Marvan, brother of King Guare of Connaught, had renounced the life of a warrior-prince for that of a hermit.
The king endeavoured to persuade his brother to return to his court, when the following colloquy took place between them.
Why, hermit Marvan, sleepest thou not
Upon a feather quilt?
Why rather sleepest thou abroad
Upon a pitchpine floor?
I have a shieling in the wood,
None knows it save my God:
An ash-tree on the hither side, a hazel-bush beyond,
A huge old tree encompasses it.
Two heath-clad doorposts for support,
And a lintel of honeysuckle:
The forest around its narrowness sheds
Its mast upon fat swine.
The size of my shieling tiny, not too tiny,
Many are its familiar paths:
From its gable a sweet strain sings
A she-bird in her cloak of the ousel’s hue.
The stags of Oakridge leap
Into the river of clear banks:
Thence red Roiny can be seen,
Glorious Muckraw and Moinmoy.
A hiding mane of green-barked yew
Supports the sky:
Beautiful spot! the large green of an oak
Fronting the storm.
A tree of apples—great its bounty!
Like a hostel, vast!
A pretty bush, thick as a fist, of tiny hazel-nuts,
A green mass of branches.
A choice pure spring and princely water
There spring watercresses, yew-berries,
Ivy-bushes thick as a man.
Around it tame swine lie down.
Wild swine, grazing deer,
A badger’s brood.
A peaceful troop, a heavy host of denizens of the soil,
A-trysting at my house:
To meet them foxes come,
Fairest princes come to my house,
A ready gathering:
Pure water, perennial bushes,
A bush of rowan, black sloes,
Plenty of food, acorns, pure berries,
A clutch of eggs, honey, delicious mast,
God has sent it:
Sweet apples, red whortleberries,
Ale with herbs, a dish of strawberries
Of good taste and colour,
Haws, berries of the juniper,
A cup with mead of hazel-nut, blue-bells,
Dun oaklets, manes of briar,
Goodly sweet tangle.
When brilliant summer-time spreads its coloured mantle,
Pignuts, wild marjoram, green leeks,
The music of the bright red-breasted men
A lovely movement!
The strain of the thrush, familiar cuckoos
Above my house.
Swarms of bees and chafers, the little musicians of the world,
A gentle chorus:
Wild geese and ducks, shortly before summer’s end,
The music of the dark torrent.
An active songster, a lively wren
From the hazel-bough,
Beautiful hooded birds, woodpeckers,
A vast multitude!
Fair white birds come, herons, seagulls,
The cuckoo sings between—
No mournful music! dun heathpoults
Out of the russet heather.
The lowing of heifers in summer,
Brightest of seasons!
Not bitter, toilsome over the fertile plain,
The voice of the wind against the branchy wood
Upon the deep-blue sky:
Falls of the river, the note of the swan,
The bravest band make cheer to me,
Who have not been hired:
In the eyes of Christ the ever-young
I am no worse off
Than thou art.
Though thou rejoicest in thy own pleasures,
Greater than any wealth;
I am grateful for what is given me
From my good Christ.
Without an hour of fighting,
without the din of strife
In my house,
Grateful to the Prince who giveth
To me in my shieling.
I would give my glorious kingship
With the share of my father’s heritage —
To the hour of my death I would forfeit it
To be in thy company, my Marvan.
Moran, scout of the ocean, son of Fithil, shouting to Cuchalainn as he sat by the tree of the rusting leaf, thinking of the mighty Carbre, whom he slew in battle.
Bog is not a beautiful word though melodious Milton found a place for it in his Paradise Lost. It sounds better in Gaelic, for it is pronounced bogue and means “soft.” The thing signified has a doubtful reputation. Bogs are glorious in the eyes of sportsmen, a valuable property when they produce turf, and when they do not, blots on the face of Nature, upon which the improver wages constant war by drains, plantations, and other improvers’ methods. On the whole bogs are not popular, and yet sometimes at night, when stars fill the sky, bogs reflect their glory. Then the fowler, home-returning, tired and meditative, with his tired dogs at his heels, pauses for a moment beside some pool, and looks down and not up. It is a feature of bogs which has not escaped the notice of our poet, Mr. W. B. Yeats—
Where the wandering water gushes
In the hills above Glencar,
In pools amongst the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star.
