Cahir Roe

by Dugald MacFadyen from his book Songs from the City, 1887.

[I can't recall seeing another poem with footnotes included by the poet. This one even has footnotes to the footnotes! The footnotes provide a bit of the history of the events in Sir Cahir's life. O'Doherty is frequently called "Cahir Rua" or "Charles the Red" for his red hair. "Cahir Roe" is apparently another spelling of the same thing.]

A.D. 1608.

Wild are thy hills, O Donegal! 2
That towering grandly rise,
Brow-incensed by the mists that fall,
An homage from the skies!

In awful stateliness, sublime,
Unchanged for aye they see
Each link upon the chain of Time
Pass to Eternity.

Deep are thy glens, O Donegal!
And holy is their calm,
The weary there forget their thrall,
The fevered find a balm.

So far removed from outer world,
The stranger pausing here
Might deem his guardian sprite had whirled
Him to some purer sphere.

O blessed is thy rock, O Doune! 3
Thrice blessed is thy well4,
Where oft St. Columb's vesper-croon
Was heard as night's shades fell.

Blest, sacred is thy holy well,
With power that still endures--
The many crutches mutely tell
Its miracles--its cures.

Upon thy rock in days of eld
O'Donnell's chiefs were crowned,
Ere yet thy stunted shrubs beheld
The Saxon gaze around.

But o'er thy brow a cloud hath lain
That ever must abide,
Since haughty Cahir Roe was slain
Upon thy heath-clad side.

True are thy hearts, O Donegal!
To love abide, or dare,
And still the mem'ry of his fall
Is green for ever there.
* * * * * * *
Tall are thy sons, O Donegal!
Swift-limbed and hardy, strong,
But Cahir Roe was passing tall 5
Thy choicest sons among.

Strong, strong of sinew, straight of limb,
His country's pride to see;
In feats of strength none equalled him--
First in each sport was he.

And yet none lighter led the dance
When Peace spread o'er each glen,
The pride of Spain, the grace of France,
Were his unto all men.

A fearless eye of searching blue,
That spoke to friend or foe,
That pierced the vain dissembler through,
Or dimmed at others' woe.

His sunlit hair in ringlets wild
Fell o'er his shoulders free,
And ruddy cheeks as of a child
And sunny heart had he.

As thunder-clouds o'er summer sun
Obscure its genial ray,
And lightnings flash and thunders crash
In July's warmest day:

So throbbed his breast with passions great
O'er fair Ultonia's wrong, 6
As warm his love, so fierce his hate,
Wild, merciless, and strong.

For o'er the ocean's throbbing breast
The Irish chiefs had flown7,
To seek in foreign climes that rest
Denied them in their own.

Curst be the tongues that bade them fly
When false accusers rose!
Far better had they faced the lie
And crushed it in their foes!

Unhappy princes! hard thy lot,
Thy sighs must rise in vain,
Since faith and freedom needs be bought
By exile's longing pain.

And all thy forts and fair domains
Are by the strangers shared;
Thy churches sacked, thy friends in chains,
Thy faith a crime declared.8

For stern and bold the troopers come
To hold the clans in thrall,
And he whose sword hath made him lord
Hath power in Donegal

To treat the Celt as but a slave,
And rob him of the soil;
If leave to till the ground he gave,
For him was all the toil.

'Twas thus when Cahir of the North
To Derry did repair,
With lesser chiefs and men of worth,
To state their grievance there.

What man bereft of every right--
Wealth, freedom, power,--of all,
Will not the tyrant robber smite,
Or--daring failure--fall?

If such a slave on earth be found
Let cowards homage pay!
Be he their monarch fitly crowned
As lowlier far than they!

What man may stand a coward's blow,
And meekly suffer all?
Paulett insulted Cahir Roe,
But sudden was his fall.

A day has passed, but Day brings Night,
And Night red vengeance brings;
The City guards are slain in fight,
The town with tumult rings.

O'Dougherty and Paulett meet,
In vain the Saxon tries
His skill in fence--at Cahir's feet
A gory corse he lies.

On Derry's9 forts and walls there stands
The sunburst, green and gold:
O'Dougherty the Foyle commands,
Culmore10 his clansmen hold.
* * * * *
Six fevered months of vengeful strife
And weary warfare passed,
Now brooding o'er his captured wife11,
Sir Cahir stands at last.

With shattered band on rock of Doune:
His thoughts are far away--
He heeds not how the gay larks tune
At heaven's bright gates their lay.

He thinks of battles fought and won,
Of hopes that once ran high;
And now, outnumbered and undone,
There but remained to die.

To die!--ay, Death were fame indeed,
If freedom Death could buy;
To know his country were but freed,
Then proudly would he die!

Where now his force? A scattered flock,
Dispersed, betrayed, or dead:
With trusty few he holds the rock--
A price upon his head.

"O, God, it was not thus I thought
To serve my country's need,
When from the Sassenach and Scot
I swore she would be freed!

"But by Thy sacred name I swear
In her proud cause to die!"----
A vengeful bullet cleft the air,
His stricken followers fly.

