Spenser's Irish Rivers (8)

Patrick Weston Joyce

The reader will observe that here the same sort of fancy passed through the poet's mind as in the case of Mulla (p. 108 infra); in other words, he thought, or assumed, that the name of the river was Oure or Maloure, and that it gave name to Glenmalure.

The Glenmalure river or Avonbeg comes also into its natural place in the catalogue; for starting from the Maire, and proceeding along the coast, east and north, the very next important river, not already named, after the Maire the Bandon and the Lee, is the one in question the Avonbeg or Ovoca.

Although I have made a very diligent search in every available direction, I have failed to discover the river Spenser meant by "The stony Aubrian," the only one in his whole catalogue that remains unidentified. The first syllable is probably the common Irish word abh (pronounced aw or ow), signifying river, as we find it in Awbeg, Ownageeragh, Finnow, and many other river names. From the place it occupies in the catalogue, joined with three well-known large rivers—the order in the text being Liffey, Slaney, Aubrian, Shannon—it may be inferred that it is somewhere in South Minister, and that it is itself a considerable river. But after eliminating from the inquiry all the Munster rivers named here by the poet, I cannot find that any one of those remaining will answer both name and description. The Feale in Kerry, flowing by Abbeyfeale into the Shannon, is a large river and stony enough in its bed; but I have never heard that it has been called by any name like Aubrian. "The stony Aubrian" is a mystery, and so far as I am concerned will I fear remain so.

In the first of Two Cantos of Mutabilitie the poet relates, in a fine stream of poetry, how the goddess or "Titanesse" Mutabilitie laid claim to universal sovereignty; that when Jove gave judgment against her, she appealed to the highest authority of all—"Father of gods by equal right, to weet, the god of nature"; and that Jove, very much against his will, agreed to the appeal, bidding "Dan Phoebus, scribe, her appellation seale."

Eftsoones the time and place appointed were,

Where all, both heavenly powers and earthly wights,

Before great Natures presence should appeare

For triall of their titles and best rights:

That was, to weet, upon the highest hights

Of Arlo-bill (who knows not Arlo-hill?)

That is the highest head in all mens sights,

Of my old father Mole, whom shepheards quill

Renowmed hath with hymnes fit for a rurall skill.

If there be any reader "who knows not Arlo-hill," the scene of this solemn trial, the following examination will enable him to find it out.

In the neighbourhood of Buttevant and Charleville in the county of Cork, begins a range of mountains which runs in a direction nearly eastwards till it terminates near Caher in Tipperary, a distance of about thirty miles. The middle part is low, and interrupted by high plains, but the extremities rise boldly in two well-defined mountain groups; the western portion being called the Ballyhoura Mountains, and the eastern the Galtys. This eastern portion is also the highest, abounding in peaks precipices and gorges; and one particular summit, Galtymore, the most elevated of the whole range, attains a height of 3,015 feet. This last peak rises immediately over the vale of Aherlow, or Arlo as it was commonly called by Anglo-Irish writers of Spenser's time, including Spenser himself; a fine valley eight or ten miles long walled in by the dark steep slopes of the Galtys on the south-east side, with Galtymore towering over all, and by the long ridge of Slievenamuck on the north-west. The whole range from Buttevant to Caher is what Spenser calls "Mole"or "old father Mole," as will appear very plainly a little farther on.

The mountain mass that culminates in Galtymore is Arlo-hill, on which the meeting of the gods was held; but the name Arlo was applied to the hill only by Spenser himself, who borrowed it from the adjacent valley, and who, after his usual fashion, selected it on account of its musical sound. That Arlo-hill is Galtymore and no other is shown by several expressions scattered through this part of the poem. Arlo, we are told, overlooks the plain through which the river Suir flows:

[Diana] quite forsooke

All those faire forrests about Allo hid;

And all that mountaine which doth overlooke

The richest champain that may else be rid;

And the faire Shure in which are thousand salmons bred;

which indicates that it is among the Galtys. For, standing on the summit of these mountains, you have the magnificent plain of Tipperary at your feet, a part of the "Golden Vale," truly designated by the poet as "the richest champain that may else be rid"; while on the other hand this plain cannot be seen at all from the western part of the range.