Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland (Author: William Allingham)

chapter 6

Neal at the Lough.

  • So fared it with the folk behind the hill
    From Doran's—who did all his Agent's will,
    And bade his son the same wise course pursue
    But Neal had thoughts his father never knew.
    5] Old Jack is cautious, as a beast that knows
    His little burrow watch'd by natural foes;
    But Neal is rash, and some there are who bring
    To Pigot's Bailiff stories with a sting,
    To seat themselves, perchance, in Doran's place,
    10] Or at the least enjoy the Viceroy's grace.


    Private and patriotic griefs combined
    To trouble and perplex Neal's youthful mind.
    At loose imagination's utmost pitch
    He rates the powers and graces of the rich,
    15] Not life in Saturn more beyond his grasp;
    And pictures, till the thought is like a wasp,
    The narrow toils and hardships of the poor,
    Which no kind hand assists them to endure;
    For rich and poor, contrasted lots at best,
    20] Here plainly mean oppressors and opprest.
    With this, Old Ireland's glories, and her wrongs,
    Her famous dead, her landscapes, and her songs,
    Were fever'd fancy's beverage,—things well known
    Mingled with names and dreams confus'dly shown.
    25] Poetic visions hover'd; every page
    For Erin's glory, every fireside sage
    Whose shanahus10 a brooding audience drew,
    Were pleasant to his soul, and gospel-true.
    Since dumb her school-books upon Ireland's tale,


    30] Other and looser teaching must prevail,
    And ardent boyhood drink its greedy fill
    Of every wild-sprung legendary rill
    And holy fount—not in their virgin shade
    So oft as lower channels, hot and clay'd.
    35] But better thus, than dry and dusty live,
    Devoid of all th' ancestral past can give,
    And every human touch from hill and shore
    Being blotted out, let memory claim no more
    In this her ancient realm, than where, exiled,
    40] The shepherd sadly tracks th' Australian wild.
  • By fits, moreover, hide them as we may,
    It frets us all, this tedious every-day;
    A longing throb, a germ of bold romance,
    Is deep in every bosom; thirst for chance
    45] And change, and rich adventure. Sadly brave
    This sends us wandering on the dismal wave,
    Or earth's remotest mountains; this gives war
    Its frenzied life, and stirs more crime by far


    Than moralist or lawyer ever guess'd;
    50] Soul-fermentation, anxious blind unrest,
    That, sick of all the barren hours afford,
    Will seize on dice, the tankard, or the sword;
    Or burst its limits in a headlong flood,
    A mingling overflow of fire and mud,
    55] To do a deed,—of glory, or of shame,
    As outward things take hue from vulgar fame.
    To this unquiet, lawless, dangerous mood,
    The present seems a prison-house; all good
    (Though mainly shadows from our fancies cast)
    60] Being in the boundless future, boundless past;
    Great things that have been, greater things to be;
    As if a man could, save in soul, be free.
  • Neal fain would join that secret brotherhood,
    The rich men's terror; but his father shrewd,
    65] Who saw the 'Ninety-eight, and blamed alike
    The yeoman's pitch-cap, and the rebel's pike,
    Whose earliest memories were of houses burning,


    Dead men from branches hung, and slowly turning,
    Jack oft admonish'd him; and on her knees
    70] Maureen implored her son from thoughts like these.
    Yet still he hanker'd for the fruit forbid:
    A thousand gliding scenes the curtain hid
    Of plot profound, and daring enterprise;
    And he himself, acknowledged brave and wise,
    75] Head of the mystic band was seen to rise.
    Great, too, this charm of mystery; to swear,
    Fling stealthy signs, enchant the common air.
    When whispering schoolboys to a corner creep,
    Bedim their shallow plans and call them deep,
    80] Whilst uninitiates vainly pry and dodge,
    Behold in bud the sacred cryptic lodge,—
    For evil or for good, a power confess'd
    In that old east, as in our modern west.