The old name-makers of Ireland noticed it too. There is an Irish bog called Móna-Réalta, or the Bog of Stars. Don’t ask me to place it upon the map; probably it has long since yielded to the assiduous improver, and now grows corn for man and green grass for cattle, and is not starry any more. All I know is that it flourished once and was starry, and figures in a tale known lang syne, but improved out of memory, as probably Móna-Réalta itself has been.
The golden time of great Eliza was drawing towards its close, when in the dusk of a January evening an army issued from the massive gateway of a castle court-yard, and took the road, headed by a file of fifers and a drum. The fifers played a brisk old Irish air, and the drummer drummed as if he had a great deal of do-nothing weariness to work out of his arms and wrists. Then in well-scoured pots and shining jacks came many files
of gunmen. Smoke exhaled from this part of the army—not tobacco smoke, though an odd pipe may have been lighting there too—but the smoke of burning tow-match, which for each soldier was coiled round the stock of his piece. Pike-men followed, also in head-pieces and breast-pieces, with their long, slender weapons on their shoulders, aslope, making a beautiful sight. Rough garrans, with rougher drivers, succeeded them, the garrans laden with panniers. On the backs of some of the garrans were fastened ladders, newly made, for they were very white. Then came a promiscuous crowd of bare-headed, long-haired youths, in tight trews and saffron-coloured tunics, who skipped to the music, singing their own songs too as an accompaniment.
Each had a sword on his thigh, and a bundle of light spears in his hands; mantles of many bright hues surrounded their shoulders, rolled after the manner of a Highlander’s plaid. They were the Queen’s kerne; a young English gentleman commanded them, not without difficulty. More gunmen and pikemen followed, bringing up the rear. It was a small army—only a few hundred men—yet a fairly large one for the times, and a well-equipped one too, fit to do good service to-night if all go well.
Some ten or a dozen horsemen accompanied this army, all in complete armour, some in gilded armour. They went in twos and threes together, or rode from front to rear, keeping a sharp eye on the moving host. This army marched keeping its back to the sea and its face to the mountains. Two men rode together near the band, which was now silent; the fifers were shaking the wet out of their flutes.
“What dost thou surmise, Tom?” said one in gilded armour to the other, whose armour was only iron and not bright. “Shall we catch the bloody Raven in his nest this night?”
The speaker was Lord Deputy of Ireland.
“My lord, I am sure of it,” answered the duller armadillo. “My scouts report all quiet in the glen. The Raven has not fifty men with him, and suspects nothing. Pick up thy drumsticks there. ‘Swounds, man, what sort of drummer art thou to drum for the Queen’s soldiers ? Your Honour, the Raven is thine this night, alive or dead.”
Now the band struck up again, the drummer drummed, and the remainder of this conversation was lost to all but the speakers. By the way, why did that drummer drop his drumsticks ? Had the knight addressed as Tom (his full style was Captain Thomas Lee) known that, there would have been a different issue of this well-planned “draught”, and my story would never have been written, or the Bog of Stars celebrated.
The drummer youth drummed almost as well as before that overheard conversation about the Raven had shaken the drumsticks from his hand. The subconscious musical soul in him enabled him to do that; but his thoughts were not in the music. Something then said caused to pass before him an irregular dioramic succession of mental scenes and pictures. For him, as he whirred with his little drumsticks, or sharply rat-at-at-ated, memory and imagination, on blank nothing for canvas, and with the rapidity of lightning, flung pictures by the hundred. Here is one for a sample: it passed before him like a flash, but passed many times.
