Of Allingham, Reade, and Other Poets.
The name William Allingham is forever associated with the "The Winding Banks of Erne", a
poetic tribute to Ballyshannon where he was born in 1824. The Allinghams, an English family,
had settled at Ballyshannon during the reign of Elizabeth I.
William Allingham was a customs officer whose area of duty embraced the entire southwest
coast of Donegal. He travelled by horseback and coach, and knew the names of every hill,
valley, stream, strand, and ruin encountered on his travels, names that are featured in
many of his poems. And he kept a diary wherein he recorded names and descriptions of
He had a facile pen, and yearned for recognition that could only be found outside the land
of his birth. After leaving Ireland for London he became editor of "Fraser's Magazine".
Carlyle, Rossetti, and Tennyson extended their friendship to him.
Allingham has been faulted for ignoring in large measure the scenes of horror attendant on
starvation and pestilence rampant throughout the country during the Great Irish Famine of
1845-49. He was 21 years old in 1845, and his thoughts were centred on his own ambitions.
In later years he made amends with his magnum opus, "Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland", some
7,000 lines in iambic pentameter, dealing with absentee landlordism and giving a graphic
description of the eviction of an entire hamlet, a common occurrence in Donegal,
culminating in the historic Gweedore evictions in 1889, the year of Allingham's death.
During those evictions an outraged people rose up against sheriff and bailiffs, and a
policeman, District Inspector Martin, was murdered, an act for which the Parish Priest,
Father McFadden, stood trial but was not convicted.
A highly acclaimed critique of "Laurence Bloomfield", written by a member of the Franciscan
community at Rossnowlagh, can be found in the files of "The Donegal Vindicator"of the
Yeats, it should be recalled, paid early tribute to Allingham. In 1891 Yeats declared:
"It is high time for us over here to claim him as one of our own, and give him his due
place among our sacred poets; to range his books beside Davis and Mangan and Ferguson; for
he, too, sang of Irish scenes and Irish faces."
George Petrie, whose "Ancient Music of Ireland" appeared in 1885, acknowledged two
contributions made to the collection by his "accomplished young friend, the poet, William
Allingham". Allingham himself played the violin, and collected a number of Irish airs on
his travels throughout southwest Donegal. In one verse of "The Music Maker" he makes
reference to the strains of "The Hawk of Ballyshannon" played on a plaintive flute.
During Allingham's career in England, his Irish birth was often a subject of discussion,
and the story of one such occasion is worth retelling.
He was a frequent caller on Alfred Tennyson, the Poet Laureate, who habitually railed at
Ireland and all things Irish.
On July 26, 1884, Allingham penned in his diary a lengthy account of that day's
conversation with Tennyson on the recurring topic of Ireland, in which fresh light is shed
on Allingham's Irishness and, in this instance, his defence of his own country.
The following is an extract, giving part of the exchange:
Tennyson: 'The English are not poetical or musical or clever--they're very stupid and
heavy--but they are for reasonable and constitutional liberty, that a man should have his
own opinion without being knocked on the head for it. In Ireland, if I don't agree with a
man, he shoots me, or knocks my brains out! I never knew a rational Irishman in my life!
except you' (this sounded very parenthetical) 'and you don't care a pin for the grand
Empire of England. There you are, with an English name, English in every way, but you
happened to be born in Ireland, therefore you are for it.'
I pleaded that I was more impartial than most people; 'if I were Nationalist I should be
popular in Ireland and perhaps get into Parliament if I liked. My brother was offered a
seat for Waterford free of cost.'
T.--'I hate to think of Ireland. Here they are, after 700 years raging and roaring.'
W.A.--'A most unlucky country!....'Suppose England tried leasing them to themselves.'
W.A.--'Then let them settle it. England would be able to take care of herself.'
T.--'Ireland might join with France against England.'
W.A.--'Another plan; take away all franchise and representation from Ireland for seven
years, letting her manage her local affairs as she pleases.'
