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


The Monks of Kilcrea

By Anonymous

  • Kilcrea Abbey, county Cork, was dedicated to St. Bridget, and founded A.D. 1494, by Cormac, Lord of Muskerry; its monks belonged to the Franciscan Order, commonly called “Gray Friars.” In the present day its ruins are extensive, and though considerably mutilated by Cromwell, who stabled a troop of horse in its refectory, are still both picturesque and interesting.—Irish Annals.

  • FYTTE I.
    THREE monks sat by a bogwood fire;

    Bare were their crowns, and their garments gray.

    Close sat they to that bogwood fire,

    Watching the wicket till break of day;

    Such was ever the rule at Kilcrea.

    For whoever past, be he Baron or Squire,

    Was free to call at that abbey, and stay,

    Nor guerdon or hire for his lodging pay,

    Though he tarried a week with its holy choir!

    Three monks sat by a bogwood fire;

    Dark looked the night from the window-pane.

    They who sat by that bogwood fire

    Were Eustace, Alleyn, and Thade by name;

    And long they gazed at the cheerful flame,

    Till each from his neighbor began to inquire

    The tale of his life, before he came

    To Saint Brigid’s shrine, and the cowl had ta’en;

    So they piled on more wood, and drew their seats nigher.

    Three monks sat by a bogwood fire,

    Loud wailed the wind through cloister and nave,

    And with mournful air, by that bogwood fire,

    The first who spake it was Eustace grave,

    And told he had been a gallant brave,

    In his youth, till a comrade he slew in ire,

    And then forswore bastnet and glaive,

    And, leaving his home, had crost the wave,

    And taken the cross and cowl at Saint Finbar’s Spire.

    Three monks sat by a bogwood fire,

    Swift through the glen rushed the river Lee,

    And Alleyn next by that bogwood fire

    Told his tale: a woful man was he;

    Alas! he had loved unlawfully

    The wife of his brother, Sir Hugh Maguire,

    And he fled to the cloister to free

    His soul from sin; and ’t was sad to see

    How much sorrow had wasted the youthful friar.

    Three monks sat by a bogwood fire,

    And red its light on the rafters shone,

    The last who spake by that bogwood fire

    Was Thade, of the three the only one

    Whom care or grief had not lit upon;

    But rosy and round, through city and shire,

    His mate for innocent glee was none,

    And soon he told how, a peasant’s son,

    He was reared for the Church by their former Prior.

    Three monks sat by a bogwood fire,

    The moon looked o’er all with clouded ray,

    And there they sat by that bogwood fire

    Watching the wicket till break of day;

    And many that night did call and stay,

    Whose names, if, gentles, ye do not tire,

    In his next strain shall the Bard essay,

    For here ends the first fytte of the monks of Kilcrea.

    The bell of the abbey had numbered ten,

    O’er tower and roof rolled its sullen chime;

    Yet still by the fire sat those holy men,

    Keeping their vigil until morning’s prime;

    And much did they marvel that ere that time

    No traveller called, as ’t was common then

    For pilgrims to flock to Saint Brigid’s shrine;

    So they placed on the board the pitchers of wine,

    Game from the mountain, and meat from the pen,

    And red trout that was caught close by in Dripsey Glen.

    On the table was flagon and pasty good,

    On the hearth clean-swept blazed a bogwood fire,

    Around were settles of the dark oak wood,

    And all that a weary guest could require.

    There was water in pans, to wash off the mire,

    Garment to don, and hose, and doeskin shoon;

    In never a hostel throughout the shire

    Could you purchase for gold or borrow for hire

    Such comforts, as freely for all, as boon,

    The monks of Kilcrea strewed around that cheerful room.

    There came a loud knock to the abbey gate,

    And a voice in the storm was heard outside,

    And Eustace arose from where sad he sate,

    Went to the wicket, and opened it wide,

    And crost the threshold, with a heavy stride,

    A Saxon stranger; he was sore destrait,

    And told how he lost both his way and guide,

    That his horse was drowned in fording the Bride,

    Then took off his cloak, a dripping weight,

    And looked like a man who for life had struggled late.

    Again came a knock to the abbey gate,

    While sad the wind moaned through bower and tree,

    And Alleyn arose and opened the gate,

    And entered the room a Rapparee.

    And haggard and pale and begrimed was he,

    As he leant on a spear in drooping state;

    His scanty garments scarcely reached his knee,

    Yet, though feeble and worn was his mien and gait,

    Still he glared on the Saxon with a look of hate.

    Again came a knock to the abbey gate,

    And a voice outside made a rueful din,

    And Thade uprose and opened the gate;

    And lo! he ushered a Gleeman in.

    Threadbare his cloak, he was wet to the skin;

    Yet the leer of his eye told a roguish mate,

    And he winked around with a cunning grin,

    As deep in the flagon he stuck his chin,

    And scarce would the loon for a blessing wait,

    When his kind host heaped the food on his plate.

    And there long they sat by that bogwood fire,

    The monks of Kilcrea and those travellers three,

    And each as they sat by that bogwood fire

    Told by turns their name and their history,—

    The Saxon, the Gleeman, the Rapparee,—

    And, gentles, once more, if ye do not tire,

    I ’ll sing to you each in their due degree,

    As of old a sennachie taught the lay to me.