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


The Gobhan Saer

By Thomas D’Arcy McGee (1825–1868)

  • In Petrie’s “Round Towers” there is a short account of the “Gobhan Saer,” their builder. He is there supposed to have lived in the first Christian age of Ireland,—the sixth century; but his birth, life, and death are involved in great obscurity and many legends. He is, perhaps, after Finn and St. Patrick, the most popular personage in the ancient period of Irish history.

  • HE stept a man out of the ways of men,

    And no one knew his sept or rank or name,—

    Like a strong stream far issuing from a glen,

    From some source unexplored, the Master came;

    Gossips there were, who, wondrous keen of ken,

    Surmised that he should be a child of shame;

    Others declared him of the Druids; then

    Through Patrick’s labors fallen from power and fame.

    He lived apart, wrapt up in many plans;

    He wooed not women, tasted not of wine;

    He shunned the sports and councils of the clans,

    Nor ever knelt at a frequented shrine.

    His orisons were old poetic ranns,

    Which the new Ollaves deemed an evil sign;

    To most he seemed one of those pagan Khans,

    Whose mystic vigor knows no cold decline.

    He was the builder of the wondrous Towers,

    Which, tall and straight and exquisitely round,

    Rise monumental round the isle once ours;

    Index-like, marking spots of holy ground,

    In gloaming glens, in leafy lowland bowers,

    On rivers’ banks, these Cloiteachs old abound;

    Where Art, enraptured, meditates long hours,

    And Science flutters like a bird spell-bound!

    Lo! wheresoe’er these pillar-towers aspire,

    Heroes and holy men repose below,—

    The bones of some gleaned from the pagan pyre,

    Others in armor lie, as for a foe:

    It was the mighty Master’s life-desire

    To chronicle his great ancestors so;

    What holier duty, what achievement higher,

    Remains to us, than this he thus doth show?

    Yet he, the builder, died an unknown death:

    His labor done, no man beheld him more;

    ’T was thought his body faded like a breath,

    Or, like a sea-mist, floated off Life’s shore.

    Doubt overhangs his fate and faith and birth;

    His works alone attest his life and lore,—

    They are the only witnesses he hath,

    All else Egyptian darkness covers o’er.

    Men called him Gobhan Saer, and many a tale

    Yet lingers in the byways of the land,

    Of how he cleft the rock, and down the vale

    Led the bright river, childlike, in his hand;

    Of how on giant ships he spread great sail,

    And many marvels else by him first planned:

    But though these legends fade, in Innisfail

    His name and towers for centuries shall stand.