Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Ireland
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Ireland: Vol. V.  1876–79.
Clare, the Island
Grace O’Maly
Sir Samuel Ferguson (1810–1886)
          Grace O’Maly, lady of Sir Richard Burke, styled Mac William Eighter, distinguished herself by a life of wayward adventure which has made her name, in its Gaelic form, Grana Uaile, a personification among the Irish peasantry, of that social state which they still consider preferable to the results of a more advanced civilization. The real acts and character of the heroine are hardly seen through the veil of imagination under which the personified idea exists in the popular mind, and is here presented.

SHE left the close-aired land of trees
  And proud Mac William’s palace,
For clear, bare Clare’s health-salted breeze,
  Her oarsmen and her galleys;
And where beside the bending strand        5
  The rock and billow wrestle,
Between the deep sea and the land
  She built her Island Castle.
The Spanish captains, sailing by
  For Newport, with amazement        10
Beheld the cannoned longship lie
  Moored to the lady’s casement;
And, covering coin and cup of gold
  In haste their hatches under,
They whispered, “’T is a pirate’s hold;        15
  She sails the seas for plunder!”
But no: ’t was not for sordid spoil
  Of barque or sea-board borough
She ploughed, with unfatiguing toil,
  The fluent-rolling furrow;        20
Delighting, on the broad-backed deep,
  To feel the quivering galley
Strain up the opposing hill, and sweep
  Down the withdrawing valley;
Or, sped before a driving blast,        25
  By following seas uplifted,
Catch, from the huge heaps heaving past,
  And from the spray they drifted,
And from the winds that tossed the crest
  Of each wide-shouldering giant,        30
The smack of freedom and the zest
  Of rapturous life defiant.
For, O, the mainland time was pent
  In close constraint and striving,—
So many aims together bent        35
  On winning and on thriving,
There was no room for generous ease,
  No sympathy for candor,—
And so she left Burke’s buzzing trees,
  And all his stony splendor.        40
For Erin yet had fields to spare,
  Where Clew her cincture gathers
Isle-gemmed; and kindly clans were there,
  The fosterers of her fathers:
Room there for careless feet to roam        45
  Secure from minions’ peeping,
For fearless mirth to find a home
  And sympathetic weeping.
*        *        *        *        *
And music sure was sweeter far
  For ears of native nurture,        50
Than virginals at Castlebar
  To tinkling touch of courtier,
When harpers good in hall struck up
  The planxty’s gay commotion,
Or pipers screamed from pennoned poop        55
  Their pibroch over ocean.
*        *        *        *        *
Sweet, when the crimson sunsets glowed,
  As earth and sky grew grander,
Adown the grassed, unechoing road
  Atlantic-ward to wander,        60
Some kinsman’s humbler hearth to seek,
  Some sick-bed side, it may be,
Or onward reach, with footsteps meek,
  The low, gray, lonely abbey:
And where the storied stone beneath        65
  The guise of plant and creature
Had fused the harder lines of faith
  In easy forms of nature,—
Such forms as tell the master’s pains
  ’Mong Roslin’s carven glories,        70
Or hint the faith of Pictish Thanes
  On standing stones of Forres;
The Branch; the weird cherubic Beasts;
  The Hart by hounds o’ertaken;
Or, intimating mystic feasts,        75
  The self-resorbent Dragon,—
Mute symbols, though with power endowed
  For finer dogmas’ teaching,
Than clerk might tell to carnal crowd
  In homily or preaching,—        80
Sit; and while heaven’s refulgent show
  Grew airier and more tender,
And ocean’s gleaming floor below
  Reflected loftier splendor,
Suffused with light of lingering faith        85
  And ritual light’s reflection,
Discourse of birth and life and death,
  And of the resurrection.
But chiefly sweet from morn to eve,
  From eve to clear-eyed morning,        90
The presence of the felt reprieve
  From strangers’ note and scorning;
No prying, proud, intrusive foes
  To pity and offend her;—
Such was the life the lady chose;        95
  Such choosing, we commend her.

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