain and leafy wildwood there was peace and quiet rest.
Brave Tyrrell sat that summer eve amid the woody hills,
With Captain Owney at his side, by Brosna' s shining rills
Brave Tyrrell of the flying camps and Owney Oge, 1 the strong,
And round them lay their followers the forest glade along ;
Four hundred men of proof they were, these warriors free and

In many a group they sat around the green skirts of the wold.


The sun had set upon their camp, the stars were burning

All save the Chief and Owney Oge were sleeping in their light :

Owney Oge the Strong was Owney O'More, usually called Ownoy Mac
Rory, son of the famous chief Rory O'More of Leix (Little Owney of " The Green
Woods of Slew" above).


And they sat downward where the stream was singing its

deep song,

Planning fierce raid and foray bold that starry twilight long.
" By my good faith," said Tyrrell, " for days we've wandered

And on no foe, still, high or low, our good swords have we

tried ;
There's many a keep around us here, and many a traitor

And we should have a town or keep ere another sun goes

Answered Owney : " Or may fortune send young Barnwell's

forces here,
A pleasant fight in the cool of night for me in the starlight



Sudden they ceased and to their feet both warriors instant


And down the little streamlet bed their challenge fiercely rang.
They'd heard a sound beside the stream as if some forest bird
Awak'ning from his nightly dreams amid the leaves had


A password then a stealthy step like a wolf from out his lair,
And their trusty spy of the falcon eye stood right before them

" Young Barnwell with a thousand men, high boasting at

their head
Will find ye here in these green glades at morning light," he


Then vanished silent as he came beneath the forest shade,
And the clank of sabre followed him on his pathway through

the glade.


For his comrades at their leader's call beside the streamlet's


Were filing from their ferny beds in many a serried rank,
And now along their ordered lines Fertullagh's accents came
" The foeman through our native fields speeds down with

sword and flame :

We'll meet him as we ever did, and though we are but few,
We'll meet him in the Eastern pass and give him welcome

They gained that pass when morning leapt above the eastern


And half his men to Owney Oge the hardy chieftain gave.
" Now lie ye here in ambush close while we retreat below,
And when the last of the band have passed we'll spring upon

the foe ! "

There came no sound from those ambushed men as they

crouched among the fern,
But the deep breath of the gallowglass or whispering of the

The light breeze rustling through the boughs in the leafy wood

all round ;
The chirp and song of the busy birds : was heard no other


And now along the misty plain shone out the morning ray
On Barnwell's bright and serried files all burning for the fray ;
A thousand valiant men they were from Heath's broad fertile

plain. V

And when they saw Fertullah's files, they cried in high disdain,
" Two hundred men to stem our charge ! We'll scatter them

like chaff."
Then poured them tlirough that perilous pass with mocking

cheer and laugh.



Now Tyrrell flies ; but turns when he hears " The Tyrrell's
March " ring out :

fie answers with the trumpet note and the gallowglass's

The startled wolf leaps from his lair : " Croak, croak," cry
the ravens hoarse ;

" We'll soon have food for each hungry brood, the rider and
the horse."

And out like wolves from the forest gloom or a close-packed
herd of deer,

Two hundred ran on the foeman's van, two hundred on the
rear :

The kern go darting right and left, with their guns and gleam-
ing pikes,

The giant gallowglass strides down with vengeance in his eye,

Wild yelling out his charging shout like a thunder clap on high.


Now in the narrow open pass the battle rolls along :

Now 'mid the bogs and woods each side the fighting warriors

throng ;

As hounds around a hunted wolf some forest rock beneath,
Whence comes no sound save the mortal rush and the gnash

of many teeth ;

Their charging shouts die gradual down no sound rolls out-
ward save

The volley of the fatal gun, and the crash of axe and glaive.
O, life it is a precious gem, yet many there will throw
The gem away in that mortal fray for vengeance on their foe.
In deadly silence still they fight, till the pass is covered wide
With war steeds strong, and soldiers slain, and many a gory



Hurrah ! that shout it rolleth out with cadence wild and

'Tis the triumph roar of the gallowglass and the fierce yell

of the kern.

