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The Lament of John MacWalter Walsh
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Lament for John MacWalter Walsh

A particular poetic genre which survived well into the nineteenth century in Ireland was the 'caoineadh', which was composed and recited mainly by women in the native Irish tongue. The Irish historian Carrigan mentions several of these in his books about the history of the Diocese of Ossory. Carrigan supplies us with an English translation of one of these written in the aftermath of the Cromwell invasion in the middle seventeeth century. First published in the Journal of the Ossory Society, the following is a version of the caoine, or lament, of Walter the Eizha Bernock , one of the Walshs of the Mountains as this family came to be known. In native Irish, Eizha Bernock, is Oidhre Breathnach; the term Oidhre signifying 'heir' and the name Breathnach being one of the early Gaelic forms of the surname Walsh. It was written by either John MacWalter Walsh, Bard of the Mountain, or by one of Johns' daughters.

The event alluded to in this lament refers to the Cromwell invasion of Ireland, the subsequent confiscation of lands beginning 1653, and the ascendancy of the New English Protestants. The confiscations in County Kilkenny accounted for 18,000 acres of Walsh property, of which 14,000 were the appurtence of Walsh, "Baron of Shancahir in le Walsh Mountayne," now known as the Walsh Mountains. Another 1,500 acres in Kilkenny and 12,000 in Waterford were the property of Walsh of Piltown (Waterford), "who died in actual rebellion," or, as he thought, fighting for his rights, his religion and his home. Castle Hale, the seat of the Lords of the Mountain, and Piltown, chief seat of the other family, have disappeared even from the map. Another Waterford family, called "Walsh of the Island," prosperous merchants for centuries in Waterford city, also lost, besides their business as merchants, about 3,000 acres of land, of which 1,200 were at their country seat at Ballygunner. Still another family had large possessions in eastern Cork, near Youghal, and others in eastern Kerry. Other thousands of acres changed hands in Dublin, Wicklow, Kildare, Wexford and, though less is known about it, in western Cork and Tipperary.

The Caoine of Walter the Oidhre Breathnach
(translated from the Irish language)

Assemble round, O, dear children of my soul, ours is a sad tale of woe, and with sorrow shall be recounted; the harvest of death lies in sward, but no ripening sun shall perfect it. The wonted champion of your cause lies low, who pleaded your just rights in the legal court, the man of gentle manners who indulged you in excursions of pleasure, nor assigned to you the wench's drudging labours, nor yet the decent matron's household care, but calm and unruffled, in a life of easy affluence, your task was to braid your flowing hair, to form the famed locks, ornamented with silver and pearl. Ah me, he will forsake you ever more. The Walshs of the Mountain shall be wide dispersed and their power dissolved forever.

Whoever might again behold thee, as I one day have seen thee, in the pride of thy strength, and fair as the white blossom of spring; on thy front sat grace and each attraction of love, well adapted was thy tongue to the sweet powers of eloquence. Seven distinct languages did thy memory retain. In Irish thou didst far excel, and in the language of Britain; as thy mother tongue to thee flowed Greek and Latin; with ease thou didst comprehend the languages of Spain and Gaul, and thy perfection in Italian was unquestioned. Yet vain, alas! the use, and vain the pride of these splendid gifts, evermore are they vanished, and vanished with them art thou. The Walshs of the Mountain shall be wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.

Graceful wouldst thou appear cased in a coat of mail, or beneath the ponderous helmet; ponderous not with brass or copper, but with gold, bright flaming amidst radiant silver, or with thine hat of beaver fur, and formed with Hispanian art, or with thy smoothly pliant boots, devoid of rift, and spurs of gold, with ornaments replete; or when thou would lay prostrate thy dread foes in greaves of silver armed, or in thy sinewy grasp when thou wouldst take thy golden hilted rapier of dreadful length, and formed with the nicest art. Ah, my sad sorrow, weak and nerveless is thy arm now, that arm which made thee victorious in every contest. The Walshs of the Mountain shall be wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.

