A particular poetic genre which survived well into the nineteenth
century in Ireland was the 'caoineadh', which was composed and recited
mainly by women in the native Irish tongue. The Irish historian Carrigan
mentions several of these in his books about the history of the
Diocese of Ossory. Carrigan supplies us with an English translation of one
of these written in the aftermath of the Cromwell invasion in the middle
seventeeth century. First published in the Journal of the Ossory Society,
the following is a version of the caoine, or lament, of Walter the Eizha
Bernock , one of the Walshs of the Mountains as this
family came to be known. In native Irish, Eizha Bernock, is Oidhre
Breathnach; the term Oidhre signifying 'heir' and the name Breathnach
being one of the early Gaelic forms of the surname Walsh. It was written
by either John MacWalter Walsh, Bard of the Mountain, or by one of Johns' daughters.
The event alluded to in this lament refers to the Cromwell invasion of
Ireland, the subsequent confiscation of lands beginning 1653, and the ascendancy
New English Protestants.
The confiscations in County Kilkenny accounted
for 18,000 acres of Walsh property, of which 14,000 were the appurtence of
Walsh, "Baron of Shancahir in le Walsh Mountayne," now known as the Walsh
Mountains. Another 1,500 acres in Kilkenny and 12,000 in Waterford were the
property of Walsh of Piltown (Waterford), "who died in actual rebellion,"
or, as he thought, fighting for his rights, his religion and his home. Castle
Hale, the seat of the Lords of the Mountain, and Piltown, chief seat of the
other family, have disappeared even from the map. Another Waterford family,
called "Walsh of the Island," prosperous merchants for centuries in Waterford
city, also lost, besides their business as merchants, about 3,000 acres of
land, of which 1,200 were at their country seat at Ballygunner. Still another
family had large possessions in eastern Cork, near Youghal, and others in
eastern Kerry. Other thousands of acres changed hands in Dublin, Wicklow,
Kildare, Wexford and, though less is known about it, in western Cork and
The Caoine of Walter the Oidhre Breathnach
(translated from the Irish language)
Assemble round, O, dear children of my soul, ours is a sad tale of woe,
and with sorrow shall be recounted; the harvest of death lies in sward,
but no ripening sun shall perfect it. The wonted champion of your cause
lies low, who pleaded your just rights in the legal court, the man of
gentle manners who indulged you in excursions of pleasure, nor assigned
to you the wench's drudging labours, nor yet the decent matron's household
care, but calm and unruffled, in a life of easy affluence, your task was
to braid your flowing hair, to form the famed locks, ornamented with silver
and pearl. Ah me, he will forsake you ever more. The Walshs of the Mountain
shall be wide dispersed and their power dissolved forever.
Whoever might again behold thee, as I one day have seen thee, in the pride
of thy strength, and fair as the white blossom of spring; on thy front sat
grace and each attraction of love, well adapted was thy tongue to the sweet
powers of eloquence. Seven distinct languages did thy memory retain. In Irish
thou didst far excel, and in the language of Britain; as thy mother tongue to
thee flowed Greek and Latin; with ease thou didst comprehend the languages
of Spain and Gaul, and thy perfection in Italian was unquestioned. Yet vain,
alas! the use, and vain the pride of these splendid gifts, evermore are they
vanished, and vanished with them art thou. The Walshs of the Mountain
shall be wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.
Graceful wouldst thou appear cased in a coat of mail, or beneath the ponderous
helmet; ponderous not with brass or copper, but with gold, bright flaming
amidst radiant silver, or with thine hat of beaver fur, and formed with
Hispanian art, or with thy smoothly pliant boots, devoid of rift, and spurs
of gold, with ornaments replete; or when thou would lay prostrate thy dread
foes in greaves of silver armed, or in thy sinewy grasp when thou wouldst
take thy golden hilted rapier of dreadful length, and formed with the nicest
art. Ah, my sad sorrow, weak and nerveless is thy arm now, that arm which made
thee victorious in every contest. The Walshs of the Mountain
shall be wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.