The foeman flies before their steel but not for far he flies,
In the narrow pass, in the bogs and scrubs on either side he

Where'er he speeds death follows him like a shadow in his

He meets the gleam of the fearful pike and the murderous

Young Barn well was made prisoner, fighting bravely in the

And his comrades all fell slain around him save one single

man :
That man they sped, and away he fled, unharmed by gallow-

That he might tell how his comrades fell that morn at Tyrrell's

Pass. 1

A.D. 1597

Red Hugh O'Donnell joined in the war of Hugh O'Neill against Elizabeth,
1598. O'Donnell Abu was the war cry of the O'Donnells just as Butler Abu
was the war cry of the Butlers.

PROUDLY the note of the trumpet is sounding,
Loudly the war-cries arise on the gale,
Fleetly the steed by Lough S willy is bounding

To join the thick squadrons in Saimear's green vale.
On, every mountaineer,
Strangers to flight and fear ;

Tyrrcll's Pass is about ten miles due south of Mullingar.


Rush to the standard of dauntless Red Hugh !

Bonnought and gallowglass,

Throng from each mountain pass !
On for old Erin O'Donnell Abu !

Princely O'Neil to our aid is advancing,

With many a chieftain and warrior clan ;
A thousand proud steeds in his vanguard are prancing,
'Neath the borderers brave from the banks of the Bann ;

Many a heart shall quail

Under its coat of mail ; ,

Deeply the merciless foeman shall rue

When on his ear shall ring

Borne on the breeze's wing
Tir ConaiU's dread war-cry O'Donnell Abu !

Wildly o'er Desmond the war-wolf is howling,

Fearless the eagle sweeps over the plain,
The fox in the streets of the city is prowling

All, all who would scare them are banished or slain !

Grasp every stalwart hand,

Hackbut and battle-brand
Pay them all back the deep debt so long due :

Norris and Clifford l well

Can of Tir Conaill tell-
Onward to glory O'Donnell Abu !

Sacred the cause that Clann-Conaills defending
The altars we kneel at and homes of our sires,
Ruthless the ruin the foe is extending
Midnight is red with the plunderer's fires !
On with O'Donnell then
Fight the old fight again.

1 The Norris mentioned here was General Norris who was defeated by Hugh
O'Neill at Clontibert in Menaghan. in 1597. Clifford was Sir Conyers Clifford,
President of Connaught, who had already encountered O'Donnell, and who,
in 1599, was defeated and slain in the battle of the Curlews.


Sons of Tir Conaill, all valiant and true !

Make the false Saxon feel

Erin's avenging steel !
Strike for your country ! O'Donnell Abu !

A.D. 1598


Captain Williams was holding Portmore against O'Neill, and ho and his
troops were on the point of starvation when Marshal Bagnal marched to hia
aid. On his march from Armagh, Hugh O'Neill, aided by O'Donnell and
Maguire, intercepted him at the Yellow Ford. The result was that Bagnal
himself was slain, and the English suffered the greatest defeat they had yet
sustained in Ireland.

Won by the great Hugh O'Neill over Marshal Bagenal and the flower of
Elizabeth's army, between Armagh and Blackwater Bridge, A.D. 1598. Note
from Irish Minstrelsy.

BY O'Neill close beleaguered, the spirits might droop
Of the Saxon three hundred shut up in their coop,
Till Bagenal drew forth his Toledo and swore
On the sword of a soldier, to succour Port Mor.

His veteran troops in the foreign wars tried

Their features how bronzed, and how haughty their stride

Stept steadily on ; it was thrilling to see

That thunder-cloud brooding o'er Beal-an-atha-Buidhe.

The flash of their armour, inlaid with fine gold
Gleaming matchlocks, and cannon that mutteringly rolled
With the tramp and the clank of those stern cuirassiers
Dyed in blood of the Flemish and French cavaliers.

And are the mere Irish, with pikes and with darts,
With but glibb-covered heads, and but rib-guarded hearts
Half-naked, half-fed, with few muskets, no guns
The battle to dare against England's proud sons ?

* Irish Minstrday (Walter Scott), p. 51, pronounce Beal an atha bwee.


Poor bonnochts, and wild gallowglasses and kern, 1

Let them war with rude brambles, sharp furze, and dry fern ;

Wirrastrue for their wives for their babes ochanie.

If they wait for the Saxon at Beal-an-atha-Buidhe.

Yet O'Neill standeth firm few and brief his commands :
" Ye have hearts in your bosoms, and pikes in your hands ;
Try how far you can push them, my children, at once ;
Fag an bealach ! and down with horse, foot, and great guns.