T.--'They would roar incessantly. I hate speaking of it!'
Here Allingham twice showed himself a proponent of Home Rule for Ireland--"Suppose
England tried leaving them to themselves", and later "...take away all franchise
(for elections to Westminster) and representation from Ireland for seven years, letting
her manage her local affairs as she pleases."
Tennyson's customary ranting against the Irish, and his manifest anger when his views were
disputed, on many other occasions were ignored by Allingham in the interest of civil
discourse. Here, on this occasion, he spoke, and to effect, forcing Tennyson to withdraw
from the exchange, with his admission "I hate speaking of it!"
At the time of the above passage with Tennyson, Allingham was aged 60.
As an aside, Allingham's brother Hugh, branch manager of the Provincial Bank of Ireland,
was the author of a book "Ballyshannon, its History and Antiquities."
Of that wondrous Irish place wherein were planted the seeds of poetic imagery in his mind,
let Allingham describe its effect with a strange, for that age, economy of words:
"The wild shore and boundless tossing sea, ebb and flow of the tide, ships, fishermen,
wrecks, new lands beyond the sunset, these helped...to feed and stimulate the childish
"But of all the external things among which I found myself, nothing impressed me so
peculiarly as the Sound, the Voice, which ceased not day or night; the hum of the
Waterfall, rolling continually over its rock ledge into the deep salt pool beneath. In
some moods it sounded like ever-flowing Time itself made audible."
This was the famous and historic Falls of Assaroe.
Allingham described his father's business as:
"...that of a merchant--a wide designation, and in his case applicable enough; he imported
timber, slates, coal and iron, and owned at various times five or six ships, trading
chiefly to Canada and the Baltic for timber. There were no exports, save now and again of
human beings to Quebec. The emigration was small then to what it became in after years, but
enough to make 'going to Ameriky' one of the most familiar phrases in daily life."
The following are some extracts from his diary treating of Ballyshannon and its
On March 8, 1854, Allingham wrote a letter to his father, from London, mentioning:
"This evening I bought 2 packets of flower seeds in Convent Garden Market and sent them by
post, one to you and the other to Mr. Stubbs. As the packets are different, you can, if you
like, exchange some of the seeds with each other. I hope to see some of them blowing in
flowers in July."
1865. Wed. May 24.
"At Vedon Hotel (Dublin) Catholic Bishop, McGettigan--greets me warmly and asks me to dine
with him, which I have to decline.
Compliments about Bloomfield which contains, by the by, a sketch of him. The hotel people
are impressed by the Bishop's attentions to me. He is a tall, very comely man, with a
pleasant brogue and simple manners--speaks and preaches in Irish ad lib. A good man--if he
were only not a Bishop!"
1872. Nov. 1.
"Dined at Mr. John Forster's, Palace Gate House, Kensington. Mr. and Mrs. Foster, Carlyle
and Mary Aitken, Edward Emerson (son of R.W.E.) and myself.
"C.'s description of a charge at Waterloo got from some eye-witness: two red lines
advancing, one fixed--of dead and wounded. I told the account of the battle given me by
Tom Patten, an old soldier at Ballyshannon, which amounted to this--he was 'a'most
smothered with smoke, and mortial hungry (nothing to eat all day)'; when the French ran
away he prowled about for something to put between his teeth, and by good luck found a live
goose squatting in a corner; three or four men came up and would have taken it off him, but
he defended the goose at the point of the bayonet, and they agreed that it should be cooked
and shared; so they plucked it, made a little fire, and 'ait' it half raw.
"C. laughed, and agreed we were apt to forget that hunger and thirst are often among the
trials of a battlefield."
Tom Patten's account of the Battle of the Goose, known to historians as the Battle of
Waterloo, reminds me that one colourful character of my youth was never known other than
by his nickname "Talavera", commemorating the participation by a Ballyshannon ancestor in
that faraway battle in Spain in 1809, during the Peninsular War.
