On September 4, 1607, a big boat set sail from Lough Swilly bearing ninety-nine passengers. Among them were earls whose families had dominated the north-western part of Ireland for centuries; priests and clerical students bound for Louvain; a Spanish sailor who had been stranded in the time of the Armada and had married and settled in Ireland; and a bardic historian named Tadgh Ó Cianáin, who kept a vivid record of their progress. Foremost of the company was Hugh O'Neill, earl of Tyrone, who had in the previous decade sought to unite the disputatious leaders of Gaelic Ireland against the expansionist policies of English monarchs. He had led his troops to a tremendous victory at the Battle of the Yellow Ford in 1598, the only serious military defeat sustained by English forces on Irish soil: but that had been followed by the wholesale slaughter of the Irish at Kinsale in 1601.
After that, the power of the Gaelic princes was curbed and they seemed a spent force. Their departure in 1607 was so hurried that some men's wives and other men's children were left behind in the confusion. O'Neill's son was seized by the English and raised as a Protestant....Ó Cianáin's wife and children were left as virtual hostages, soon to be stripped of cattle and lands which were his inheritance as a man of learning....
In the canon of Irish nationalist history, the Flight of the Earls was the moment when Gaelic Ireland finally collapsed, that conjuncture which saw an entire people robbed of those natural leaders who might have given shape to their aspirations....
The image of their boat taking to the waters entered Irish iconography as an emblem of desolation: "with these/our very souls pass overseas." Subsequent accounts develop the emotion in Mac an Bhaird's poem: "it is said that, as the ship that carried them away set sail down Lough Swilly, a great cry of lament and farewell went up from their followers left upon the shore." With that sentence the Celtic scholar Robin Flower brings his study of Gaelic literature towards its conclusion in a chapter entitled "The End of a Tradition." But... the radical novelist Peadar O'Donnell laughed out loud on reading Flower's lines: for, according to the folk memory of his people, the peasantry of Donegal and Derry stood on the shores of Lough Swilly and cheered as the boat moved away.
What shall we do for timber?
The last of the woods is down.
Kilcash and house of its glory
and the bell of the house are gone;
the spot where her lady waited
that shamed all women for grace
when earls came sailing to meet her
and Mass was said in that place.
My cross and my affliction
your gates are taken away,
your avenue needs attention,
goats in the garden stray;
your courtyard's filled with water
and the great earls where are they?
The earls, the lady, the people
beaten into the clay.
Nor sound of duck or of geese there
hawk's cry or eagle's call,
nor humming of the bees there
that brought honey and wax for all,
nor the sweet gentle song of the birds there
when the sun has gone down to the West
nor a cuckoo atop of the boughs there
singing the world to rest.
There's a mist there tumbling from branches
unstirred by night and by day,
and a darkness falling from heaven,
and our fortunes have ebbed away;
there's no holly nor hazel nor ash there
but pastures of rock and stone,
the crown of the forest is withered
and the last of its game is gone.
I beseech of Mary and Jesus
that the great come home again
with long dances danced in the garden
fiddle music and mirth among men,
that Kilcash the home of our fathers
be lifted on high again
and from that to the deluge of waters
in bounty and peace remain.
-- Translation by Frank O'Connor (1903-1966) in The Wild Bird's Nest: Poems From the Irish (publ. Cuala Press, Dubln, 1932).
Not many people today realize that much of Ireland was covered with a vast oak forest until the 1700s. The name elements "derry" or "dare" mean "oak grove" in Irish--dóire; "-kill-" means "forest"-- coill.
Holly, hazel and ash were considered holy or lucky.
During the Penal Laws era, between 1695 and 1800, the British rulers of Ireland cut down most of the trees and shipped them away, both to build ships for the British navy and to prevent native outlaws from hiding in the forests. Most of the trees were cut down within two generations, leaving the bare green sheep-grazed hills that the Irish landscape is known for today.
This poem is an anonymous Irish lament of the era when the native Irish earls had fled, the old aristocracy that had supported Irish bards had been dispossessed by the Anglo-Irish, the old castles were in ruins, and the trees were falling fast. The sale of the Kilcash timbers was announced in 1797 so it is probable that the song dates to about that time. For more information about this poem:
The mostly treeless countryside around Kilcash today
Caoine Cill Cháis
Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad? Tá deireadh na gcoillte ar lár; níl trácht ar Chill Cháis ná ar a teaghlach is ní bainfear a cling go bráth. An áit úd a gcónaiodh an deighbhean fuair gradam is meidhir thar mhnáibh, bhíodh iarlaí ag tarraingt tar toinn ann is an t-aifreann binn á rá.