" They have gold and gay arms they have biscuit and

bread ;

Now sons of my soul, we'll be found and be fed ; "
And he clutched his claymore, and, " Look yonder ! " laughed

" What a grand commissariat for Bdal-an-atha-Buidhe / "

Near the chief a grim tyke, an O'Shanagan stood,
His nostrils, dilated, seemed snuffing for blood ;
Rough and ready to spring, like the wiry wolf-hound.
Of Irene who, tossing his pike \vith a bound,

Cried, " My hand to the Sassenach ! ne'er may I hurl
Another to earth if I call him a churl !
He finds me in clothing, in booty, and bread
My chief, won't O'Shanagan give him a bed ?

"Land of Owen aboo ! " And the Irish rushed on
The foe fired but one volley their gunners are gone ;
Before the bare bosoms the steel-coats have fled,
Or, despite casque and corselet, lie dying and dead.

i Bonnocht = a billeted soldier, gallowglasses = heavy troops ; kern = light


And brave Harry Bagenal, he fell while he fought
With many gay gallants they slept as men ought
Their faces to heaven ; there were others, alack !
By pikes overtaken, and taken aback.

And my Irish got clothing, coins, colours, great store,

Arms, forage, and provender plunder go leor !

They munched the white manchets they champed the brown

Fuilleluadh ! for that day how the natives did dine !

The chieftain looked on, when O'Shanagan rose,
And cried, " Hearken O'Neill ! I've a health to propose
' To our Sassenach hosts ! ' " and all quaffed in huge glee
With Cead mile fdilte go BEAL-AN-ATHA-BUIDHE !




The Blackwater is another name for the Battle of Beal-an-atha-buidhe (= the
Yellow Ford).

GLORY to God and to the Powers, that fight
For Freedom and the Right !
We hav6 them, then, the invaders ! there they stand

Once more on Oriel's land !
They have passed the gorge stream cloven,

And the mountain's purple bt.und ;
Now the toils are round them woven,
Now the nets are spread around !


Give them time : their steeds are blown ;

Let them stand and round them stare,

Breathing blasts of Irish air :
Our eagles know their own !

Thou rising sun, fair fall

Thy greeting on Armagh's time-honoured wall,

And on the willows hoar

That fringe thy silver waters, Avonmore !

See ! on that hill of drifted sand

The far-famed marshal holds command,

Bagnal, their bravest : to the right,

That recreant, neither chief nor knight,

" The Queen's O'Reilly," 1 he that sold

His country, clan, and Church, for gold !

" Saint George for England ! " recreant crew

What are the saints ye spurn to you ?

They charge ; they pass yon grassy swell ;

They reach our hidden pit-falls well :

On ! warriors native to the sod

Be on them, in the power of God !


Seest thou yon stream, whose tawny waters glide

Through weeds and yellow marsh lingeringly and slowly ?
Blest is that spot and holy.
There, ages past, Saint Bercan stood and cried
" This spot shall quell one day th' invader's pride ! "
He saw in mystic trance

The blood-stain flush yon rill :
On ! hosts of God, advance !
Your country's fate fulfil !

1 This was Macmorra O'Reilly, one of the O'Reilly chiefs of Cavan, who
was fighting on the English side and was proud of being called the Queen's


Hark ! the thunder of their meeting !

Hand meets hand, and rough the greeting !

Hark, the crash of shield and brand ;

They mix, they mingle, band with band,

Like two horn-commingling stags,

Wrestling on the mountain crags,

Intertwined, intertangled,

Mangled forehead meeting mangled !

See ! the wavering darkness through

I see the banner of Red Hugh ;

Close beside is thine, O'Neill !

Now they stoop and now they reel,

Rise once more and onward sail,

Like two falcons on one gale !

ye clansmen, past me rushing,

Like mountain corrents seaward gushing,

Tell the chiefs that from this height

Their chief of bards beholds the fight ;

That on theirs he pours his spirit ;

Marks their deeds and chaunts their merit

While the Priesthood evermore,

Like him that ruled God's hosts of yore,

With arms outstretched, that God implore !

" Glory be to God on high ! n

That shout rang up into the sky.

The plain lies bare : the smoke drifts by ;

Again that cry ; they fly ! they fly !

O'er them standards thirty-four

Waved at morn : they wave no more.

Glory be to Him alone Who holds the nations in His Hand,
And to them the heavenly guardians of our Church and native
land !


