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

Lough Sheeling

St. Patrick’s First Converts

By Thomas D’Arcy McGee (1825–1868)

  • The legend here versified, almost literally, is one of the oldest episodes in Irish history.

  • MORN on the hills of Innisfail!

    The anchored mists make sudden sail,

    The sun has kissed the mountain gray,

    For ancient friends and fond are they!

    In the deep vale, where osiers verge

    The clear Lough Sheeling’s gentle surge,

    Two royal sisters doff their dresses,

    And, binding up their night-black tresses,

    Fair as the spirits of the streams,

    Or Dian’s nymphs in poets’ dreams,

    They bathe them in the limpid lake,

    And mock the mimic storm they make!

    Scarce had their sandals clasped their feet,

    Scarce had they left their still retreat,

    Scarce had they turned their footsteps, when

    Strange psalmody pervades the glen;

    And full before them in the way

    There stood an ancient man and gray,

    Chanting with fervent voice a prayer

    That trembled through the morning air.

    He was no Druid of the wood,

    Armed for the sacrifice of blood;

    He was no poet, vague and vain,

    Chanting to chiefs a fulsome strain;

    His reverent years and thoughtful face

    Gave to his form the Patriarch’s grace;

    His sacred song declared that he

    Shared in no gross idolatry!

    “Where dwells your God?” the sisters said;

    “Where is his couch at evening spread?

    Sinks he with Crom into the sea,

    And rises from his bath as we

    Have done? Is it his voice we hear

    Thundering above the buried year?

    Or doth your God in spirit dwell

    Deep in the crystal living well?

    Or are the winds the steeds which bear

    His unseen chariot everywhere?”

    The Saint replied, “O nobly born!

    Haply encountered here this morn;

    You ask the only truth to know

    That Adam’s children need below;

    Your quest is God, like them of old

    Who found the gravestone backward rolled

    From where they left the Saviour cold.”

    Mildly to tell, the holy man

    The story of our faith began,—

    Of Eve, of Christ, of Calvary,

    The baleful and the healing tree;

    Of God’s omnipotence and love,

    Of sons of earth now saints above;

    Of Peter and the Twelve, of Paul,

    And of his own predestined call.

    “Not on the sea, not on the shore,

    In solemn woods or tempest roar,

    Dwelleth the God that we adore.

    No! wheresoe’er his cross is raised,

    And wheresoe’er his name is praised;

    The pure life is his present sign,

    The holy heart his favorite shrine;

    The old, the poor, the sorrowful,

    To them he is most bountiful;

    Palace or hovel, land or sea,

    God with his servants still will be!”


    Leogaire, the last of our pagan kings,

    In terror from his slumber springs,

    For he had dreamt his daughters fair

    Pillars of fire on Tara were,

    And that the burning light thence streaming

    Melted the idols in his dreaming,—

    And the dream of Leogaire, our annals say,

    Was fulfilled in the land in an after day.