Lonely now is my state, and truly forlorn as one solitary fish left by the
ebbing tide, or one lonely pale of a broken fence, or an only tree in a
desert vale, whose vernal bloom hath faded, and whose branches are withered
on high, or a sheep newly shorn of its sheltering wool. The children of
my mother are no more, except Edmund and Mary. I say it, nor hesitate to
affirm it, without reproach to those who remain, they had been the flower of
the whole progeny. Ah, woe eternal this day, they exist not for me.
Had they lived, I should hope the Walshs of the Mountain
would not be wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.
Small wonder it were that I should affect to dwell like the daw on the lofty
tree, or like the eagle on the lofty summit of the tall mountains, or devoid
of sober reason wander along each trackless way, or plunge with active bound
into the whelming depth of ocean, since now I am bereft of the pride of my
dear kindred. As tall oaks they grew, that spread wide their branches around,
or a wide extended wood with all its stately boughs; but withered now at top
is each remaining tree, or prostrate by the tempest from ocean, save a few
tender saplings unprotected from the threatened storm, while the fierce foe
hovers round. Ah, woe is me. My kindred are gone forever more. The
Walshs of the Mountain shall be wide dispersed and their power dissolved
Where now is Philip, who came over the great depth of ocean, the strenuous
chief who shrank not from the battle's rage, who
slew the fierce Dane in the
mighty conflict, the proud and haughty Gilbert from Berba's rugged coast,
the son of a mighty chieftain whose fleets invaded the land of Erin, who
slaughtered the race of Milesius, and spread his cruel bondage over the land,
till Philip sunk in ocean the stern pride of the chief; but alas! long hath
the swift hero slept in death; had he lived the sad event should not have
been. The Walshs of the Mountain should not be wide dispersed and
their power dissolved away.
Where is the dear relative of FitzStephen
, whose compact and pleasant mansion
rose in Castleheil, where the daughter of Raymonds o'er the ocean partook
each joy and comfort. Long hath the great and good man been laid low, while
the revengeful foe harass his devoted race. Had he lived the sad event could
not have been. The Walshs of the Mountain could not be wide dispersed and
their power dissolved away.
Where is Giffin, renowned for deeds of prowess, the son-in-law of O'Donnell
of Ballyshannon, the good and gentle man of conciliating manners, the chief
who copiously dealt around his wines, whose vast flocks were tended by a
hundred herdsmen, and who parcelled out districts and whole regions to his
relatives. Had he lived the sad event could not have been. The Walshs
of the Mountain could not be wide dispersed and their power dissolved
Where is the youthful Walter of deeds benign, whose castle beside the mountain
rose in stately pride, with whom the sacred Nuncio was once an honored guest;
nor deemed he the mansion to be the abode of mortal race, such rare domestic
order appeared around. The beer flowed from the capacious vat, and the
labouring pump poured forth its gushing waters while alternately each hand
cast forth the golden dice. His fame widespread around the land of Erin,
widely it extended over the distant regions of the earth. Not louder the
sounding echo of the mountain summit than the gushing of his wines to regale
the sons of Erin. Each imagined he enjoyed an immortal banquet, so profusely
they quaffed exquisite wines; but ah, my sad grief, he hath forsaken us
evermore. The Walshs of the Mountain shall be wide dispersed and their
power dissolved away.
Where is Robert? where is James? or the good and gentle Walter of Currohill?
or the Knight, swift, valiant and mighty, who overthrew in the conflict his
foreign foes? Sadly hath each succession of these passed away; they are past,
and Edmund, O my grief, is no more; had they lived the sad event could not
have been. The Walshs of the Mountain would not be wide dispersed and
their power dissolved away.
Where are thou O Philip? thou rightful heir of Knockmoylan; the heir wert thou
of the sportful hounds; oft hath thy course been through the wood of Minawn,
and oft didst thou urge urge hounds to chase through the wood of Cunawn, and
oft was thine excursion of pleasure to the banks of Lingawn -- ah, my sad
grief and woeful affliction, the roebuck will frequent the banks of Lingawn,
peaceful will he graze the flowery plain, no heir on his swift steed will mar
his repose. They alas! are lowly laid in death; beneath a monumental weight
they rest, and hopeless their return from Kilbeacon; had they lived the sad
event should not have been. The Walshs of the Mountain should not be
wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.