Sing, ye priests, your deep Te Deum ; bards make answer

loud and long,
In your rapture flinging heavenward censers of triumphant

Isle, for centuries blind in bondage, lift once more thine

ancient boast
From the cliffs of Innishowen southward on to Carbery's

coast !
We have seen the right made perfect, seen the Hand that

ruled the spheres
Glance like lightning through the clouds, and backward roll

the wrongful years,

Glory fadeth, but this triumph is no barren mundane glory ;
Rays of healing it shall scatter on the eyes that read our story :
Upon nations bound and torpid as they waken it shall shine ;
As on Peter in his chains the angel shone, with light divine.
From th' unheeding, from th' unholy it may hide, like truth,

its ray ;
But when Truth and Justice conquer on their crowns its beam

shall play,

O'er the ken of troubled tyrants it shall trail a meteor's glare ;
For the blameless it shall glitter as the star of morning fair ;
Whensoever Erin triumphs then its dawn it shall renew ;
Then O'Neill shall be remember'd, and TyrconnelFs chief,

Red Hugh !




When the Earl of Essex was made Viceroy of Ireland, he felt quite confident
of subduing the "rough rug-headed Kernes." He gathered together a huge
and magnificent army, whose very appearance, thought he, would strike
terror to the hearts of the Irish. He found his mistake, as the following poem
tells. The Pass of Plumes was near Maryborough. The commander on the
Irish side was Owny MacRory O'More, who has already been mentioned more
than once in these pages.

" T OOK out," said O'Moore to his clansmen, " afar

I J Is yon white cloud the herald of tempest or war ?
Hark ! know you the roll of the foreigners' drums ?
By Heaven ! Lord Essex in panoply comes,
With corslet and helmet and gay bannerol,
And the shields of the nobles with blazon and scroll ;
And as snow on the larch in December appears
What a winter of plumes on that forest of spears.
To the clangour of trumpets and waving of flags
The clattering cavalry prance o'er the crags ;
And their plumes By St. Kyran ! false Saxon, e'er night
You shall wish these fine feathers were wings for your flight

" Shall we leave all the blood and the gold of the Pale
To be shed by Armagh and be won by O'Neill ?
Shall we yield to O'Ruark, to McGuire and O'Donnell,
Brave chieftains of Breffny, Fermanagh Tyrconnell ;
Yon helmets, that "Erick" thrice over would pay
For the Sassenach heads they'll protect not to-day ?
No ! By red Mullaghmast, fiery c'ansmen of Leix
Avenge your sires' blood on their murderer's race.
Now, sept of O'Moore, fearless sons of the heather,
Fling your scabbards away and strike home and together ! "



Then loudly the clang of commingled blows

Upswelled from the sounding fields,
And the joy of a hundred trumps arose,

And the clash of a thousand shields,
And the long plumes danc'd, and the falchions rung

And flash'd the whirled spear
And the furious barb through the wild war sprung,

And trembled the earth with fear ;
The fatal bolts exulting fled,

And hiss'd as they leap'd away ;
And the tortur'd steed on the red grass bled,

Or died with a piercing neigh.

I see their weapons crimson'd I hear the mingled cries
Of rage and pain and triumph, as they thunder to the sides
The Coolun'd kern rushes upon, armour, knight, and mace,
And bone and brass are broken in his terrible embrace !
The coursers roll and struggle ; and the riders, girt in steel,
From their saddles crush'd and cloven to the purple heather


And shatter'd there, and trampled by the charger's iron hoof,
The seething brain is bursting through the crashing helmets'


Joy ! Heaven strikes for Freedom ! and Elizabeth's array,
With her paramour to lead 'em, are sore beset to-day.

Their heraldry and plumery, their coronets and mail
Are trampled on the battlefield, or scattered on the gale !
As cavalry of ocean, the living billows bound
When light'nings leap above them, and thunders clang around,
And tempest crested dazzlingly, caparison'd in spray
They crushed the black and broken rocks, with all their root?

away ;

So charg'd the stormy chivalry of Erin in her ire
Their shock the roll of ocean, their swords electric fire


They rose like banded billows that when wintry tempests

The trembling shore, with stunning roar and dreadful wreck


And where they burst tremendously, upon the bloody groun*
Both horse and man, from rere to van, like shiver'd barques

went down.

