The reading below is by Patricia Coughlan, Professor Emerita, School of English, University College Cork, and the poem, which was first published in The Nation in 1846, follows beneath.
Lament over the Ruins of the Abbey of Teach Molaga*
(TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL IRISH OF JOHN O’CULLEN, A NATIVE OF CORK, WHO DIED IN THE YEAR 1816)
‘Oidche 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, kneeled each morn and even
The Bell for Matin—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 lightning 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.
[Clarence Mangan, Nation, 8 August 1846]
*Literally ‘The House of (St.) Molaga’, and now called Timoleague. Our readers will find its position on the Map of Munster.