I Take Myself for His Better

Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh by William Segar, 1598; National Gallery of Ireland.
Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh by William Segar, 1598; National Gallery of Ireland.

CUSSEN GEORGE,—for my retrait from the court, it was uppon good cause to take order for my prize; if in Irlande they thinke yt I am not worth the respectinge, they shall much deceve them sealvs. I am in place to be beleved not inferior to any man to pleasure or displeasure the greatest, and my oppinion is so receved and beleved as I can anger the best of them; and, therefore, if the deputy be not as reddy to stead mee as I have bynn to defend hyme, be it as it may; when Sr William fittz Williams shalbe in ingland, I take my sealfe furr his better by the honourable offices I hold, as also by that nereness to her Maiestye wch still I inioy and never more. I am willinge to contineu towards hyme all frendly offices, and I doubt not of the like from hyme, as well towards mee as my frinds; this mich I desere he should vnderstand, and for my pt there shalbe nothinge wantinge yt becometh a frinde; nether can I but hold my sealf most kindly dealt withall by hym heatherto, of wch I desere the continuance. I have deserved all his curteses in the hiest degree. For the sutes of Lesmore, I will shortly send over order from the Queen for a dismis of their cavelacions; and so I pray deale as the matter may be respeted for a tyme, and commd mee to Mr Sollicitor, wth many thancks for his frindly deling therin, and I assure you on myne honor I have deserved it att his hande in place wher it may most steed hyme: for hardinge, I will send vnto you mony by exchange wth all possible spead, az well to pay hyme (if he suffer the recoverye) as all others; and till then I pray if my builders want, supply them. I look for you here this springe, and if possible I may I return [sic] wth you. The Queen thinkes yt George Carew longes to see her; and therefore see her for once, noble George, my frinde and kinsman, from whom nor tyme nor fortune nor adversety shall ever sever mee.

W. Raleagh.

the xxviij (?) of Decembr.

(Superscribed)—
To my lovinge Cussen, Sr
George Carew, Mr of
the Ordinance in Irland.

(Indorsed)
Raleghe, the 28th
of December, 1589.

— Lambeth MS. No. 605, p. 140.

Towards Alba of the Ravens

Drawing from H. D. M. Spence-Jones' The Church of England, A History for the People, London, c. 1897.
Drawing from H. D. M. Spence-Jones’ The Church of England, A History for the People, London, c. 1897.

This is a poem of Columkille’s, or at least ascribed to him. It is in very irregular metre, or rather changes its metre several times. The literal translation of the first few verses is as follows:–

Delightful to be on Ben Edar (the Hill of Howth) before going over the sea, white, white; the dashing of the wave against its face, the bareness of its shore and its border.

Delightful to be on Ben Edar after coming over the white-bosomed sea, to be rowing one’s little coracle, ochone! on the swift-waved shore.

How rapid the speed of my coracle, and its back turned to Derry! It is misery to me, my errand over the high-sea, travelling towards Alba of the ravens.

My foot in my musical little coracle, my heart pitiable, sorrowful. Weak is the man that cannot lead. Blind totally is every ignorant one.

There is a grey eye that looks back upon Erin, but it shall not see during life the men of Erin nor her women.

My sight over the brine I stretch, from the planking of stout oak. Large is the tear of my soft grey eye, when I look back towards Erin, etc.

Part of this poem may very well be Columkille’s own, but part is as evidently not his. The end of it was probably written by one of the monks of Derry, whose monastery, in after times, almost equalled in fame that of Iona itself.

The verse about the soft grey eye is found in the Leabhar na h’Uidhre in the preface to the Amra of Columkille which shows its antiquity.

Moleesha was the Saint who imposed it as a penalty upon Columkille that he should go into exile and there convert as many souls as there were men slain in the battle of Cooldrevna [Cúl Dreimhne] fought on his account.

Columcille Sang.
(From the Irish.)

Delightful it is on Ben-Édar to rest
Before going over the white, white sea;
The dash of the wave as it launches its crest
On the wind-beaten shore is delight to me.

Delightful it is on Ben-Édar to rest
When safely come over the white sea foam;
The coracle cleaving her way to the West
Through the sport of the waves as she beats for home.