Of more recent date, Paddy McGovern, son of Sergeant McGovern of the Gárda Siochana, who
lived in the Purt, served as a tail gunner in the R.A.F. during the war with Hitler. He was
a little guy, physically well suited to fit in the the rear turret of a Lancaster bomber,
and as evidence of his experiences his body was a patchwork of zippered lines, relics of
the stitches military doctors used to sew him back into one piece after enemy gunfire
almost turned him into human minced meat.
Returning to Allingham's diary, in 1887, two years before his own demise, in December he
recorded the death of the former Bishop McGettigan who had appeared in its pages twenty-two
years earlier. The entry tells much of the Bishop, and of the poet, in the following words:
"The R. Catholic Archbishop of Armagh (Daniel McGettigan) departed in December. From
Curate he was made Bishop of Raphoe and came to live at Ballyshannon, where I used to meet
him often on friendly terms--a tall, handsome, portly man, with an engaging simplicity of
manner and voice. He had a sweet brogue, and spoke the Irish language fluently. He lived a
frugal, blameless life, diligent in his office, tranquil, simple, dignified, more like by
far to one's notion of a 'primitive Bishop' than any other prelate I have seen. I was
perhaps the only Protestant in the place who, in intercourse with him, used the terms due
in courtesy to his rank; but he met nobody (as he knew very well) less likely to become a
A cryptic entry on Tuesday, September 18, 1889, tells something more of Allingham's
lifelong internal struggle between birth as a native of Ireland and his ambition for
acceptance by the literati of England: "Miss Tynan sends me criticism from Providence
Journal--'The Poet of Ballyshannon.' (non-national, how sad!) "
Allingham, who blamed his last illness on a riding accident, died at Hampstead, England,
at 2 p.m. on November 18, 1889, some twenty years after his last visit to his native
Ballyshannon. His body was cremated, and the urn containing his ashes was returned to
Ireland for burial in the churchyard at St. Anne's, the church on the top of
Of that church, St. Anne's, Allingham penned the following description in his diary:
"There were three galleries,--'the Singing Gallery' over the west door; 'the Soldiers'
Gallery' in the north transept; 'the Country Gallery' in the south transept, used mostly
by small farmers and their families. The townspeople and the country gentry had pews in the
body of the church; some very poor people sat on benches in the aisle, and, at the other
end of the scale, two families had notably large and comfortable pews, the Connollys in the
right-hand corner as you came in by the west door, the Tredennicks of Camlin in the left.
The Tredennick pew was a place of mystic and luxurious seclusion to my fancy, a sort of
imperium in imperio. Its woodwork completely partitioned it off from the aisle, but chance
peeps showed a snugly cushioned and carpeted interior, and even a special little fireplace
with its special little bright fire on winter Sundays."
It is but fitting that he should also have left a heartfelt vindication of all he committed
to the pages of his diaries:
"I care for my old diaries for the sake of the Past, the sad, sacred, happy Past, whose
pains, fears, sorrows, have put on the calm of eternity,--mysterious Past, for ever gone,
for ever real, whose footsteps I see on every page, invisible to other eyes!"
It was Allingham who described the Purt as "a long straggling street on the south side of
Five of his poems, "The Winding Banks of Erne", "Abbey Assaroe", the universally appealing
"Four Ducks on a Pond", "A Dream", and "Irish History", are included with works by Mangan,
Ferguson, and Reade in this number. Extracts from his "The Pilot's Daughter" can be found
in Chapter 22 of
"The Hawk of the Erne", a companion volume to "The Kindly Spot".
The Winding Banks of Erne
Simplicity in pastoral poetry was a hallmark of native Irish poetry throughout the ages.