  • p.122

  • To check the tyrant Rich; perchance to see
    85] His injured country ‘glorious, great, and free’;
    To help ‘the patriot cause’ with heart and hand;
    So Neal aspired; and all was vague and grand.
  • Not always prisoner by the dull bog-side
    Was he; not always heavy skies abide.
    90] Among those mountain-skirts a league away
    Lough Braccan spread, with many a silver bay
    And islet green; a dark cliff, tall and bold,
    Half-muffled in its cloak of ivy old,
    Bastion'd the southern brink, beside a glen
    95] Where birch and hazel hid the badger's den,
    And through the moist ferns and firm hollies play'd
    A rapid rivulet from light to shade.
    Above the glen, and wood, and cliff, was seen,
    Majestically simple and serene,
    100] Like some great soul above the various crowd,
    A purple mountain-top, at times in cloud
    Or mist, as in celestial veils of thought,
    Abstracted heavenward. Creeps a little boat,


    Along the path of evening's golden smile,
    105] To where the shattered castle on its isle
    May seem a broad-wing'd ship; two massive tow'rs
    Lifted against the yellow light that pours
    On half the lough and sloping fields,—half-laid,
    Creek, bush, and crag, within the mountain shade.
    110] Dark bramble-leaves now show a curling fringe,
    And sallies11 wear the first autumnal tinge;
    With speckled plumes high wave the crowded reeds,
    Amongst whose watery stems the mallard feeds.
    Full many a time, on deep Lough Braccan's wave,
    115] Has Neal inveigled from its liquid cave,
    With youthful comrades, in a fragile keel,
    The pike, the perch, the trout, the twisting eel;
    Alone, and musingly, he glides to-day,
    Has fish'd an hour in vain, and coil'd his line away.

  • 120]
  • The coble beach'd at lonely Innisree
    High at a rifted window, musing free


    On ancient sky and water, freshly fair,
    A poet's or a painter's rich despair,
    And on the fame of olden times, which threw
    125] Across the firm world a transcendent hue,
    No more with petty toils and cares dismay'd,
    The young man watch'd that glowing landscape fade.
  • South-westward, where th' autumnal sun went down,
    A lake-reflected headland heaved its crown
    130] Of darkling trees, and, knew you where to search,
    The hoary ruins of a little church,
    That mingled there with human skulls and bones
    The mossy downfall of its sculptured stones;
    While, like one poem scatheless and sublime
    135] Amid the vast forgetfulness of Time,
    Slender and tall a Round Tower's pointed crest
    Rose dimly black against the gorgeous west.
  • Methinks I stand with Neal, and, wide-eyed, gaze
    Far through the wondrous world of former days.


    140] In clear-obscure extends th' Ogygian Isle,
    Deep-forested, but lit with many a smile
    Of lake and river, and empurpling air,
    The mantle of its mountains; wolf and bear
    In rocky cave and wild-wood shadow skulk;
    145] Free rove the stag and heavy-headed elk;
    Broad plain and valley spread their brilliant green,
    With pathless fen and sombre moor between;
    The changeful waste of ocean circling all;
    Whose tides in frith and channel flow and fall
    150] To dance the wild man's curragh,—till, some day,12
    Poops of strange wing are gliding up his bay;
    An era, whilst he stares with dread and wonder,
    Closes its portals, without crash of thunder;
    Portals to us (yet sun and moon were bright)
    155] That seem the barriers of a realm of night.
    At history's dawn, the sons of the great east,
    Gigantic, spectral, doubtful, move in mist,
    Old Afric, Scythic, or Phenician fames,