Leave your costly Milan hauberks, haughty nobles of the Pale,
And your snowy ostrich feathers, as a tribute to the Gael.
Fling away gilt spur and trinket in your hurry, knight and


They will make our virgins ornament, or decorate the lyre.
Ho ! Essex ! how your vestal Queen will storm when she

The " Mere Irish " chased her minion and his twenty thousand


Go ! tell the royal virgin that O'Moore, M'Hugh, O'Neill,
Will smite the faithless stranger while there's steel in Innisfail.
The blood you shed shall only serve more deep revenge to


And our hatred be as lasting as the tyranny we curse.
From age to age consuming, it shall blaze a quenchless fire,
And the son shall thirst and burn still more fiercely than his

By our sorrows, songs and battles by our cromlechs, raths

and towers
By sword and chain, by all our slain between your race and

By naked glaives, and yawning graves, and ceaseless tears

and gore,
Till battle's flood wash out in blood your footsteps from the

shore !




In the beautiful Valley of Glenmalure, where the Avonmore and Avonbeg
form the Mooting of the Waters, stood the hall of Ballinacor, the residence of
Feagh MoHugb O'Hyrne ; and, after his betrayal and death, his son Phelim
lost no time in preparing to defend his patrimony and people. Essex, the
new Lord Lieutenant, stationed Sir Henry Harrington with a strong force at
Wicklow Castle. He issued forth to subdue Phelim with 600 men, of whom
(>S were horse under his brave nephew, Captain Montague, and encamped a
mile from the ford on the Avonmore. Phelim, hot to avenge the death of his
father, did not wait beyond the river, but crossed and alarmed the English
army during the night. In the morning the Irish, though few in number, ill
eqmpped and armed, rapidly advancing on the enemy, put them to utter
rout, slaying " the greatest part."


BY Avonbeg and Avonmore there's many a happy home ;
On every side through Ranelagh the bright streams
flash and foam ;
And snow-white flocks roam far and wide through many a

verdant glade ;

Sure ne'er was land so wondrous fair by nature elsewhere
made !


And from each olden belfry, still by time or foe unrent,
To prayer is far o'er hill and dale the silvery summons sent.
And maidens fair as earth e'er saw, amid these valleys dwell ;
And Ranelagh's brave sons well know to guard these treasures


Still proudly over Ballinacor O'Byrne's banner waves ;
And all the Cailliagh Ruah's 1 power, as erst, defiant braves ;
And though heroic Pheagh is gone, well can young Phelim

The sword his sire triumphant waved o'er many a stricken


***** r N

i Cailliagh Ruah's. The name by which Elizabeth was known in Ireland
towards the end of her reign. It means The Ked Hag.



dp Glenmalure with furious speed, who doth so reckless ride ?
Some news perchance of war and scath he brings from Avon

side :
For Wykinglo 1 full long has flashed beneath each noontide

With helm and lance and corselet bright, and spear and

burnished gun ?


Too true, red sign of war ! behold the beacon's signal light
Is answered, with a tongue of flame from every neighbouring

height ;
And down the hills and through the glens, as fleet as mountain

0' Byrne's clansmen rushing come to meet their Saxon foes.


For Harrington from Wykinglo has marched for Avon's ford,
And sworn to sweep o'er Ranelagh with ruthless fire and

sword :

And all that bear O'Byrne's name, whate'er the sex or age,
To doom in his avenging hate to glut his soldier's rage.


'Tis morn, at close of joyous May, and high has climbed the


But why a mile from Avon's ford still lingers Harrington ?
Around him stand his captains tried ; behind, his marshalled

men ;
But why the gloom upon his brow as he gazes up the glen ?

1 Wykinglo Lake of the Ships. This name for Wicklow Is of Danish
origin. It comes from Broad Lough, into which the River Vartry empties



He sees approach 0' Byrne's van, by gallant chieftains led ;
In every hand a pike or brand, Prince Phelim at their head !
And, rapid as a mountain flood, the fiery clansmen come ;
There's little time for trumpet bray, or roll of Saxon drum !


No thought of their outnumbering foes they thought of

home and Pheagh ; l
One thrilling cheer ! and fierce they dash upon that proud

array !
There's clangour dire of steel on steel there's crash of blade

and spear
One volley's sped and England's ranks have broke like

frightened deer !


And in the wild and headlong flight away's cast spear and


Unheeded is the bugle's call the battle's lost and won !

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryM. J BrownHistorical ballad poetry of Ireland; → online text (page 6 of 13)