A typical example, from more than a thousand years before Allingham, is Oisin's "Delightful
Things", two of the verses of which are:
Adieu to Belashanny, where I was bred and born,
Go where I may I'll think of you, as sure as night and morn;
The kindly spot, the friendly town, where every one is known,
And not a face in all the place but partly seems my own;
There's not a house or window, there's not a field or hill,
But east or west, in foreign lands, I'll recollect them still;
I leave my warm heart with you, though my back I'm forced to turn--
Adieu to Belashanny and the winding banks of Erne.
No more on pleasant evenings we'll saunter down the Mall,
When the trout is rising to the fly, the salmon to the fall.
The boat comes straining on her net, and heavily she creeps,
Cast off, cast off--she feels the oars, and to her berth she sweeps;
Now fore and aft keep hauling, and gathering up the clew,
Till a wave of silver salmon rolls in among the crew.
Then they may sit with pipes alit, and many a joke and yarn;
Adieu to Belashanny, and the winding banks of Erne.
The music of the waterfall, the mirror of the tide,
When all the green-hill'd harbour is full from side to side,
From Portnasun to Bulliebawns, and round the Abbey bay,
From rocky Inis Saimer to Coolnargit sandhills grey;
While far upon the southern line, to guard it like a wall,
The Leitrim mountains clothed in blue gaze calmly over all,
And watch the ship sail up and down, the red flag at her stern--
Adieu to these, adieu to all the winding banks of Erne!
Farewell to you, Kildoney lads, and them that pull an oar,
A lugsail set, or haul a net, from the point of Mullaghmore;
From Killybegs to bold Slieve-League, that ocean mountain steep,
Six hundred yards in air aloft, six hundred in the deep;
From Dooran to the Fairy Bridge, and round by Tullan Strand,
Level and long, and white with waves, where gull and curlew stand;
Head out to sea, when on your lee the breakers you discern--
Adieu to all the billowy coast and the winding banks of Erne.
Farewell, Coolmore, Bundoran! and your summer crowds that run
From inland homes to see with joy the Atlantic setting sun;
To breathe the buoyant salted air, and sport among the waves;
To gather shells on sandy beach, and tempt the gloomy caves;
To watch the flowing, ebbing tide, the boats, the crabs, the fish;
Young men and maids to meet and smile, and form a tender wish;
The sick and old in search of health, for all things have their turn
And I must quit my native shore and the winding banks of Erne.
Farewell to every white cascade from the Harbour to Belleek,
And every pool where fins may rest, and ivy-shaded creek;
The sloping fields, the lofty rocks, where ash and holly grow,
The one split yew-tree gazing on the curving flood below;
The Lough that winds through islands under Turaw mountain green
And Castle Caldwell's stretching woods, with tranquil bays between;
And Breesie Hill, and many a pond among the heath and fern--
For I must say adieu--adieu to the winding banks of Erne!
The thrush will call through Camlin groves the live-long summer day;
The waters run by mossy cliff, and banks with wild flowers gay;
The girls will bring their work and sing beneath a twisted thorn,
Or stray with sweethearts down the path among the growing corn;
Along the riverside they go, where I have often been--
Oh, never shall I see again the days that I have seen!
A thousand chances are to one I never may return--
Adieu to Belashanny, and the winding banks of Erne!
Adieu to evening dances, where merry neighbours meet,
And the fiddle says to boys and girls "get up and shake your feet!"
To shanachies and wise old talk of Erin's days gone by,
Who trenched the rath on such a hill, and where the bones may lie
Of saint, or king, or warrior chief; with tales of fairy power,
And tender ditties sweetly sung to pass the twilight hour.
The mournful song of exile is now for me to learn--
Adieu, my dear companions on the winding banks of Erne!
Now measure from the Commons down to each end of the Purt,
Round the Abbey, Moy and Knather--I wish no one any hurt;
The Main Street, Back Street, College Lane, the Mall and Portnasun,
If any foes of mine are there, I pardon every one.
I hope that man and womankind will do the same by me;
For my heart is sore and heavy at voyaging the sea.