Lonely now is my state, and truly forlorn as one solitary fish left by the ebbing tide, or one lonely pale of a broken fence, or an only tree in a desert vale, whose vernal bloom hath faded, and whose branches are withered on high, or a sheep newly shorn of its sheltering wool. The children of my mother are no more, except Edmund and Mary. I say it, nor hesitate to affirm it, without reproach to those who remain, they had been the flower of the whole progeny. Ah, woe eternal this day, they exist not for me. Had they lived, I should hope the Walshs of the Mountain would not be wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.

Small wonder it were that I should affect to dwell like the daw on the lofty tree, or like the eagle on the lofty summit of the tall mountains, or devoid of sober reason wander along each trackless way, or plunge with active bound into the whelming depth of ocean, since now I am bereft of the pride of my dear kindred. As tall oaks they grew, that spread wide their branches around, or a wide extended wood with all its stately boughs; but withered now at top is each remaining tree, or prostrate by the tempest from ocean, save a few tender saplings unprotected from the threatened storm, while the fierce foe hovers round. Ah, woe is me. My kindred are gone forever more. The Walshs of the Mountain shall be wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.

Where now is Philip, who came over the great depth of ocean, the strenuous chief who shrank not from the battle's rage, who slew the fierce Dane in the mighty conflict, the proud and haughty Gilbert from Berba's rugged coast, the son of a mighty chieftain whose fleets invaded the land of Erin, who slaughtered the race of Milesius, and spread his cruel bondage over the land, till Philip sunk in ocean the stern pride of the chief; but alas! long hath the swift hero slept in death; had he lived the sad event should not have been. The Walshs of the Mountain should not be wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.

Where is the dear relative of FitzStephen , whose compact and pleasant mansion rose in Castleheil, where the daughter of Raymonds o'er the ocean partook each joy and comfort. Long hath the great and good man been laid low, while the revengeful foe harass his devoted race. Had he lived the sad event could not have been. The Walshs of the Mountain could not be wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.

Where is Giffin, renowned for deeds of prowess, the son-in-law of O'Donnell of Ballyshannon, the good and gentle man of conciliating manners, the chief who copiously dealt around his wines, whose vast flocks were tended by a hundred herdsmen, and who parcelled out districts and whole regions to his relatives. Had he lived the sad event could not have been. The Walshs of the Mountain could not be wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.

Where is the youthful Walter of deeds benign, whose castle beside the mountain rose in stately pride, with whom the sacred Nuncio was once an honored guest; nor deemed he the mansion to be the abode of mortal race, such rare domestic order appeared around. The beer flowed from the capacious vat, and the labouring pump poured forth its gushing waters while alternately each hand cast forth the golden dice. His fame widespread around the land of Erin, widely it extended over the distant regions of the earth. Not louder the sounding echo of the mountain summit than the gushing of his wines to regale the sons of Erin. Each imagined he enjoyed an immortal banquet, so profusely they quaffed exquisite wines; but ah, my sad grief, he hath forsaken us evermore. The Walshs of the Mountain shall be wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.

Where is Robert? where is James? or the good and gentle Walter of Currohill? or the Knight, swift, valiant and mighty, who overthrew in the conflict his foreign foes? Sadly hath each succession of these passed away; they are past, and Edmund, O my grief, is no more; had they lived the sad event could not have been. The Walshs of the Mountain would not be wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.

Where are thou O Philip? thou rightful heir of Knockmoylan; the heir wert thou of the sportful hounds; oft hath thy course been through the wood of Minawn, and oft didst thou urge urge hounds to chase through the wood of Cunawn, and oft was thine excursion of pleasure to the banks of Lingawn -- ah, my sad grief and woeful affliction, the roebuck will frequent the banks of Lingawn, peaceful will he graze the flowery plain, no heir on his swift steed will mar his repose. They alas! are lowly laid in death; beneath a monumental weight they rest, and hopeless their return from Kilbeacon; had they lived the sad event should not have been. The Walshs of the Mountain should not be wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.

Whither art thou fled O Chief of the people? Farewell to thee O Sarsfield, thy forces are disbanded, and thou art gone to the kingdom of France, thy sad tale thou dost relate to the princess -- that thou hast left Erin in affliction, and her children overwhelmed with woe; couldst thou return again with life, the sad event would ne'er have been. The Walshs of the Mountain should not be wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.

