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Poem by Robert Dwyer Joyce


The Burning of Kilcoleman



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 bitterns 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 Houras craggy steep.

And Houras 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 pipes wild strain
  By Bregoges caverned shore!

O, sweet at hush of even
  The trumpets 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 Poets 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 Corrins crest of stone,
A sheet of fire like an Indian pyre
  Up to the clouds was thrown.

Then, with a mighty blazing,
  They answeredto 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 Poets 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 oer hill and hollow,
  Up many a rocky bar,
From ancient Kilnamulla
  To Darras 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 Houras 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!



Robert Dwyer Joyce

Poem Theme: Castles

Robert Dwyer Joyce's other poems:
  1. Sweet Glengariffs Water
  2. The Siege of Limerick
  3. O, Fair Shines the Sun on Glenara
  4. Sweet Imokilly
  5. The Oaks of Gleneigh


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