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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Ireland: Vol. V. 1876–79.

Clare, the Island

Grace O’Maly

By Sir Samuel Ferguson (1810–1886)

  • Grace O’Maly, lady of Sir Richard Burke, styled Mac William Eighter, distinguished herself by a life of wayward adventure which has made her name, in its Gaelic form, Grana Uaile, a personification among the Irish peasantry, of that social state which they still consider preferable to the results of a more advanced civilization. The real acts and character of the heroine are hardly seen through the veil of imagination under which the personified idea exists in the popular mind, and is here presented.

  • SHE left the close-aired land of trees

    And proud Mac William’s palace,

    For clear, bare Clare’s health-salted breeze,

    Her oarsmen and her galleys;

    And where beside the bending strand

    The rock and billow wrestle,

    Between the deep sea and the land

    She built her Island Castle.

    The Spanish captains, sailing by

    For Newport, with amazement

    Beheld the cannoned longship lie

    Moored to the lady’s casement;

    And, covering coin and cup of gold

    In haste their hatches under,

    They whispered, “’T is a pirate’s hold;

    She sails the seas for plunder!”

    But no: ’t was not for sordid spoil

    Of barque or sea-board borough

    She ploughed, with unfatiguing toil,

    The fluent-rolling furrow;

    Delighting, on the broad-backed deep,

    To feel the quivering galley

    Strain up the opposing hill, and sweep

    Down the withdrawing valley;

    Or, sped before a driving blast,

    By following seas uplifted,

    Catch, from the huge heaps heaving past,

    And from the spray they drifted,

    And from the winds that tossed the crest

    Of each wide-shouldering giant,

    The smack of freedom and the zest

    Of rapturous life defiant.

    For, O, the mainland time was pent

    In close constraint and striving,—

    So many aims together bent

    On winning and on thriving,

    There was no room for generous ease,

    No sympathy for candor,—

    And so she left Burke’s buzzing trees,

    And all his stony splendor.

    For Erin yet had fields to spare,

    Where Clew her cincture gathers

    Isle-gemmed; and kindly clans were there,

    The fosterers of her fathers:

    Room there for careless feet to roam

    Secure from minions’ peeping,

    For fearless mirth to find a home

    And sympathetic weeping.


    And music sure was sweeter far

    For ears of native nurture,

    Than virginals at Castlebar

    To tinkling touch of courtier,

    When harpers good in hall struck up

    The planxty’s gay commotion,

    Or pipers screamed from pennoned poop

    Their pibroch over ocean.


    Sweet, when the crimson sunsets glowed,

    As earth and sky grew grander,

    Adown the grassed, unechoing road

    Atlantic-ward to wander,

    Some kinsman’s humbler hearth to seek,

    Some sick-bed side, it may be,

    Or onward reach, with footsteps meek,

    The low, gray, lonely abbey:

    And where the storied stone beneath

    The guise of plant and creature

    Had fused the harder lines of faith

    In easy forms of nature,—

    Such forms as tell the master’s pains

    ’Mong Roslin’s carven glories,

    Or hint the faith of Pictish Thanes

    On standing stones of Forres;

    The Branch; the weird cherubic Beasts;

    The Hart by hounds o’ertaken;

    Or, intimating mystic feasts,

    The self-resorbent Dragon,—

    Mute symbols, though with power endowed

    For finer dogmas’ teaching,

    Than clerk might tell to carnal crowd

    In homily or preaching,—

    Sit; and while heaven’s refulgent show

    Grew airier and more tender,

    And ocean’s gleaming floor below

    Reflected loftier splendor,

    Suffused with light of lingering faith

    And ritual light’s reflection,

    Discourse of birth and life and death,

    And of the resurrection.

    But chiefly sweet from morn to eve,

    From eve to clear-eyed morning,

    The presence of the felt reprieve

    From strangers’ note and scorning;

    No prying, proud, intrusive foes

    To pity and offend her;—

    Such was the life the lady chose;

    Such choosing, we commend her.