Friday, February 08, 2013


Lament for Kilcash

Anonymous, "Cill Chais," tr. Frank O'Connor (1903-1966) in A Frank O'Connor Reader, ed. Michael Steinman (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1994), pp. 235-236:
What shall we do for timber?
    The last of the woods is down.
Kilcash and the house of its glory
    And the bell of the house are gone,
The spot where that lady waited
    Who shamed all women for grace
When earls came sailing to meet her
    And Mass was said in the 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 geese there,
    Hawk's cry or eagle's call,
No humming of the bees there
    That brought honey and wax for all,
Not even the song of the birds there
    When the sun goes down in the west,
No cuckoo on top of the boughs there,
    Singing the world to rest.

There's mist there tumbling from branches,
    Unstirred by night and by day,
And darkness falling from heaven,
    For our fortune has ebbed away,
There's no holly nor hazel nor ash there,
    The pasture's rock and stone,
The crown of the forest has 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.
The same, tr. Thomas Kinsella in An Irish Literature Reader: Poetry, Prose, Drama, edd. Maureen O'Rourke Murphy and James MacKillop, 2nd ed. (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2006), pp. 34-35:
Now what will we do for timber,
    with the last of the woods laid low?
There's no talk of Cill Chais or its household
    and its bell will be struck no more.
That dwelling where lived the good lady
    most honoured and joyous of women
—earls made their way over wave there
    and the sweet mass once was said.

Ducks' voices nor geese do I hear there,
    nor the eagle's cry over the bay,
nor even the bees at their labour
    bringing honey and wax to us all.
No birdsong there, sweet and delightful,
    as we watch the sun go down,
nor cuckoo on top of the branches
    settling the world to rest.

A mist on the boughs is descending
    neither daylight nor sun can clear.
A stain from the sky is descending
    and the waters receding away.
No hazel nor holly nor berry
    but boulders and bare stone heaps,
not a branch in our neighbourly haggard,
    and the game all scattered and gone.

Then a climax to all of our misery:
    the prince of the Gael is abroad
oversea with that maiden of mildness
    who found honour in France and Spain.
Her company now must lament her,
    who would give yellow money and white
—she who'd never take land from the people
    but was friend to the truly poor.

I call upon Mary and Jesus
    to send her safe home again:
dances we'll have in long circles
    and bone-fires and violin music;
that Cill Chais, the townland of our fathers,
    will rise handsome on high once more
and till doom—or the deluge—returns -
    we'll see it no more laid low.
Gaelic text and a facing English translation can be found in James Clarence Mangan, The Poets and Poetry of Munster: A Selection of Irish Songs, 2nd ed, (Dublin: John O'Daly, 1850), pp. 197-201. I haven't seen John Flood and Phil Flood, Kilcash: 1190-1801 (Dublin: Geography Publications, 1999). The Gaelic begins "Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad?"

The "lady" in the poem was Margaret Burke (1673-1744), married in 1689 to Bryan Magennis, 5th Viscount of Iveagh (died 1693), and in 1696 to Colonel Thomas Butler of Kilcash (died 1738).

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


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