    Nemidians and Fomorians, dusky names,
    160] Firbolgs, Danaäns, and Milesians proud,—
    Fair shadowy queens, like floating forms of cloud,
    With, rugged Kings, Druids white-raimented,
    A thin gold crescent on each awful head,
    Sage Brehons, Bards, and Minstrels; and a roar
    165] Of battles, like a sea on distant shore,
    Sounds from the mighty hollow of the Past.
  • Let the huge stones be desolate; the last
    Man's blood smoke up to Crom.13 That solemn night
    Of Beltane, when King Layorie's hand must light
    170] The mystic blaze on Tara first of all,
    Behold on distant hill, at twilight-fall,
    A fire,—for which the penalty is death.
    Whilst frowning Druids pour prophetic breath,
    Spears bring the malefactor; on whose face
    175] Of heavenly calm, doth every prince in place
    Mute-wondering stare, until with awe-struck sense


    Horc, son of Dego, bows in reverence
    Before SAINT PATRICK. Slave, he herded swine
    In Dalaradia once; the will divine,
    180] By messengers at midnight when he dream'd,
    Bade him return to Ireland, and it seem'd,
    At Tours within Saint Martin's cloister-wall,
    He heard the voices of the Irish call,—
    ‘We pray thee come to us!’ O,loving, mild,
    185] And docile people!—as to parent, child,
    To Patrick, Bridget, fearless Columbkill,
    Knelt all the land. ‘Their bones one grave do fill.’
    A luckless land at length; a grave much wrong'd.
    Meantime, for learning and religion throng'd
    190] All Europe to the furthest western isle,
    With many a studious and monastic pile
    Thick-sown, and many a blessed man she sent
    To bring the souls of people nourishment
    In kingdoms far away. But ships came forth


    195] For plunder, from the pagan pirate North,
    Who tore this isle; and these were not the worst.
    Dermot MacMurrough, be thy name accurst!
    And, wert thou Pope (as Pope thou wast indeed),
    Thine, Nicholas Breakspeare! who to Norman greed
    200] Sold what to neither could belong of right.
    Strongbow, De Courcy, many a mail-clad knight,
    Drive in the wedge of steel with stalwart blows;
    Vainly the saffron-shirted kerns oppose
    With axe and sling, their feet and bosoms bare,
    205] No helmet but their matted glibbs of hair;14
    Vain the swift javelin, vain the furious rush
    On bareback'd horses from deep woods, to crush
    The Sassenach; slow lives of plotting pain,
    Outbursts of fever'd frenzy, all are vain.
    210] King Brian he is dead, who smote the Dane.
  • Alas, no bond the troubled chieftains know
    To weld their strength against the common foe;


    Each power in turn promoted and suppress'd,
    Through Desmond, Thomond, Brefney, and the West.
    215] Edwards and Henrys waste the land by turns,
    The bloated king her ancient worship spurns,
    Entrench'd within the fortress of her frill
    His sour-faced daughter works her shrewish will,
    Cajoles or strikes, unpitying, to destroy
    220] Fraternal patriotism, her worst annoy.
    Ultonia last its undulating fields
    And dark-blue mountains to th' invader yields;
    From far Tyrconnell, like a northern gale,
    O'Donnell sweeps upon the English Pale;
    225] O'Neill defends the passes of Tyrone;—
    Last of the princes, these are also gone.
  • Let pedant James now parh the plunder'd lands,
    And chaffer out his bag of Bloody Hands;
    Let slippery Charles depute his squire, Black Tom;
    230] The blacker ‘Curse of Cromwell’ spread its gloom;
    From Orange William sneaking Shemus fly,


    And brave men for a coward vainly die;
    Where slaughter ends let treachery begin;
    Ireland must lose, no matter who may win;
    235] Derided in her torture and her tears,
    In sullen slavery dragging hopeless years;
    Of social ties mere cruel scourges made;
    A ban upon her learning and her trade;
    Possessions, rights, religion, language, torn
    240] And crush'd by Law—a word to hate and scorn
    For those taught English in oppression's school,
    And reading good words by the witches' rule;
    A name for powerful wrong, with no appeal;
    Since law at every moment made them feel
    245] To live an Irishman on Irish ground
    The sole unpardonable crime was found.
  • Island of bitter memories, thickly sown
    From winding Boyne to Limerick's treaty-stone,
    Bare Connaught Hills to Dublin Castle wall,
    250] Green Wexford to the glens of Donegal,