Whither art thou fled O Chief of the people? Farewell to thee O Sarsfield,
thy forces are disbanded, and thou art gone to the kingdom of France, thy sad
tale thou dost relate to the princess -- that thou hast left Erin in affliction,
and her children overwhelmed with woe; couldst thou return again with life,
the sad event would ne'er have been. The Walshs of the Mountain should
not be wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.
Vainly do I now recount my dear relatives, they are wide dispersed and their
progeny a wandering race, the Burkes from the borders of Suir to Bawnrock,
the posterity of the Earl from the western Awly, the race of Carroll and
O'Connor Faley, and the descendants of the Earl O'Brien of Blarney, the
youthful John of Clogher, famed for his unrivalled steeds, Edmond, son of
Peter, of Slievarda, the Butlers, esteemed by their foes of prowess, the
posterity of Power beneficent and mighty, the great Cantwell famed for his
splendid mansion; ah, my sad misfortune, they lie beneath the monumental
marble; had they lived the sad event would not have been. The Walshs
of the Mountain would not be wide dispersed and their power dissolved
No word I should have to wail my dear relations; the nobles of Erin are wide
dispersed around, the Chiefs of generous soul have forsaken us since the cruel
visitation of Cromwell, and that monarch stern and ungentle to the race of
Erin. The Earl of Tyrone and his relatives dwell in Ulster's princely dome,
but overwhelmed with grief and sorrow. Tyrconnell laments with unceasing
plaint the fate of O'Donnell -- O'Donnell of the sharp and weighty sword.
Corkalee wails without respite her chieftains slain in the fierce conflict,
O'Driscoll, O'Flinn, O'Leary, O'Hay, O'Deady, and the race of Kerwick.
O'Donovan no longer resides in Carbury Eva, nor the children of Collins
possessors of splendid castles. The O'Ruarkes, alas! are fled from Brefny,
nor dwell, O my sorrow, the M'Mahons in Thomond. Where now are the generous
sons of O'Connor, or the race of O'Mahony, of Kinealeya. The children of
O'Daly will be extirpated from Corkard, and the O'Murphys from the hospitable
district of Felim. The O'Brennans shall be dispossessed of Corka Eclan, and
the McBarnells from the borders of Leitrim. The genuine race of O'Kealy shall
be banished from Conmaena, and O'Fallon from the district of Biada, the
O'Coghlans from Delvny Ethra. The M'Wards and the race of Daheda shall
experience a sad exile from their territories of Ulster. The Roches and
Keeffes from the pleasant Fermoy, and the O'Lonergans evermore from Rehill.
Never will O'Connor Kenaught return again, or the race of Macgennis, from the
centre of Iveagh, or the irreproachable Connell, of Farmock, the Burkes, of
Galway, stenuous to contend with their foes; nor McCarthy, O my sad grief,
the princely chief of Munster. Sorrow's black mist envelopes the land of
Erin, sadness dwells in each vale, and grief ascends her mountain summits.
No more her generous and cheerful sons collect the welcome guests around;
the joys of the feast and wine are forgot. Prostrate in ruins lie their
shattered towns, and weak and dejected their guardian bands from the town of
Atheliath to the western Beara. Each widowed matron wails the sad fall of
her spouse, the youthful virgin pours forth incessant tears, while sighs and
deep groans rend the bosoms of the weak and aged. Erin's cruel thraldom is
wrought by a foreign foe, and the princely race of Heba fly o'er the Shannon
for protection. Yet, oh! the grief were less though Heba's royal race should
have failed. But the Walshs of the Mountain are wide dispersed and their
power dissolved away.
Poems of Egan O'Rahilly
In the State Papers of the sixteenth century the clans are frequently spoken of as `nations.' Even as late as the eighteenth century a Gaelic poet, in a typical lament, thus identifies his country with the fortunes of
her great families:---
The O’Doherty is not holding sway, nor his noble race;
The O’Moores are not strong, that once were brave--
O’Flaherty is not in power, nor his kinsfolk;
And sooth to say, the O’Briens have long since become English.
Of O’Rourke there is no mention--my sharp wounding!
Nor yet of O’Donnell in Erin;
The Geraldines they are without vigour--without a nod,
And the Burkes, the Barrys the Walshes of the slender ships.
O'Rahilly's charge against Cromwell is that he `gave plenty to the man with the flail,' but beggared the great lords,...