(Translated from the original Irish of John O’Cullen, a native of Cork, who died in the year 1816.)
“Oidhche dhámh go doilg, dúbhach.”
I wandered forth at night alone
Along the dreary, shingly, billow-beaten shore ;
Sadness that night was in my bosom’s core,
My soul and strength lay prone.
The thin wan moon, half overveiled
By clouds, shed her funereal beams upon the scene ;
While in low tones, with many a pause between,
The mournful night-wind wailed.
Musing of Life, and Death, and Fate,
I slowly paced along, heedless of aught around,
Till on the hill, now, alas ! ruin-crowned,
Lo ! the old Abbey-gate !
Dim in the pallid moonlight stood,
Crumbling to slow decay, the remnant of that pile
Within which dwelt so many saints erewhile
In loving brotherhood !
The memory of the men who slept
Under those desolate walls— the solitude— the hour—
Mine own lorn mood of mind— all joined to o’erpower
My spirit— and I wept !
In yonder Goshen once— I thought—
Reigned Piety and Peace : Virtue and Truth were there ;
With Charity and the blessed spirit of Prayer
Was each fleet moment fraught !
There, unity of Work and Will
Blent hundreds into one : no jealousies or jars
Troubled their placid lives : their fortunate stars
Had triumphed o’er all Ill !
There, knolled each morn and even
The Bell for Matin and Vesper : Mass was said or sung.—
From the bright silver censer as it swung
Rose balsamy clouds to Heaven.
Through the round cloistered corridors
A many a midnight hour, bareheaded and unshod,
Walked the Grey Friars, beseeching from their God
Peace for these western shores !
The weary pilgrim bowed by Age
Oft found asylum there— found welcome, and found wine.
Oft rested in its halls the Paladine,
The Poet and the Sage !
Alas ! alas ! how dark the change !
Now round its mouldering walls, over its pillars low,
The grass grows rank, the yellow gowans blow,
Looking so sad and strange !
Unsightly stones choke up its wells ;
The owl hoots all night long under the altar-stairs ;
The fox and badger make their darksome lairs
In its deserted cells !
Tempest and Time— the drifting sands—
The lightnings and the rains— the seas that sweep around
These hills in winter-nights, have awfully crowned
The work of impious hands !
The sheltering, smooth-stoned massive wall—
The noble figured roof— the glossy marble piers—
The monumental shapes of elder years—
Where are they ? Vanished all !
Rite, incense, chant, prayer, mass, have ceased—
All, all have ceased ! Only the whitening bones half sunk
In the earth now tell that ever here dwelt monk,
Friar, acolyte, or priest.
Oh ! woe, that Wrong should triumph thus !
Woe that the olden right, the rule and the renown
Of the Pure-souled and Meek should thus go down
Before the Tyrannous !
Where wert thou, Justice, in that hour ?
Where was thy smiting sword ? What had those good men done,
That thou shouldst tamely see them trampled on
By brutal England’s Power ?
Alas ! I rave ! . . . If Change is here,
Is it not o’er the land ? Is it not too in me ?
Yes ! I am changed even more than what I see.
Now is my last goal near !
My worn limbs fail— my blood moves cold—
Dimness is on mine eyes— I have seen my children die ;
They lie where I too in brief space shall lie—
Under the grassy mould !
I turned away, as toward my grave,
And, all my dark way homeward by the Atlantic’s verge,
Resounded in mine ears like to a dirge
The roaring of the wave.
[J. C. Mangan, The Nation, 8 August 1846]
Teach Molaga (pronounced “t’yakh mol-ah-gheh”) : literally “House of Molaga” (now Anglicised as Timoleague) ; this was the Abbey of St. Molaga in Cork, a Franciscan Friary grand in scale and celebrated for hospitality, which once stood on the site of the ancient hermit’s cell by the seashore
Translated : the Gaelic poem, which dates from around 1800, bore the title Machtnamh an Duine Dhoilghíosaigh (“The Melancholy Mortal’s Reflections”) ; or, Caoineadh ar Mhainistir Thigh Molaige (“Lament Over the Monastery House of Molaga”)
the original Irish of John O’Cullen : this Munster poet lived from about 1754 to 1817 ; note that Seághan Ó Cuilleáin (or Seán Ó Coileáin), the Gaelic form of the name of this “Silver Tongue of Munster”, is sometimes instead rendered with the Anglicisation John Collins
Oidhche dhámh [dom] go doilg, dúbhach : “One night I was sad, dejected” – the opening line of O’Cullen’s Gaelic original that Mangan interpreted
yellow gowans : referring to the flower or weed known as the Yellow Ox-Eye, Corn Marigold, or Yellow-Bottle
brutal England’s power : an added blatancy, this, not found in O’Cullen’s original Gaelic poem ; ostensibly Mangan is indicating the despoliation of the abbey and expulsions therefrom carried out by the Puritans (Cromwell’s forces under Lord Forbes) in the year 1642 ; the phrase is historically applicable fore and aft, especially for oppressions under the Tudors and Hanovers ; and politically, spiritually and allegorically as applied to the poet’s vision
1846 : a Famine year in Ireland