    Through sad six hundred years of hostile sway,
    From Strongbow fierce to cunning Castlereagh!
    These will not melt and vanish in a day.
    These can yet sting the patriot thoughts which turn
    255] To Erin's past, and bid them weep and burn.
  • The dusk has gather'd, vapour chill unfurls
    Down all the mountain-height, and creeps and curls
    Along the glens and edges of the lake,
    Like slumber on a mind still half-awake;
    260] While round the small and broken winding-stair
    In the wall's thickness, Neal descends with care,
    And stooping through the pointed arch below
    Is strongly seized by some expectant foe.
    He struggles hard, his elbows pinion'd tight,
    265] Bursts up, and writhes, and strains with all his might;
    Till now the hat from his assailant flies,
    And shows Tim Nulty's merry-twinkling eyes,
    A Ribbonman of note, who oft has fill'd


    The stripling's ear with flattery not unskill'd.
    270] ‘Yourself, man!—searchin' for the pot o' gold?’
    ‘By japers, you're no aisy bird to hold!’
    ‘'Tis you, Nail, not a spy,—I'm glad to see it.’
    ‘Luck's in our meeting: now or never be it!’
    Tall, in the shadow of the ruin, stood
    275] A silent Stranger, draped in cloak and hood.
    ‘Sir, I have heard of you!’—he took Neal's hand;
    ‘We count on you to join our patriot band.’
    ‘I'll join, sir!’—‘On the minute?’—‘Yes!’—‘Well said!’—
    ‘Doran, there's powerful interest at our head,’
    280] ‘As by degrees you'll know,—but that must wait.’
    ‘I'm from the Grand Lodge, County Delegate.’
    ‘Hats off! grip tight the Gospels!—now attend,’
    ‘And word for word say with me, to the end:’
  • ‘I swear by the Most Holy Trinity’
    285] ‘A true and faithful Ribbonman to be;’


    ‘To do my best to strike off England's chain;’
    ‘The poor against the rich man to sustain;’
    ‘Ever to help and never to betray’
    ‘My brethren; my superiors to obey’
    290] ‘At all times, without question or delay,’
    ‘Pity or mercy. If I break this oath,’
    ‘Destruction seize my soul and body both!’
    ‘Amen, by kiss! Amen, by cross! Amen!’
  • ‘Here is your card. To-morrow night at ten.’
    295] ‘The place Shawn Roe's. King Malachi the pass.’
    ‘Now come,’ the other says, ‘one christnin' glass.’
    ‘Brother, your noble health!—You've done what's right.’
    ‘There's more to tell you, Neal, to-morrow night.’
    ‘We'll then admit, in form and order due;’
    300] ‘And proud the boys will be, at sight of you.’
    Both boats lay dark where ivy-trailers hid
    A little cavern, whence the coble slid
    Into the dim expansive lough, and broke


    Its hush'd and starry dream with rippling stroke,
    305] No other sound between the earth and sky
    Save from the misty shore, the plover's cry.
  • But shortening days that flit on silent wing
    Near and more near the fate of Tullagh bring.
    Has Pigot shown relentment? ‘Out they go!’
    310] Says Pigot, and will keep his tryst they know.
    When Bloomfield sought to move his uncle's mind,
    'Twas vainly: ‘Pigot's views are right, you'll find.’
    ‘Pigot has vast experience—thirty years.’
    No wise man with his agent interferes
    315] At such a crisis; strengthen well his hands,
    Good sense advises, honour too demands.
    Your trusty general, with the foe in face,
    Would you, on little cause or none, disgrace?
    ‘This is no time—’ ‘But foe,’ said Laurence, ‘why?’
    320] ‘Such is the world,’ Sir Ulick made reply,
    ‘At least in Ireland here: I wish I knew’
    ‘Much less about it: how I envy you!’

  • p.135