Spenser's Irish Rivers (14)

Patrick Weston Joyce

With this peculiarity Spenser was thoroughly well acquainted, as he describes it with great correctness:

Those little streames so broken

He [Bregog] under ground so closely did convay,

That of their passage doth appeare no token

Till they into the Mullaes water slide.

The poet called this little river by its true name, which is not very musical, instead of inventing or borrowing one as he did in so many other cases; for it so happened that he was able to turn its signification to account—if indeed, as is probable, the name did not suggest the treatment—in working out his pretty pastoral, "Bregog," meaning, as he rightly interprets it, a false one or a deceiver.

So hight because of this deceitfull traine,

Which he with Mulla wrought to win delight.

It may not be amiss to say a word here regarding this name and its signification, though in doing so we shall have to descend from the airy world of fancy to the solid level ground of sober reality. Brég is an Irish word meaning a falsehood, and in various forms it is applied to rivers that are subject to sudden and dangerous floods or which flow through deep quagmires; signifying, in this application, deceitful or treacherous. There is for instance a stream called Breagagh near the city of Kilkenny, and another near Thurles in Tipperary. And Trawbreaga Bay at Malin in the north of Donegal is so called (Trawbreaga meaning the strand of falsehood or treachery) because the tide rises there so suddenly that it has often swept away people walking incautiously on the shore.

Spenser's Bregog is formed by the junction of four mountain rivulets all of about the same length, and meeting nearly at the same point, whence the united stream flows on to the Awbeg. These rivulets carry little water in dry weather, but whenever a heavy and continuous shower falls on the hills, four mountain floods rush down simultaneously and meet together nearly at the same instant, swelling the little river in a few moments to a furious and dangerous torrent. All this is quite well understood in the neighbourhood. An intelligent man living near the river told me that it was the most "roguish" river in the world; for when you least expected it, and when the stream looked perfectly quiet and gentle, the flood would rise in a quarter of an hour to a height of seven or eight feet, rushing down "all abreast," as he expressed it. I may add that the word "roguish" gives exactly the sense of the Irish name "Bregoge."

The following are the identifications established in the preceding paper. Many of them are of course obvious: but many others are not so, and have been brought forward and proved here for the first time:—

"Liffy"; the River Liffey in Wicklow, Kildare, and Dublin (p. 75).

"Sandy Slane"; the Slaney, flowing into the sea at Wexford (p. 75).

["Stony Aubrian"; the only one of all Spenser's Irish rivers not identified (p. 93).]

"Spacious Shenan"; the Shannon (p. 76).

"Pleasant Boyne"; the Boyne flowing into the sea at Drogheda (p. 76).

"Fishy fruitfull Ban"; the Bann in Ulster (p. 76).

"Swift Awniduff which of the English man is cal'de Blacke-water"; the Ulster Blackwater flowing into Lough Neagh: not the Munster Blackwater (pp. 80 to 86).

"Liffar deep"; the Foyle at Lifford in Donegal (p. 77).

"Sad Trowis"; the little river Drowes between the counties of Donegal and Leitrim (pp. 77 to 80).

"Strong Allo"; the great Munster Blackwater: not the present little river Allo (pp. 80 to 85).

"Mulla mine"; the Awbeg flowing by Buttevant and Doneraile in Cork (pp. 80 to 108).

"That great Gyant Blomius"; the Slieve Bloom Mountains (pp. 74, 86, 87 to 89).

"Gentle Shure"; the Suir in Munster (pp. 86, 87).

"Stubborne Newre"; the Nore, joining the Suir (pp.86, 87).

"Rosseponte"; New Ross in Wexford (p. 87).

"Goodly Barow"; the Barrow, joining the Suir (pp. 86, 87).

"Wide embayed Mayre"; Kenmare river and bay in Kerry (p. 89).

"Pleasant Bandon"; the river flowing by Bandon in Cork (p. 89).

"Spreading Lee"; the Lee flowing through Cork (p. 90).

"Balefull Oure"; the Avonbeg in the county Wicklow (pp. 90 to 93).

"Arlo Hill"; Galtymore, the highest peak of the Galty Mountains (pp. 94 to 96).

"Mole"—"My old father Mole"; the whole range of mountains beginning at Charleville and Buttevant in Cork, and ending at Caher in Tipperary, including the Ballyhoura and the Galty Mountains (pp. 94 to 96).

"Armulla dale"; the valley through which the Munster Blackwater flows (p. 96).

"Fanchin"; the river Funsheon flowing by Mitchelstown into the Blackwater near Fermoy (p. 99).

"Molanna"; the little river Behanna or Beheena, a stream rising high up on Galtymore and joining the Funsheon at the hamlet of Kilbehenny, 3 miles from Mitchelstown (pp. 98 to 105).

Kilnemullah or Kilnamullagh; Buttevant in Cork (pp. 107, 108).

Bregog; a little stream (the Bregoge) rising on Corrinmore hill and flowing near Kilcolman: joins the Awbeg or Mulla at Doneraile (pp. 108 to 112).