Spenser's Irish Rivers (13)

Patrick Weston Joyce

The poet got the name Mulla much in the same way as he got "balefull Oure";[19] he borrowed it from Kilnemullah, which as he truly states was the old name of Buttevant. The river grows very wide, "spreading forth at large," at Buttevant, forming a kind of elongated lake; and he assumed that its own proper name was Mulla, and that it gave name to Kilnemullah—"it giveth name unto that auncient Cittie "[20]—it was enough for him that it looked plausible;—and having got the name Mulla, he used it ever after for the river, and loved it and multiplied it in every direction. Its first reproduction is in "Old Father Mole," the fanciful name of the range of hills already noticed, father of the nymph Mulla, who, following up, or rather reversing, the fiction, took her name from her grey old sire, as did also her sister nymph Molanna; and lastly, the name Armulla had a like origin, for Mulla "gave that name unto that pleasant vale."

[Mulla] lov'd and was beloved full faine

Of her owne brother river, Bregog hight,

So hight because of this deceitfull traine

Which he with Mulla wrought to win delight.

But her old sire more carefull of her good,

And meaning her much better to preferre,

Did thinke to match her with the neighbour flood,

Which Allo hight, Broadwater [the Blackwater] called faire.

And in fact the day was fixed for the marriage; but Bregog was determined to have Mulla for himself, and the nymph secretly favoured his advances. The old father, "sitting still on hie," kept a close watch on the lovers; but Bregog was too clever for him and circumvented him in the end. For the rest we must let Colin Clout tell the story in his own delightful way.

Her father, sitting still on hie,

Did warily still watch which way she went,

And eke from far observ'd with iealous eie

Which way his course the wanton Bregog bent;

Him to deceive, for all his watchfull ward,

Thy wily lover did devise this slight:

First into many parts his stream he shar'd

That, whilest the one was watcht the other might

Passe unespide to meete her by the way;

And then besides those little streames so broken

He under ground so closely did convay,

That of their passage doth appeare no token

Till they into the Mullaes water slide.

So secretly did he his love enioy:

Yet not so secret but it was descride,

And told her father by a shepheard's boy,

Who, wondrous wroth for that so foule despight,

In great revenge did roll down from his hill

Huge mighty stones the which encomber might

His passage, and his water courses spill.

So of a River which he was of old,

He none was made, but scattred all to nought;

And lost emong those rocks into him rold,

Did lose his name: so deare his love he bought.

The little river Bregoge is still well known by the same name. It rises in two deep glens on Corrinmore Hill, one of the Ballyhoura range, and flowing near Kilcolman Castle, it joins the Awbeg or Mulla at the town of Doneraile after a course of about five miles. This river is described by the poet in his fanciful sketch with great truthfulness. After leaving the hills it traverses the plain before its junction with the Awbeg; and for some distance after emerging from its mountain home its channel is often very wide, and filled with heaps of gravel and stones brought down by the floods, so that the stream, which is generally very small and often nearly dry, is much scattered and interrupted; and we may assume that it was still more so in Spenser's time, before the bed was shut in by cultivation. These are the stones rolled down by Old Father Mole in his "great revenge."

In the lower part of its course, the river traverses a limestone plain, winding along a lovely little glen among rich meadows interspersed with groves and shrubberies and grey limestone rocks, sometimes rising high up on either bank and sometimes just peeping out from among the foliage. Two or three times, from "Streamhill," where the two principal feeders meet, down to "Old Court"—a distance of about two miles—the river sinks out of sight and flows underground for a considerable distance through the caverns of the limestone rock under its bed, leaving its channel completely dry. It presents this appearance always except in wet weather or during a flood, when the underground caverns are not able to swallow all the water, and the stream then flows continuously.


[19] See p. 91.

[20] As if it were the kill or church of Mulla. But this is not correct, for the old name is Cill-na-mullach, ecclesia tumulorum, as O'Sullivan Beare translates it, "the church of the summits or hillocks." The present name Buttevant is believed to be derived from Boutez-en-avant, a French phrase, meaning "push forward," the motto of the Barrymore family.