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Eibhilín a Rúin - Eilene Aroon

James F. Cavanaugh - Clann Chief Herald

 
 

The pile of stones has been battered by violent winds and assaulted by roaring icy rain and snow for centuries. The old stories say the stones are the ruins of the castle of an early Kavanagh king, but surely no one in their right mind would build a castle on top of Mount Leinster, one of the highest peaks in Ireland. Another tradition claims the stones are what is left of the burial cairn of an ancient King of Leinster, but whatever the truth may be, the stones remain a mystery, just as do the "Nine Stones," a more ordered set of upright shale slabs only a few hundred yards further down the west slope. Some say that the chiefs, or maybe the head druids, of the nine most powerful clans of Leinster used to meet at the Nine Stones to decide very important matters. It is a place with a feel of mystery, with a magnificent view, but the wind is constant and always savage, showing no mercy to anyone, not even very important druids. Perhaps the pile of stones at the top of the peak was a starting place of some special ceremony which ended at the Nine Stones. But no matter, the secret is safe now, swept away in the weirdly swirling mists. What ever the original use of the stones at the summit may have been, they now only absorb a little heat from the sun during the day, condensing moisture on their surfaces. The tiny water droplets keep growing until they trickle away from the base of the pile, joining into rivulets, bumping excitedly down the slope of Mount Leinster, descending from Black Rock Mountain and Croughaun Peak, the two mighty crags between which the growing stream of water flows.

After a tumultuous dash of two angry miles, the stream is joined by another flowing from the pass between Mount Leinster and Croughaun Peak. Downstream from this point it is called the River Clóidighe, the English called it River Clody, which was pretty close. When Carroll Mor O'Daly reached the meeting of the waters at the beginning of the river, he stopped to take a drink in one of the clear pools, for although there was still snow in the shadows, the climb had been a vigorous one. He had come through the pass, having left the stronghold of Brian MacDonough Kavanagh at Ballyloughan Castle early that morning. So many of the young men at Ballyloughan had talked about the beauty of Donal Spannaigh's youngest daughter, Eilíonóir, that Carroll had to come and see for himself, even though it meant chancing a snow storm going over the difficult pass in the Blackstairs. But after all, he argued with himself, “Am I not Carrol Mor O'Daly from the great O'Daly family of poets? What is poetry without beauty or beauty without poetry? It is, therefore, my duty to gaze on such beauty,” he convinced himself, as he continued down the trail that followed the little river. But why, oh why, did she have to be the daughter of Donal Spannaigh Cavanagh?

Brian MacDonough Kavanagh had been gracious as a host, continuing to honour poets as they were treated in times of yesteryear. But, Brian had been forced to accept English authority in order to be appointed Constable of Ballyloughan, for which he was held in scorn by the awesome Chief of Hy Kinsella, Donal Spannaigh Cavanagh, considered by the Irish as King of Leinster. When it came to capitulating to English Law, Brian didn't really have any choice, but this made no impression on Donal Spannaigh, who judged the English to be "crude, ignorant savages, spawned from the sewage of humanity." He considered the Oath of Donal Caomhánach, "As long as Caomhánach blood flows in your body, stand with sword in hand before any man who goes against our land or family." to still be courtesy of Johanna Pieterman 26 binding upon all Cavanaghs. Carroll O'Daly could remember his father telling him that the Kavanagh Chiefs had sworn that oath for more than four centuries. Imagine that, Carroll mused, over four hundred years and Donal Spannaigh still would not yield! For some of the Kavanaghs the choice was to refuse the oath and lose their land, and often their lives, or agree to accept the English King as their master, and continue owning their lands, if they were lucky, under the protection of English Law. Brian chose to keep his land by submitting to the English, while Donal Spannaigh defiantly fought the English to preserve his heritage under the more equitable Brehon legal system, which most of the Kavanagh clan still observed. Donal Spannaigh had been fighting for nearly forty years, and had yielded and been pardoned by the English authorities over thirty times. And his fight was a long way from finished, for there was still a tremendous amount of fire in the ageing warrior. Carroll wondered how he had escaped the hangman’s noose for so long.