Vainly do I now recount my dear relatives, they are wide dispersed and their progeny a wandering race, the Burkes from the borders of Suir to Bawnrock, the posterity of the Earl from the western Awly, the race of Carroll and O'Connor Faley, and the descendants of the Earl O'Brien of Blarney, the youthful John of Clogher, famed for his unrivalled steeds, Edmond, son of Peter, of Slievarda, the Butlers, esteemed by their foes of prowess, the posterity of Power beneficent and mighty, the great Cantwell famed for his splendid mansion; ah, my sad misfortune, they lie beneath the monumental marble; had they lived the sad event would not have been. The Walshs of the Mountain would not be wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.

No word I should have to wail my dear relations; the nobles of Erin are wide dispersed around, the Chiefs of generous soul have forsaken us since the cruel visitation of Cromwell, and that monarch stern and ungentle to the race of Erin. The Earl of Tyrone and his relatives dwell in Ulster's princely dome, but overwhelmed with grief and sorrow. Tyrconnell laments with unceasing plaint the fate of O'Donnell -- O'Donnell of the sharp and weighty sword.

Corkalee wails without respite her chieftains slain in the fierce conflict, O'Driscoll, O'Flinn, O'Leary, O'Hay, O'Deady, and the race of Kerwick. O'Donovan no longer resides in Carbury Eva, nor the children of Collins possessors of splendid castles. The O'Ruarkes, alas! are fled from Brefny, nor dwell, O my sorrow, the M'Mahons in Thomond. Where now are the generous sons of O'Connor, or the race of O'Mahony, of Kinealeya. The children of O'Daly will be extirpated from Corkard, and the O'Murphys from the hospitable district of Felim. The O'Brennans shall be dispossessed of Corka Eclan, and the McBarnells from the borders of Leitrim. The genuine race of O'Kealy shall be banished from Conmaena, and O'Fallon from the district of Biada, the O'Coghlans from Delvny Ethra. The M'Wards and the race of Daheda shall experience a sad exile from their territories of Ulster. The Roches and Keeffes from the pleasant Fermoy, and the O'Lonergans evermore from Rehill.

Never will O'Connor Kenaught return again, or the race of Macgennis, from the centre of Iveagh, or the irreproachable Connell, of Farmock, the Burkes, of Galway, stenuous to contend with their foes; nor McCarthy, O my sad grief, the princely chief of Munster. Sorrow's black mist envelopes the land of Erin, sadness dwells in each vale, and grief ascends her mountain summits. No more her generous and cheerful sons collect the welcome guests around; the joys of the feast and wine are forgot. Prostrate in ruins lie their shattered towns, and weak and dejected their guardian bands from the town of Atheliath to the western Beara. Each widowed matron wails the sad fall of her spouse, the youthful virgin pours forth incessant tears, while sighs and deep groans rend the bosoms of the weak and aged. Erin's cruel thraldom is wrought by a foreign foe, and the princely race of Heba fly o'er the Shannon for protection. Yet, oh! the grief were less though Heba's royal race should have failed. But the Walshs of the Mountain are wide dispersed and their power dissolved away.

Poems of Egan O'Rahilly

In the State Papers of the sixteenth century the clans are frequently spoken of as `nations.' Even as late as the eighteenth century a Gaelic poet, in a typical lament, thus identifies his country with the fortunes of her great families:---

The O�Doherty is not holding sway, nor his noble race;
The O�Moores are not strong, that once were brave--
O�Flaherty is not in power, nor his kinsfolk;
And sooth to say, the O�Briens have long since become English.

Of O�Rourke there is no mention--my sharp wounding!
Nor yet of O�Donnell in Erin;
The Geraldines they are without vigour--without a nod,
And the Burkes, the Barrys the Walshes of the slender ships.

O'Rahilly's charge against Cromwell is that he `gave plenty to the man with the flail,' but beggared the great lords,...

The preceding article was compiled by Dennis J. Walsh, � 2009

Further Reference:
Confiscations of 1653
Possible Pedigrees - of the early Walshs in Ireland

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The Lament for John MacWalter Walsh, son of Walter, Lord of the Walsh Mountains

Monday, 24-Aug-2009 20:27:09 MDT