Too swiftly my coracle flies on her way,
From Derry I mournfully turned her prow;
I grieve at the errand which sends me to-day
To the land of the ravens, to Alba, now.

In my good little coracle, tuneful and light,
I have planted my foot, but my heart is sore,
For blind are the ignorant, blind as the night,
And weak is the man who shall lead no more.

How swiftly we travel, there is a grey eye
Looks back upon Erin, but it no more
Shall see, while the stars shall endure in the sky,
Her women, her men, or her stainless shore.

From the plank of the oak where in sorrow I lie
I am straining my sight through the water and wind;
And large is the tear from the soft grey eye
Looking back on the land that it leaves behind.

To Erin alone is my memory given,
To Meath and to Munster my wild thoughts flow,
To the shores of Moy-linny, the plains of Loch Levin,
And the beautiful land the Ultonians know.

In the East there is many a warrior tall,
But many a sickness and plague and care,
And many a heart that is hardened to all,
With scantness of raiment and food, to bear

But ah! in the West how the apple is fair,
How many a tanist, how many a king,
How many a sloe does the thorn-tree bear,
In the acorned oaks how the young birds sing!

Melodious her clerics, melodious her birds,
Her children are gentle, her seniors wise;
Her men are illustrious, truthful in words,
Her women have virtues for love to prize.

And Brendan the truthful is there in the West,
And Colom, descendant of Crivhan is he;
And there in the West shall be Baithin the blest,
And there in the West shall Adamnan be.

Go carry my words to the men that I name,
Unto Comgall the priest of eternal life,
And carry my thoughts upon wings of flame
To the king of Emania the bold in strife.

I give thee my blessing to carry from here,
Take this benediction over the sea,
One seven-fold half upon Erin the dear,
One half upon Alba the same to be.

To the nobles that gem the bright Isle of the Gael
Carry this benediction over the sea;
And bid them not credit Moleesha’s tale,
And bid them not credit his words of me.

Were it not for the word of Moleesha’s mouth,
At the cross of Ahamlish that sorrowful day,
I now should be warding from north and from south,
Disease and distemper from Erin away.

Oh, carry my blessing away to the West,
For my heart in my bosom is broken, I fail;
Should death of a sudden now pierce my breast,
I should die of the love that I bear the Gael.

The Gael, oh! the Gael, how the sound of that name
When I speak it can banish my ruth and my rue;
Belovèd is Cuimin of fair-haired fame,
Beloved are Cainneach and Comgall too.

And, oh! were the tributes of Alba mine,
From shore unto centre, from centre to sea,
The site of one house, to be marked by a line,
In the midst of fair Derry were dearer to me.

That spot is the dearest on Erin’s ground,
For the treasures that peace and that purity lend;
For the hosts of bright angels that circle it round,
Protecting its borders from end to end.

That spot is the dearest on Erin’s ground,
For its peace and its beauty I gave it my love;
Each leaf of the oaks around Derry is found
To be crowded with angels from heaven above.

My Derry, my Derry, my little oak grove,
My dwelling, my home, and my own little cell;
May God the Eternal, in heaven above,
Send woe to thy foes and defend thee well.

Belovèd are Durrow and Derry to me,
And Drumhome of the fruits of the rich ripe hue
Belovèd Raphoe in its purity,
And Surd and Cenannas, I love them too.

And dear to my heart in the western land,
Is the thought of Loch Foyle where the cool waves pour,
And the Bay of Drumcliff on Cúlcinné’s strand,
Delightful the form of its sloping shore.

Delightful it is, and the salt salt main,
Where the sea-birds scream o’er the water blue,
On my coming from Derry afar in pain,
How quiet it is, and delightful too.

— Douglas Hyde (ed.), The Three Sorrows of Storytelling and Ballads of St. Columkille, London, 1895.

St. Senán and the Péist of Inis Cathaigh

Inis Cathaigh (Scattery Island), in the Shannon Estuary, off the coast of Kilrush, County Clare, Ireland.
Inis Cathaigh (Scattery Island), in the Shannon Estuary, off the coast of Kilrush, County Clare, Ireland.