After following the path along the river for a hour, Carroll reached a cross trail. The left fork led up a hill, while the right fork led to a small foot bridge crossing the River. A tall youth and an even taller young woman were fishing from the footbridge, so intent on trying to snag a trout they failed to hear Carroll's approach.

'Greetings,' Carroll called out.

The youth pushed the woman behind him, protecting her, then dropped to his knee and picked up a pike and shield lying on the footbridge next to him, all in one movement. Two immense war hounds crowded between the youth and the young woman, their hackles high and teeth bared.

'Stay and say your name, or the sun will go down on your bloodless carcass, or whatever the hounds may leave of it,' the youth threatened.

‘Hold your hounds for I am a friend. I am Cearúll Ó Dálaigh,' Carroll answered in Irish, 'a Poet of the O'Daly family, the greatest poets in all Ireland.' He had to boast a little, but he was nearly dumbstruck by the beauty of the young woman. She could not have seen more than seventeen winters, but had the startling beauty of a much more mature woman.

'Our poet Keogh would probably not agree with you,' the youth laughed as he lowered his pike. 'I am Cahir MacDonal Cavanagh.'

'And you are the beautiful Eleanor,' Carroll tried to use his most prophetic poet's voice. Poets were supposed to have special insights, and maybe his recognizing her, having never seen her before, would be impressive.

'No, Poet, I am Eilíonóir,' the young woman corrected him sharply, giving her name in Irish. 'Eleanor is my mother, or perhaps some English lady for whom you have mistaken me.'

'Forgive me, fairest Princess, but both Irish and English speak so glowingly of you, I have confused the name I chose,' Carroll knew he had blundered, and decided he had better mend the breach quickly. 'Though, truly, such beauty under any name will always shine gloriously.'

'Ah, such a golden tongue,' Eilíonóir laughed at Carroll's discomfort. 'Keogh will truly hate you!'

'You have my leave to continue on your journey, Poet,' Cahir MacDonal said with an air of authority. 'Do you wish to cross the bridge?'

'I do only if it is the way to Clonmullin Castle,' Carroll responded.

'Clonmullin?' Eilíonóir interjected. 'The fork behind you leads to Clonmullin. It is but a short walk to the gatehouse. We'll gather our fish and take you there. Do you seek my father?'

Carroll knew if he spoke truthfully, as a poet should, he would tell her there was probably no one in Ireland he wanted to avoid more than Donal Spannaigh.

'I have journeyed from your cousins at Ballyloughan this day, and thought I would avail of the legendary hospitality of Clonmullin, while sharing my gossip.'

'Father will pretend he doesn't care to hear, but he is just blowing fog at a rain storm. He is really only a lap dog with a big bark, so pay him no mind and tell your gossip, for we all want to hear. Did you talk with my cousin Art? He is so handsome I get weak in my knees when I am near him.'

Only a lap dog! Carroll almost exclaimed his astonishment out loud. Donal Spannaigh Cavanagh, the dreaded King of Leinster and Chief of Hy Kinsella, had left a trail strewn with the bodies of hundreds of dead English soldiers, and his daughter sees him as a gentle lap dog with a big bark! Carroll thought it was best to keep the conversation light because this beautiful creature obviously did not know how lethal a bite her father delivered after he barked. Just the thought of meeting him was terrifying the young poet.

‘Art was not so handsome when I last saw him,' Carroll replied, feeling a twinge of jealously. How ridiculous, he thought, to harbour such feelings for one you have known for only minutes. 'They were slaughtering pigs as I left, and a particularly cantankerous sow had just dumped him in the mud as I was taking my leave.' It wasn't totally true, but the description might take some of the glow off the brilliance of the young son of Brian MacDonough.

Eilíonóir's rippling laughter was soft, but hearty, reminding Carroll of the little river where it flowed over rapids. She hardly looked like a princess, wearing a plain course spun woollen tunic, but it concealed very little of her long legs, inflaming the poet's fascination even more. Although bare foot, she moved along the rocky trail through the dense 27 hazel and oaks with the grace of a spirit, as her massive mane of mahogany curls danced playfully. The hounds flanked her every step, growling whenever Carroll got too close. At the top of a steep climb, they carefully crossed a small brook on wellused stepping stones, a few yards further the trees ended abruptly with the massive towers of the gatehouse exploding into the sky before them.