My loving friends I'll bear in mind, and often fondly turn
To think of Belashanny and the winding banks of Erne!
If ever I'm a money'd man, I mean, please God, to cast
My golden anchor in the place where youthful years were past;
Though heads that now are black and brown must meanwhile gather grey,
New faces rise by every hearth, and old ones drop away--
Yet dearer still that Irish hill than all the world beside;
It's home, sweet home, where'er I roam, through lands and waters wide;
And if the Lord allows me, I surely will return
To my native Belashanny, and the winding banks of Erne!
Grey, grey is Abbey Assaroe, by Belashanny town,
It has neither doors nor windows, the walls are broken down;
The carven-stones lie scattered in briar and nettle-bed;
The only feet are those that come at burial of the dead.
A little rocky rivulet runs murmuring to the tide,
Singing a song of ancient days, in sorrow, not in pride;
The boortree and the lightsome ash across the portal grow,
And heaven itself is now the roof of Abbey Assaroe.
It looks beyond the harbour-stream to Gulban mountain blue;
It hears the voice of Erna's fall,--Atlantic breakers too;
High ships go sailing past it; the sturdy clank of oars
Brings in a salmon boat to haul a net upon the shores;
And this way to his home-creek, when the summer day is done,
Slow sculls the weary fisherman across the setting sun;
While green with corn is Sheegus Hill, his cottage white below,
But grey at every season is Abbey Assaroe.
There stood one day a poor old man above its broken bridge;
He heard no running rivulet, he saw no mountain-ridge;
He turned his back on Sheegus Hill and viewed with misty sight
The Abbey walls, the burial-ground with crosses ghostly white;
Under a weary weight of years he bowed upon his staff,
Perusing in the present time the former's epitaph;
For, grey and wasted like the walls, a figure full of woe,
This man was of the blood of them who founded Assaroe.
From Derry to Bundrowes Tower, Tirconnel broad was theirs;
Spearmen and plunder, bards and wine, and holy abbot's prayers;
With chaunting always in the house that they had builded high
To God and to Saint Bernard,--where at last they came to die.
At worst, no workhouse grave for him! the ruins of his race
Shall rest among the ruin'd stones of this their saintly place.
The fond old man was weeping; and tremulous and slow
Along the rough and crooked lane he crept from Assaroe.
Four Ducks on a Pond
Four ducks on a pond,
A grass-bank beyond,
A blue sky of spring,
White clouds on the wing;
What a little thing
To remember for years--
To remember with tears!
Sweet is the sound of the blowing breeze,
Sweet is the blackbird's song in the trees,
Lovely the sheen of the shining sun,
Sweet is the thrush over Casacon.
Sweet shouts the eagle of Assaroe,
Where the gray seas of Mac Morna flow,
Sweet calls the cuckoo the valleys o'er,
Sweet, through the silence, the corrie's roar.
(From "Bards of the Gael and Gall" by George Sigerson, M.D., F.R.U.I., 1897. It
is past time for a modern reprint.)
Ballyshannon, Donegal, Ireland north and south, are proud to acknowledge William
Allingham whose poetry, long years after his death, continues to inspire generations of
I heard the dogs howl in the moonlight night;
I went to the window to see the sight;
All the Dead that ever I knew
Going one by one and two by two.
On they pass'd, and on they pass'd;
Townsfellows all, from first to last;
Born in the moonlight of the lane,
Quench'd in the heavy shadow again.
Schoolmates, marching as when we play'd
At soldiers once--but now more staid;
Those were the strangest sight to me
Who were drown'd, I knew, in the awful sea.
Straight and handsome folk; bent and weak, too;
Some that I loved, and gasp'd to speak to;
Some but a day in their churchyard bed;
Some that I had not known were dead.
A long, long crowd--where each seem'd lonely,
Yet of them all there was one, one only,
Raised a head or look'd my way;
She linger'd a moment-- she might not stay.