Ní chluinim fuiaim lachan ná gé ann, ná fiolar ag éamh sois cuain, ná fiú na mbeacha chun saothair thabharfadh mil agus céir don tslua. Níl ceol binn milis na n-éan ann le hamharc an lae a dhul uainn, náan chuaichín i mbarra na ngéag ann, ós í chuirfeadh an saol chun suain.
Tá ceo ag titim ar chraobha ann ná glanann le gréin ná lá, tá smúid ag titim ón spéir ann is a cuid uisce g léir ag trá. Níl coll, níl cuileann, níl caor ann, ach clocha is maolchlocháin, páirc an chomhair gan chraobh ann is d' imigh an géim chun fáin.
Anois mar bharr ar gach míghreanni, chuaigh prionsa na nGael thar sáil anonn le hainnir na míne fuair gradam sa bhFrainc is sa Spáinn. Anois tá a cuallacht á caoineadh, gheibbeadh airgead buí agus bán; 's í ná tógladh sillbh na ndaoine, ach cara na bhfíorbhochtán.
Aicim ar Mhuire is ar Iosa go dtaga sí arís chughainn slán, go mbeidh rincí fada ag gabháil timpeall, ceol veidhlín is tinte cnámh; go dtógtar an baile seo ár sinsear Cill Chais bhreá arís go hard, is go bráth nó go dtiocfaidh an díle ná feictear é arís ar lár.
I took Scully's course because I was too intimidated to take a history
course in the History department. I was shocked to see only a dozen
students at the final exam; everyone else in the crowded Law School
auditorium was just visiting. Somehow he made great architecture
important and accessible.
--A classmate on the Yale listserv, on legendary lecturer Vincent Scully (1920- ), the architectural historian who is "maybe the greatest lecturer Yale has ever seen."
(To me it's no accident that he's Irish. The name Scully comes from Ó Scalaidhe, derived from sceulaidhe, a hereditary story-teller, and I suspect that "sceulaidhe" in turn is related to the Viking word skald, or bard; the Scullys were found in the neighborhood of the Vikings during the long Norse occupation of Ireland's coasts. The gift of gab, quoi.)
When the man of God had leisure to read his holy books, the fly would trot up and down his codex: and should some one call him, or he had to go about other business, he would instruct the fly to sit down upon the line at which he had halted, and keep his place until he should return to continue his interrupted reading: which the fly infallibly would do.
The last O'Sullivan Mor* died at Tomies in 1762. He left an illegitimate son, whose grandson is a fisherman at Killarney. This grandson told me that when a gossoon [boy] some thirty years ago, he went to see his grandfather lying dead at Tomies. He saw not only his departed ancestor, but also a great pile of old papers, "maybe three feet high, mostly written on skins in Latin and Irish; and faith I was in dread they might fall into the hands of the Mahonys or some other new people in the country, and they might get more of the old O'Sullivan estates, so I burned them all myself!--[R. O'C]**
The gentlemen and inhabitants of this country are all of them remarkable for their hospitality to strangers, generosity and courteous carriage, which characters, should I refuse them, must be attributed to the highest ingratitude ; and lastly, there are few among them but whose breeding and parts, and I might say learning also, are eminently more conspicuous than in many other places in this kingdom; notwithstanding, Ireland may vie in this respect with most of the civilized countries of Europe. It is well known that classical reading extends itself even to a fault among the lower and poorer kind in this country, many of whom, to the taking them off from more useful works, have greater knowledge in this way than some of the better sort.
The common people are extremely hospitable and courteous to strangers. Many of them speak Latin fluently, and I accidentally arrived at a little hut in a very obscure part of this country where I saw some poor lads reading Homer, their master having been a mendicant scholar at an English grammar school at Tralee.
From an excerpt of Alan Bennett's diaries published in the London Review of Books, 1 January 2009. Bennett writes, "24th May . Cleaning out some shelves, I find a note from Kevin Whelan dated Dublin 3 October '05. It's a poem.... I'd have liked to have written that, though I've no idea who Kevin Whelan is."