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

Kilcoleman Castle

The Burning of Kilcoleman

By Robert Dwyer Joyce (1830–1883)

  • Kilcoleman Castle, an ancient and very picturesque ruin, once the residence of Spenser, lies on the shore of a small lake, about two miles to the west of Doneraile, in the county Cork. It belonged once to the Earls of Desmond, and was burned by their followers in 1598. Spenser, who was hated by the Irish in consequence of his stringent advices to the English about the management of the refractory chiefs and minstrels, narrowly escaped with his life, and an infant child of his, unfortunately left behind, was burnt to death in the flames.

  • NO sound of life was coming

    From glen or tree or brake,

    Save the bittern’s hollow booming

    Up from the reedy lake;

    The golden light of sunset

    Was swallowed in the deep,

    And the night came down with a sullen frown,

    On Houra’s craggy steep.

    And Houra’s hills are soundless:

    But hark, that trumpet blast!

    It fills the forest boundless,

    Rings round the summits vast;

    ’T is answered by another

    From the crest of Corrin Mór,

    And hark again the pipe’s wild strain

    By Bregoge’s caverned shore!

    O, sweet at hush of even

    The trumpet’s golden thrill,

    Grand ’neath the starry heaven

    The pibroch wild and shrill!

    Yet all were pale with terror,

    The fearful and the bold,

    Who heard its tone that twilight lone

    In the Poet’s frowning hold!

    Well might their hearts be beating;

    For up the mountain pass,

    By lake and river meeting,

    Came kern and galloglass,

    Breathing vengeance deadly,

    Under the forest tree,

    To the wizard man who cast the ban

    On the minstrels bold and free!

    They gave no word of warning,

    Round still they came, and on,

    Door, wall, and rampart scorning,—

    They knew not he was gone!

    Gone fast and far that even,

    All secret as the wind,

    His treasures all in that castle tall,

    And his infant son behind!

    All still that castle hoarest,—

    Their pipes and horns were still,

    While gazed they through the forest,

    Up glen and northern hill;

    Till from the Brehon circle,

    On Corrin’s crest of stone,

    A sheet of fire like an Indian pyre

    Up to the clouds was thrown.

    Then, with a mighty blazing,

    They answered—to the sky;

    It dazzled their own gazing,

    So bright it rolled and high;

    The castle of the Poet—

    The man of endless fame—

    Soon hid its head in a mantle red

    Of fierce and rushing flame.

    Out burst the vassals, praying

    For mercy as they sped,—

    “Where was their master staying,

    Where was the Poet fled?”

    But hark! that thrilling screaming,

    Over the crackling din,—

    ’T is the Poet’s child in its terror wild,

    The blazing tower within!

    There was a warlike giant

    Amid the listening throng,

    He looked with face defiant

    On the flames so wild and strong,

    Then rushed into the castle,

    And up the rocky stair,

    But alas! alas! he could not pass

    To the burning infant there!

    The wall was tottering under,

    And the flame was whirring round,

    The wall went down in thunder,

    And dashed him to the ground;

    Up in the burning chamber

    Forever died that scream,

    And the fire sprang out with a wilder shout

    And a fiercer, ghastlier gleam!

    It glared o’er hill and hollow,

    Up many a rocky bar,

    From ancient Kilnamulla

    To Darra’s Peak afar;

    Then it heaved into the darkness

    With a final roar amain,

    And sank in gloom with a whirring boom,

    And all was dark again!

    Away sped the galloglasses

    And kerns, all still again,

    Through Houra’s lonely passes,

    Wild, fierce, and reckless men.

    But such the Saxon made them,

    Poor sons of war and woe;

    So they venged their strife with flame and knife

    On his head long, long ago!