Context and Development of Irish Literature:
History, Poetry, Landscape
The Period of Conquest and Rebellion, page 3
With the Irish aristocracy gone, particularly in the North,
which was closest to Britain, land and power were available to
be seized by colonists from abroad. Thus began the Ulster
Plantation, when mainly Scottish Presbyterians flocked to
the North of Ireland, the area of Ulster [roughly
equivalent to today's Northern Ireland--see map].
These colonists came partly to escape England, where the official
Anglican Church persecuted the more radical sects of
Protestantism. (This migration runs parallel to the
English Puritans and their flight to the "new world"
of America, which occurred at virtually the very same time). Gradually
these radical Protestants, called "dissenters,"
would present a third term in Anglo-Irish politics, along with
native Irish Catholics and ruling British Anglicans--a third
term that is very much alive today in Northern Ireland, in Dr.
Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, based largely
within the Presbyterian tradition.
One of the greatest poems from this period, "Cill
Chais" or "Kilcash," tells of this ravaging of both the
people and the landscape of Ireland in the 17th
century. "Cill Chais" opens with a lament for
the wasting of the Irish country itself, and then moves to
consider the concomitant destruction of Irish culture,
hospitality, and generosity in the face of the
invaders. The poem states that "the prince of
the Gael is abroad," alluding to the flight of the Irish
aristocracy for Catholic France and Spain. But the poem
closes with the hope that somehow Ireland will rise again in
"Cill Chais" is a wonderful example of the oral
quality and the musical element in Irish poetry. It is
both a famous poem, and a well-known folk song. In the
link below, you can hear the poem's opening stanza being read
in the original Irish, and then you can hear the poem
sung. The traditional folk tune is still recognizable
to Irish people today (an elderly woman at the Muckross Farms
heard me whistling it in the spring of 2002, and instantly
told me what the tune was).
Click here to experience