John Mac Donnell Claragh.

From The Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 26, December 22, 1832.

Among the native Irish poets of the last century, perhaps the most justly celebrated was John Mac Donnell. He was born in the year 1691, in O'Keeffe's Country, near Charleville, in the County of Cork, and was known by the name of "Claragh" from the residence of his family, which was situated at the foot of a mountain of that name, between Charleville and Mallow. He died in the year 1754, and was interred in the old church-yard of Ballyslough, near Charleville. Mac Donnell was a man of considerable classical learning, and had made some progress in a translation of Homer into Irish, which was considered of great merit; but his celebrity rested chiefly on his minor works, which were strongly imbued with the political feelings of his Catholic countrymen, who were suffering at that period under the rigours of the penal code. Of these a considerable number have been preserved, and two or three of them have been translated and published in Mr. Hardiman's "Irish Minstrelsy." We have endeavoured to find among those remains, one untinged with this prevailing characteristic, to lay before our readers in an English dress, but without success. The following poem, however, though a Jacobite relic, has nothing in it now applicable to existing circumstances, or calculated to excite political feeling; and its poetic beauty is such, we think, as will give pleasure to all our readers, and in addition to its interest as illustrating the Fairy topography of Ireland, entitles it to a place in our little repository of the literature, history, and antiquities of our Country.


'Twas night, and buried in deep sleep I lay,
Strange visions rosebefore me, and my thoughts
Played wildly through the chambers of my brain,
When, lo! who sits beside my couch, and smiles
With soul-subduing sweetness?--'Tis the Banshee!
I saw her taper waist--her raven tresses
Waving in wanton ringlets to her feet,
Her face, fair as the swan's unsullied plumage.
I viewed her--Oh! her mien of angel meekness,
Her soul-enchanting eyes, her delicate lips,
Her white round breast, her soft and dazzling skin,
Her sylph-like form, her pale transparent fingers,
Her ivory teeth, her mild and marble brow,
Proclaimed her immortality.--The image,
Though dream-born, fascinates my fancy still.
Thrilling with deepest awe I spoke, and asked
From what bright dwelling had the spirit come?
She answered not, but swift as thought evanished,
And left me to my dark and troubled solitude.
Methought I called her, but she heeded not
My sighs, my cries, mine anguish--and methought
I left my home to seek her. Northwards first
My steps I turned, and came to Gruagach's palace,
Far distant from my dwelling--forth away
I speeded on to Croghan's fairy-hall;
Thence to the palace of Senaid, the grand
And gorgeous fairy mansion of Ardroe,
On whose broad summit mighty hosts assemble;
I visited that glorious dome that stands
By the dark rolling waters of the Boyne,
Where Aengus Oge magnificently dwells.
In each, in all I entered, sought, enquired,
But found her not. In each, in all, they said--
"She moves before thee wheresoe'er thou goest."
Enough--I reached Mac Lir's colossal pride,
Departed thence to Creeveroe, and onward
To Temor, and the wond'rous fairy structure
That stands in power on Knockfirin's airy peak.
To Aoibhil's palace-walls at length I came,
Which rise below the rock's gigantic brow;
And here mine eyes were feasted with the sight
Of loveliest damsels dancing to the tones
Of soft voluptuous music; and I saw
By Aoibhil, Thomond's chieftains, mighty spirits,
Beautiful, splendid, cased in armed mail,
Whose sports were battle-feats, and tilts and tournaments.
And here, too, seated modestly and mildly,
Her long dark tresses loosely flowing round her,
I saw the heavenlike being whose bright eyes
Had made me thus a wanderer. Glancing round,
She saw and recognised me. And she spoke:
"Mortal," she said, "I pity thy lone wanderings;
"Approach and hear my melancholy tale:
"The guardian spirit of this land am I.
"I weep to see my people fallen--to see
"My priests and warlike heroes banished hence
"To alien shores, where, languishing and pining,
"They groan beneath the iron yoke of slavery!
"And ah! my child*, my son, my lineal heir,
"He, too, is far away from me--an exile!
"I mourn for him, for them, for all departed.
"Pity!--Oh, Heaven! look down upon me!" Here
The cloud that sleep had cast around my senses
Departed, and along with it departed
The towering domes, the palace-halls, and all
The chiefs, and dames, and glittering decorations;
But o'er my spell-bound soul there hung a gloom,
And there even now it hangs, in spite of reason!

* The Pretender.