Grace O'Maly

Samuel Ferguson

Grace O’Maly, lady of Sir Richard Burke, styled Mac William Eighter, distinguished herself by a life of wayward adventure which has made her name, in its Gaelic form, Grana Uaile, a personification among the Irish peasantry, of that social state which they still consider preferable to the results of a more advanced civilization. The real acts and character of the heroine are hardly seen through the veil of imagination under which the personified idea exists in the popular mind, and is here presented.


SHE left the close-aired land of trees

  And proud Mac William’s palace,

For clear, bare Clare’s health-salted breeze,

  Her oarsmen and her galleys;

And where beside the bending strand

  The rock and billow wrestle,

Between the deep sea and the land

  She built her Island Castle.


The Spanish captains, sailing by

  For Newport, with amazement

Beheld the cannoned longship lie

  Moored to the lady’s casement;

And, covering coin and cup of gold

  In haste their hatches under,

They whispered, “’T is a pirate’s hold;

  She sails the seas for plunder!”


But no: ’t was not for sordid spoil

  Of barque or sea-board borough

She ploughed, with unfatiguing toil,

  The fluent-rolling furrow;

Delighting, on the broad-backed deep,

  To feel the quivering galley

Strain up the opposing hill, and sweep

  Down the withdrawing valley;


Or, sped before a driving blast,

  By following seas uplifted,

Catch, from the huge heaps heaving past,

  And from the spray they drifted,

And from the winds that tossed the crest

  Of each wide-shouldering giant,

The smack of freedom and the zest

  Of rapturous life defiant.


For, O, the mainland time was pent

  In close constraint and striving,—

So many aims together bent

  On winning and on thriving,

There was no room for generous ease,

  No sympathy for candor,—

And so she left Burke’s buzzing trees,

  And all his stony splendor.


For Erin yet had fields to spare,

  Where Clew her cincture gathers

Isle-gemmed; and kindly clans were there,

  The fosterers of her fathers:

Room there for careless feet to roam

  Secure from minions’ peeping,

For fearless mirth to find a home

  And sympathetic weeping.

*        *        *        *        *

And music sure was sweeter far

  For ears of native nurture,

Than virginals at Castlebar

  To tinkling touch of courtier,

When harpers good in hall struck up

  The planxty’s gay commotion,

Or pipers screamed from pennoned poop

  Their pibroch over ocean.

*        *        *        *        *

Sweet, when the crimson sunsets glowed,

  As earth and sky grew grander,

Adown the grassed, unechoing road

  Atlantic-ward to wander,

Some kinsman’s humbler hearth to seek,

  Some sick-bed side, it may be,

Or onward reach, with footsteps meek,

  The low, gray, lonely abbey:


And where the storied stone beneath

  The guise of plant and creature

Had fused the harder lines of faith

  In easy forms of nature,—

Such forms as tell the master’s pains

  ’Mong Roslin’s carven glories,

Or hint the faith of Pictish Thanes

  On standing stones of Forres;


The Branch; the weird cherubic Beasts;

  The Hart by hounds o’ertaken;

Or, intimating mystic feasts,

  The self-resorbent Dragon,—

Mute symbols, though with power endowed

  For finer dogmas’ teaching,

Than clerk might tell to carnal crowd

  In homily or preaching,—


Sit; and while heaven’s refulgent show

  Grew airier and more tender,

And ocean’s gleaming floor below

  Reflected loftier splendor,

Suffused with light of lingering faith

  And ritual light’s reflection,

Discourse of birth and life and death,

  And of the resurrection.