A long table, a very long table, spread for supper, redolent of supper, steaming with supper, and he very willing to sup. Vessels of silver, of gold too—for it was some gala night—shone in the light of many candles. Rows of happy faces were there, and one face eminent above all. There were candles in candlesticks of branching silver, or plain
brass, or even fixed in jars and bottles. All the splendour was a good way off from him. He was at the wrong end of the long table, but he was there. At his end was no snow-white linen, and the cups and platters were only of ash or wild apple; but of good food there was plenty, and of ale too, for such as were not children. It was the supper table of a great lord. The boy was at one end, and the great lord at the other, he was at one end and the Raven at the other. He was not kin to this great lord, whom he called Clann Ranal, and to whom he was too young to do service. He knew no mother, and hardly remembered his father; he had been slain, they told him, “when Clann Ranal brake the battle on the Lord Deputy and all the Queen’s Host.”
Again, in imagination, the drummer-boy sat in Clann Ranal’s glowing hall while the storm raged without, and shook the clay-and-timber sides of that rude palace. There sat the swarthy chief, beaming goodwill and hospitality upon all. His smiles, and the flash of his kind eyes illuminated the hall from end to end, and made the food sweeter and the ale stronger. He was only a robber chief, but oh, so great and so glorious! in the child’s eyes. His “queen” was at his right hand, and around him his mighty men of valour, famous names, sung by many bards, names that struck terror afar through the lowlands. To the boy they were not quite earthly; he thought of them with the supernatural heroes of old time. He did not know that his “king” was a robber, or, if he did, thought that robbery was but another name for celerity, boldness, and every form of warlike excellence, as in such primitive Homeric days it mostly is. To others, the Raven and his mighty men were sons of death and perdition; but their rapine sustained him, and in their dubious glory he rejoiced. A fair child’s face, too, mingled always in these scenes and pictures, which chased each other across the mind of the drummer. He saw her, in short green kirtle and coat of cloth-of-gold, step down from the king’s side at an assembly, bearing to him, the small but distinguished hurler of toy spears, the prize of excellence (it was
only a clasp knife; he had it still), and saw her sweet smile as she said, “Thou will do some great deed one day, O Raymond, Fitz Raymond, Fitz Pierce.”
All the gay, bright happy life of his childhood, so happy because it held so much love, came and went in flashes before his gazing eyes; and now he drummed on the army which was to quench in blood, in horrors unspeakable and unthinkable, the light of that happy home where he had once been so happy himself. Tears ran down the drummer’s face, unseen, for the night had now come. Then a thought, a purpose, flashed swiftly, like a meteor, across his mind, and came again less transiently, and then came to stay, fixed, clear, and determinate; a purpose like a star. He drummed better after that, and spoke as stoutly as his fellows about the glorious achievement which was to be performed that night, and about his share of the plunder. Yet his thoughts were not plunderous, but heroic. He, Raymond, son of Raymond, son of Pierce, son of, &c., &c., would do a great deed that night. Some pride of birth may have mingled with the lad’s purpose, for he was of a sept broken and scattered indeed, but once famous—the Fitz-Eustaces. He knew his genealogical line by heart. If there was a drummer at one end of it, there was an Earl at the other.
The two horsemen conversed once more. “Where are we now, Tom?” exclaimed the leader of the draught. “Your Honour, about a third part of the way. We are passing the bog called Móna-Réalta.”
“These savage Irish names of yours,” said the other, “are very unmemorable.”
Though Lord Deputy of Ireland, he did not know one word of Gaelic, at a time when nearly every nobleman and gentleman in the island spoke, or could speak that tongue.
“Tell me the meaning of it in English; so I shall the better remember.”
“Your Honour, it means the bog of stars, or starry bog. The bog is full of little pools and holes, and they show the stars most noticeably on a clear night.”
“It is a singular name,” remarked the other. He rode in silence for a while after that, and then added, “Master Edmund Spenser, my very ingeniose friend, would be pleased to hear that name. Dost thou know, Tom, that this same ravaging monster and bird of prey whom we seek to-night is in the Faery Queen? The Ninth Canto of the Sixth Book is altogether conversant with him. Malengin is his name there. One Talus beat him full sore with his iron flail. Ay, Tom, the villain is in the Faery Queen, therefore famous for ever, rascal as he is. And I—alas!”