The gatehouse, located at the lowest point within the bawn enclosure, was similar to the one at Ballyloughan. There were two round towers flanking the entry, with storage rooms, an armory and guard quarters on the first floor extending behind the towers, and a vaulted great room with captains quarters on the second story. The biggest difference was Ballyloughan Castle was constructed of a bright and cheerful light tan coloured stone, while Clonmullin was built with foreboding gloomy dark grey and black limestone. The castle was a typical tall towerhouse enclosed in thick bawn walls interrupted by a number of defense towers at strategic places along the perimeter. A small stream, which ran along the entire length of the east bawn wall, had a high vertical bank immediately below the base of the wall, creating a formidable barrier against any foolish attacker ambitious enough to try and capture the fortress. The outside of the entire length of the west bawn wall was crowded with lean-to buildings where craftsmen and tradesmen lived. Carroll O'Daly was surprised at the large number of people. The stables, about a hundred yards east of the tower, just across the little stream, were overflowing with many horses tethered outside. Two wagons were waiting at the gatehouse, one covered and one loaded with sacks of flour, as the guard was signaling to open the massive iron portcullis blocking the entry. The driver on the flour wagon waved as they approached.

'Any luck fishing, Eilene,' the driver asked, using the diminutive of her name? Cahir MacDonal held up the string of trout in answer.

'Good luck and bad luck, Turlough. Fishing was good, but we also caught a poet to eat them,' she laughed. Carroll hoped she wasn't serious in referring to him as bad luck.

'Not another one? There must be six Keoghs here already,' Turlough replied.

'This one is not a Keogh. He's Carroll O'Daly, and he brings us gossip from our cousins in Carlow.' Eilíonóir informed him.

'Cathbad's son, from the O'Byrne's country, are you,' Turlough asked? 'He was here for Joan's wedding to Connor O'Morchoe, you know. You look like him.'

'Cathbad is my uncle,' Carroll corrected the driver. 'I am the son of his brother, Cearbhall Bui O'Dalaigh.' Before he could say more, the guard motioned the wagon forward, and waved the three of them through the gate with a friendly smile to Eilíonóir and Cahir, ignoring Carroll completely.

'Cavanagh said to tell you to come straight to the great hall when you get back,' the guard told Eleanor softly. 'You know how he hates for you to go outside the gates without an escort.'

'The hounds are better than soldiers, Colm. Besides, they smell better and don't scare the fish,' she called back with a laugh.

As the trio headed up the hill toward the castle, Carroll was astounded at the amount of activity, easily counting well over a hundred people. The bawn walls enclosed about five acres, including four groups of wood and wattle buildings, half of which seemed to be for warehousing, and the other half dwellings and shops.

'Is Clonmullin always this busy,' Carroll asked, wanting to return Eilíonóir's attention to him?

'Mostly,' she answered. 'Sometimes busier. Turlough is our miller. He and the four families who help him live next to the mill down on the river. The farrier, cooper and harness makers have their shops near the stables, the grooms live over the stables, and the sheep, goat, cattle, swine and poultry herders all live by their animals on the hill above. The tannery smells so bad they built it below the stables on the stream. So, there must be another eighty people or more than you see here. The fletchers, bowyers and armorors live right behind the gatehouse over there, near the ironsmith's forge, which is also used to melt lead for shot. The guards hate the new gunpowder and still prefer arrows and pikes, but father has convinced them that, evil as guns may be, they can kill an archer standing well beyond the range of a bow. Those who live outside the bawn wall are mostly tradesmen who are not essential for defending the castle if we are attacked. The weavers, dyers and saddlers are in the buildings attached to the outside bawn wall, next to the castle on the top of the hill.' They had reached the base of the castle.