And there, upon Doune's heath-clad side,
Whilst all his warriors fled,
Oozed out the chieftain's gory tide--
Sir Cahir Roe lay dead.
* * * * *
Grand are thy hills, O Innishowen!
Strong is thy torrents' flow!
But Freedom's glory fled thy throne
With dauntless Cahir Roe.

(1.)--"Cahir Roe."
Sir Cahir Roe O'Dougherty,12 Prince or Lord of Innishowen, is, perhaps, one of the most picturesque figures in Irish history. His life was short, but eventful, "a happy shot," to quote an English historian, putting an end to his career at the early age of 21 years. In character he was like most of the Irish chiefs--haughty and impulsive; and to a commanding bearing Nature had added lofty stature and manly physique. In May, 1608, unable to bear the tyranny and insult of Sir George Paulett, the Governor of Derry, who threatened him with a felon's death, and enraged with the encroachments of the Scotch and English settlers (who came over before the Confiscation was completed), Sir Cahir rose in insurrection, attacked Derry by night, slew Paulett and his lieutenant with most of the garrison, and destroyed the forts and settlement or town.13 He then marched against Cuil-mor (Culmore), a fortress on the banks of the Foyle about four and a-half miles from Derry, occupied by an English garrison (but previously a fort of the O'Doughertys), occupied it, and found therein twelve pieces of cannon. He gave the charge of Cuil-mor to one Felim M'Davet who had to evacuate it before an English army of 4,000 men under Marshall Wingfield and Sir Oliver Lambert. M'Davet, on retiring from Cuil-mor, set fire to the fortress, shipped some of the guns, throwing the rest into the sea, and sailed for Derry. O'Dougherty, whose forces never exceeded 1,500 men, maintained the war for five or six months, until a bullet from an ambushed trooper's matchlock relieved England's anxiety.
(2.) Dun-na-ngall--the fortress of the strangers.
(3.) Dun, a fort.
(4.)--"Thrice blessed is thy well."
A well at Doune, blessed by Columbkille, celebrated for its wonderful cures; hither good pilgrims from all parts of the county and from various quarters of the globe repair for share in its many virtues. The writer, several years ago, was both struck and amused with the number of crutches planted upright in the ground in the vicinity of the well, mute witnesses of its efficacy. It is but fair to say, the Catholic clergy as a body do not recognise it.
(5.) In the ruins of O'Dougherty's castle at Buncrana, a stone may yet be seen projecting from the wall, said to mark the height of Cahir Roe. It is fully seven feet from the ground.
(6.) The confiscation of Ulster.
(7.)--"The Irish chiefs had flown."
1607. "Artful Cecil employed one St. Laurence to entrap the Earls of Tyrone and Tirconnell, the Lord of Delvin and other Irish chiefs, into a sham plot which had no other evidence but his. But those chiefs, being informed that witnesses were to be hired against them, foolishly fled, and so, taking guilt upon themselves, they were declared rebels; and six entire counties in Ulster were at once forfeited to the Crown, which was what their enemies wanted."--Anderson's Royal Genealogies (p. 786) See M'Geoghegan.
(8.) On the flight of the earls, several of their friends, and other Irish nobles, were committed to prison for the alleged conspiracy. The penal laws pressed very rigorously, and were increased in severity.
(9.) Doire, an oak-wood.
(10.) Cuil-more, the large point, or angle.
(11.)--"Brooding o'er his captured wife."
(Mary Preston, daughter of Viscount Gormanston.)
"Winkel (Wingfield), finding the castle of Culmor demolished, marched against the castle of Beart with the intention of besieging it. Mary Preston, the wife of O'Dougherty, was in the place. A monk who had the command of it, either from distrust in its strength or to save the lady from the frightful effects of a siege, surrendered the castle on condition of the garrison being spared and suffered to retire; but the English, regardless of the treaty, put every soul to the sword, except those who had means of purchasing their liberty. The wife of O'Dougherty was sent to her brother the viscount (Gormanston), who belonged to the English faction."--M'Geo., p. 555.
(12.) Received his knighthood from the English, having been proclaimed Lord of Innishowen by Sir Henry Dockwra in 1601, shortly after the death of his father, Sir John, who was slain in war with the English. Sir John, having left only an infant son (Cahir), O'Donnell created the nearest relative, Felim O'Dougherty, Prince of Innishowen. But the clans Ailen and Daibed marched with the young heir to Dockwra, at Derry, and that general, through his animosity to O'Donnell, and glad of an opportunity of creating dissensions amongst his enemies, declared Cahir the lawful lord. The clans, having marched back with their boy-chief in triumph, were besieged by O'Donnell in a fort at Binnion, but he, having too much on his hands, was obliged to raise the siege, and Sir Cahir, after the flight of the Earls Tyrone and Tirconnell, became the most powerful chief in the North.
(13.) In 1600 Sir Henry Dockwra, with 5000 foot and 300 horse, took possession of Derry, raised an English militsry settlement, with fortified houses, and defended it with two forts. The present maiden city was erected by the London Corporation, A.D. 1609-19. The circumference of the city walls (completed in 1619) is 1708 yards, height 24 feet, breadth 6 feet, with an earthen rampart 12 feet in thickness.