How long since I saw the fair pale face!
Ah, Mother dear! might I only place
My head on thy breast, a moment to rest,
While thy hand on my tearful cheek were prest.
On, a moving bridge they made
Across the moon-stream from shade to shade,
Young and old, women and men;
Many long forgot, but remember'd then.
And first there came a bitter laughter;
A sound of tears the moment after;
And then a music, so lofty and gay,
That every morning, day by day,
I strive to recall it if I may.
Island of bitter memories, thickly sown
From winding Boyne to Limerick's treaty-stone,
Green Wexford to the glens of Donegal,
Through sad six hundred years of hostile sway,
From Strongbow fierce to cunning Castlereagh!
These will not melt and vanish in a day.
These can yet sting the patriot thoughts which turn
To Erin's past, and bid them weep and burn.
James Clarence Mangan, born in Dublin to a poverty-stricken family, led a lonely,
tortured life, and succumbed at the early age of 46 to drug and alcohol abuse.
Over hill and thro' dales,
Have I roamed for your sake;
All yesterday I sailed with sails
On river and on lake.
The Erne at its highest flood
I dashed across unseen,
For there was lightning in my blood,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
Oh there was lightning in my blood,
Red lightning lighten'd thro' my blood,
My Dark Rosaleen
O! the Erne shall run red
With redundance of blood,
The earth shall rock beneath our tread,
And flames wrap hill and wood,
And gun-peal, and slogan-cry,
Wake many a glen serene,
Ere you shall fade, ere you shall die,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
The Judgement Hour must first be nigh,
Ere you can fade, ere you can die,
My Dark Rosaleen.
James Clarence Mangan
His poetry to a great extent was based on translations from the Irish. It is said that
he himself knew none. His muse wrought magic with this second-hand material, and his work
has won the praise of Yeats and Joyce, not to mention lesser beings.
Mangan's poem "Lament over the Ruins of the Abbey of Teach Molaga" (from the Irish) may
well have inspired emulation by Allingham in his better known "Grey, grey is Abbey
Alas, alas, how dark the change
Only the second verse is given above.
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 walls;
The owl hoots all night long under the altar-stairs;
The fox and badger make their darksome lairs
In its deserted cells.
I turned away, as toward my grave,
And, all my dark way homeward by the Atlantic verge,
Resounded in mine ears like to a dirge
The roaring of the wave.
Lament for the Death of Thomas Davis
I sat by Ballyshannon in the summer,
And saw the salmon leap,
And I said, as I beheld the gallant creatures
Spring glittering from the deep,
Through the spray and through the prone heaps
To the calm, clear streams above,
So seekest thou thy native founts of freedom, Thomas Davis,
In thy brightness of strength an love!
Another poet, much neglected in recent years, is John Reade.
Born at Ballyshannon in 1837, he was thirteen years younger than Allingham, was an
ordained clergyman, and emigrated to Canada in 1856. He established
"The Montreal Literary Magazine", and in 1870 published "The Prophecy of Merlin and Other
It is his other poems that are of interest to the present writer, among them "Killynoogan",
from which the following verses are extracted:
Mayhap this brief reference to Reade will revive an interest in his work, and resurrect
it from its present "not".
Though thou'art little known to fame
My heart's homage thou dost claim.
Ah, too well I can recall
Every stone in every wall,--
In my heart I count them all.
I can hear the river's flow
As it murmurs, soft and low,
Bringing news from Pettigo.
I can watch it to the mill,
Where the never-tiring wheel
Dances round and drinks its fill.
Past the ever-babbling "spa",
Past the castle of Magra,
Razed by Cromwell's cruel law.
On it goes with many a turn
Playing with its fringe of fern
Till it reaches broad Lough Erne.
Here I leave thee, little stream,
Lost, like much I dearest dream
In my life's oft-shifting dream.
But, beloved and sacred spot,
Nought of thee shall be forgot,
Till what I am now--is not.
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