“I know not that, your honour. I know he was in Idrone, yesterday was se’nnight, and drove the prey of thirteen towns, and murthered many loyal subjects. It is all a lie about Talus. There was no such captain, seneschal, or deputy in Ireland at any time.”
The Deputy laughed cheerily at this sally, or whatever it may have been. The army was now winding between high mountains, along a narrow way by the side of a rushing river, which roared loudly, swollen by the winter rains. Hour after hour the army pursued its march through wild mountain scenery now all hidden in the folds of night.
At length, after having climbed one considerable eminence, the guide spoke some words to the leader, and pointed down the valley. The army halted. All the officers came together, and conversed apart in low voices. In the valley beneath lay the strong nest of that “proud bird of the mountains” for whose extermination they had come so far. Dawn was approaching. Already the dense weight of the darkness was much
relaxed. They could see dimly the walls and towers of the chieftain’s stronghold, showing white in the surrounding dusk, or half-concealed by trees. It was not a castle, only a small town, with walls and gates. Then cautiously the Lord Deputy’s army began to descend from the heights. Silence was enjoined on all, not to be broken on pain of death. Each subaltern was responsible for the behaviour of his own file; he had strict orders to keep his men together, and prevent straying on any pretext. As they drew nearer, the scaling ladders were unpacked. The little city as yet gave no sign of alarm; not a cock crowed or dog barked. No watch had been set, or, if there had been, he slept. All within, man and beast, seemed plunged in profound slumber.
Some strong detachments now separated from the main body, and moved through the trees to the right and the left. Their object was to surround the city, and cut off all retreat. There was another gate at the rear, opening upon a wooden bridge, which spanned a considerable stream. There were only two gates to the city, that in front, at which the main body was assembled, and the rear gate, whither the detachments were now tending. They never got there. At one moment there was silence, broken only by the murmuring of the stream or the occasional crackling of some trodden twig. At the next, the silence rang with the sharp, clear roll of a kettle-drum, the detonations so rapid that they seemed one continuous noise.
Oil, listen, for the vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.
As suddenly as that drum had sounded, so abruptly it ceased; some one struck the drummer boy to the earth senseless, perhaps lifeless. But he had done his work. The roll of a kettle-drum can no more be recalled than the spoken word. The city, so sound asleep one minute past, was now awake and alive in every fibre. Bugles sounded there; arms and
armour rang, and fierce voices in a strange tongue shouted passionate commands. Dogs bayed, horses neighed, women wailed, and children wept; and all the time the noise of trampling feet sounded like low thunder, a bass accompaniment to all that treble. The fume and glare of fast-multiplying torches rose above the white walls, which were now alive with the morions of armed men, and presently ablaze with firearms. The assailants were themselves surprised and taken unawares. Their various detachments were separated. The original plan of assault had miscarried, and new arrangements were necessary. The leader bade his trumpet sound the recall, and withdrew his men out of range, with the loss of a few wounded.
When half-an-hour later a general attack was made on the walls, there was no one to receive it. They stormed an evacuated town. The chieftain, all his men, women, and children, all his animals, and the most valuable of his movable property, were seen dimly at the other side of the river, moving up the dark valley, with the men of war in the rear. Pursuit was dangerous, and was not attempted. The half-victorious army took half-joyful possession of the deserted city.
There was a court-martial a little before noon in the chieftain’s feasting chamber, which was filled with armed men. A culprit was led before the Lord Deputy. His face was pale, and neck red with blood, and the hair on one side of his head wet and sticky. He was a well-formed, reddish-haired youth, blue-eyed, of features rather homely than handsome. It was the drummer. The court-martial did not last long. The evidence of the witnesses went straight home, and was not met or parried.
“Sirrah,” cried the Lord Deputy, “why didst thou do it ? Why, being man to the Queen, didst thou play the traitor? Gentlemen, what doth the lad say?”