Then came Raphael the Archangel to commune with Senán, and he said: “Come with me, and I will shew thee the place in which thy resurrection will take place; for unto God it seems time for thee to reach it.” Then Senán and the angel went till they were on Mullach Feis. Then said the angel to him: “Behold the island there. Thy resurrection shall be therein, and the resurrection of a great host of saints along with thee. In the west of the world there is no more sacred island. No outrage to God hath ever been committed there. God sent an awful monster to keep it, so that neither sinners nor sons of cursing should dwell therein, but that it should remain in holiness awaiting thee. Yonder monster shall be put forth from the island before thee, so that dwelling along with it may not annoy thy community. For unto God it seemeth time for thee to go and build a church in that island. Noble and venerable will that church be. It will be a head of devotion and a well of wisdom of the west of the world. It will be a protection of prayer to foreigners and to Gael.” Said Senán to the angel: “What seems timely to God seems timely to me; for this is what I seek continually, that which is the will of God.” With that the angels lift him up along with the flagstone on which he was sitting, from Mullach Fessi, and set him down on a high hill in the middle of the island; and thence is Ard na n-Aingel (the Angels’ Height), and Lec na n-Aingel (the Angels’ Flagstone) in Inis Cathaigh. They sing praise to God in that spot, even Senán and the angels, and then they went to seek the monster, to the place in which it abode.

Teampall Naomh Mhuire (Cathedral of St. Mary)  and Round Tower, Inis Cathaigh.
Teampall Naomh Mhuire (Cathedral of St. Mary) and Round Tower, Inis Cathaigh.

When the monster heard them, it shook its head, and its hair stood up upon it, and its rough bristles; and it looked at them, hatingly and wrathfully. Not gentle, friendly, mild, was the look that it bestowed upon them, for it marvelled that any one else should come to visit it in its island. So it went to them strongly and swiftly, insomuch that the earth trembled under its feet. Hideous, uncouth, ruthless, awful, was the beast that arose there. Longer was its body than Inis na h-Urclaide. A horse’s mane had it; an eye gleaming flaming in its head, and it keen, savage, froward, angry, edged, crimson, bloody, cruel, bounding. Any one would think that its eye would go through him when it looked upon him. Two very hideous, very thick feet under it; behind it a mane. Nails of iron on it which used to strike showers of fire out of the rocks of stone wherever it went across them. A fiery breath it had which burnt like embers. A belly it had like the bellows of a furnace. A whale’s tail upon it behind. Iron, rending (?) claws upon it, which used to lay bare the surface of the ground on the path they came behind the monster. Equally did it traverse sea and land when it so desired. Then the sea boiled from the greatness of its heat and from its virulence when it entered it. No boats could catch it: neither from that day to this has any one escaped from it who could tell tidings of it.

Now, when the monster came savagely to the place where Senán was biding, it opened its maw so that, as it drew nigh the cleric, its entrails were clearly seen over the maw. Thereat Senán lifted up his hand and made the sign of Christ’s Cross in its face. Then the monster was silent, and this is what Senán spake to it:

“I say unto thee,” saith he, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, leave this island and hurt no one in the district over which thou wilt go, nor in the district unto which thou wilt come.” The monster went at once at Senán’s word out of the island till it reached Dubloch of Sliab Collain. And it did no hurt to any one, till it came there, nor after arriving; for it durst not oppose Senán’s word.

Now after that Senán and the angels went righthandwise round the island till they came again to the Height of the Angels, after they had consecrated the island. Senán said to the angel: “Savage is the sea that there is around the island: there seemeth a troubled people therein.” “Though it be savage,” saith the angel, “whatever monk with humbleness of heart shall go from thee . . . . he will not be drowned until he shall come back to thee again. God hath granted to thee,” saith the angel, “that he over whom the mould of this island shall go, shall not be after Judgment an inhabitant of hell.”

Then the angel uttered this stave:

A sea high, stormy, past its side,
. . . not a royal element:
No penance but death shall he taste,
He over whom its mould goeth.

Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore, trans. Whitley Stokes (1890).