“He says, an it please your Honour, that he could do nothing else; that he saw this thing shine before him like a star.”
“Then is a traitor turned poet. Provost-marshal, take a file of snaphance-men, and shoot him off-hand. Nay, stay, a soldier’s death is too good for him. Captain Lee, take him with thee in thy return, and drown him in that bog thou mindest of. Let him add that, his star, to the rest.”
Yet it was observed that the Lord Deputy remained silent for a while, and seemed to meditate; after which he sighed and asked if there were another prisoner.
That evening a company of soldiers stood on a piece of firm ground above a dark pool in Móna-Réalta. They had amongst them a lad pinioned hand and foot, with a stone fastened to his ankles. He was perfectly still and composed; there was even an expression of quiet pride in his illuminated countenance. He was to die a dog’s death, but he had been true to his star.
Two gigantic pike-men who had laid aside their defensive armour, but retained their helmets, raised him in their strong arms, while a third soldier simultaneously lifted the heavy stone. One, two, three, a splash, a rushing together in foam of the displaced water, then comparative stillness, while bubbles continually rose to the surface, and burst. Presently all was still as before, black and still. One or two of the young soldiers showed white scared faces; but the mature men, bearded English, and moustached Irish, sent a hearty curse after the traitor, and strode away. Soon the company stood ranked on the yellow road. Someone gave out a sharp word of command, the fifes struck up a lively measure, and all went cheerily off at a quick march. There was one horseman, Captain Thomas Lee, a brave gentleman, honourably
known in all the wars of the age. Above them, unrolled from the staff fluttered the bright folds of their guidon. The westering sun scintillated on their polished armour, and the bright points of their pikes. They were not traitors, but true men; no one could say that they had eaten the Queen’s rations, and handled her money only to betray her cause.
Then the sound of the fifes died away in the distance, and the silence of the uninhabited wilderness resumed its ancient reign. Faint breaths of air played tenderly in the rushes and dry grass. By-and-by, a pert blackhead clambered about aimlessly in a little dry and stunted willow tree that grew by the drummer’s pool hardly a foot high.
Then the sun set, and still night increased, and where the drummer boy had gone down, a bright star shone; it was the evening star, the star of love, which is also the morning star, the star of hope and bravery.
Nine churches here moulder
in kindred mortality,
with the ashes of nobles,
of princes, and of kings,
entombed beneath their walls;
and who, at feud, mayhap, in life,
are now content to sleep
beside each other,
“their warfare o’er,”
in the levelling indistinction of death.
I n a h o l l o w f o r m e d o f r o c k a n d w o o d
the torrent breaks forth
from fragments of rock, and
the chasm, rocks
bulging over it as if
ready to fall into the channel
the impetuous water.
The shade is so thick as to
exclude the heavens;
all is retired and gloomy, a
brown horror breathing over
( e v e r y o b j e c t e x c l u d e d b u t t h o s e a n d w a t e r )
It is a spot for melancholy to muse in.
It is night; and I am alone,
The wind is heard in the mountain.
The torrent shrieks down the rock.
No hut receives me from the rain;
forlorn on the hill of winds.
(as rendered in J. Macpherson, The Poems of Ossian and Related Works)
I have tidings for you:
the stag bells;
summer has gone;
Wind is high and cold;
the sun low,
its course is short;
the sea runs strongly.
Scél lem dúib:
ro fáith sam;
Gáeth ard úar;
gair a rrith;
Bracken is very red,
its shape has been hidden;
the call of the barnacle goose
has become usual;
Cold as seized
the wings of birds;
season of ice;
these are my tidings.
ro cleth cruth;
ro gab gnáth
Ro gab úacht
é mo scél.
The Hill Of Winds is a collection of Irish writings, stretching from the 20th century back to pagan times, collated loosely around the themes of landscape, the elements and decay.
All works presented here are in the public domain, and most appear only as fragments cut from their original context.
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Fallow Media | 2015