Clonmullin Castle itself could best be described as grim and ugly. It was a towerhouse, some five stories in height, with no windows on the ground floor where the stores and provisions were kept. Small windows and loops, beginning on the second floor, allowed precious little light to penetrate the gloom of the cramped rooms. As they went through the door, Carroll could see that the base walls were nearly six feet thick, more like a fortress than a house. There was only a single entrance opening to the outside, and upon entering one had to turn sharply and walk down a narrow dark passageway to the circular staircase in the corner farthest from the door, designed so that soldiers attempting to capture the castle would be at a dreadful disadvantage, having to enter in single file with no room to swing a sword.

The threesome, with Cahir in the lead, followed 28 by Eilíonóir and Carroll in the rear, climbed the steep stone stairs to the third floor, which was taken up entirely with the Great Room. The crowded chamber was well lit with lamps along the walls and a crackling fire in a large fireplace opposite the stairwell. As soon as they entered the room, a tall powerfully built man left the group at the fireplace and walked briskly towards them.

'By the Hounds of Hell, Eilene! How many times must I tell you not to go wandering away from the castle alone,' the tall man demanded in a voice so powerful it seemed to echo? 'Where have you been?'

'Oh, you shouldn't worry, and Father Ryan will get you for the profanity'. Eilíonóir purred with her bewitching laughter. 'I was only at the bridge fishing, and I had Cahir and the two hounds for protection.'

'Don't worry? Cahir is a brave young man, but the woods are full of English scum that would be delighted to kill Donal Spannaigh's son and capture his daughter for a pretty ransom, after they finished...' he was going to say "raping" her, but the mere thought was too painful. He changed the subject, giving Carroll a quick look. 'And if this is what you caught fishing, throw him back in!'

'Father! Where are your manners?,' Eilíonóir chastised. 'Carroll is our guest. He is a poet who has just come from Ballyloughan.'

'Poet is he? Keogh come here and tell me if this is another hatchling from your mouldering nest.'

'I would say, Cavanagh, he is an O'Daly,' the Poet Keogh had already joined the group. 'Probably the son of Cathbad, the great poet of the O'Byrnes. Am I right, young poet?'

Carroll had been struck dumb by Donal Spannaigh, terrorized by the massive man who towered more than a foot above him. It was as if Carrol was standing aside, watching what was happening, rather than being the centre of action, but Keogh's question brought him to life again.

'I would, of course, have known you from afar, so great is your fame, and my father and uncles have praised and spoken of you so many times,' Carroll finally found his voice, 'I am indeed flattered and greatly honoured that you would recognise that I am of my family, for I am truly Carrol O'Daly. Cathbad is my uncle, my father's brother.'

'By the Hounds of Hell!,' Donal Spannaigh boomed with a laugh. 'Nobody but a poet has a silver tongue like that. Welcome to Clonmullin, Carrol O'Daly. Now come over by the fire and tell us what my snivelling Judas cousins at Ballyloughan are up to. They are sleeping so tightly with the English, they must all be carrying enemy bastards in their bellies now.' The group of men laughed heartily at the coarse humour, but fell silent as a tall graceful women entered the room.

'Such disgraceful behaviour!,' she castigated the intimidating Chief. 'Fetch our guest bread and ale and a choice joint immediately. And bring a stool by the fire,' she ordered no one in particular, but there was an instant response. She turned back to Donal Spannaigh, 'It would do you well to remember, my precious Blaspheming Sinner, that poets harvest new stories as they sow those already in their poke.' The men laughed with even greater gusto at the scolding this gentle woman was giving to their raucous Chief, something none of them would have dared.

'Mother, our guest is Carroll O'Daly from the O'Byrnes country of Wicklow,' Eilíonóir interjected. 'And Carroll, this is my mother, Eleanor Kavanagh, daughter of Brian MacCahir Kavanagh of Borris and Polmonty, Baron of Ballianne.'

'This day shall forever be a hallmark in my life from which I will reckon all events that follow,' the young poet composed, noticing that Eleanor, although deep into her fifties, was obviously the source of her daughter's grace and startling beauty. 'When men talk of the beautiful Eleanor of Clonmullin, they indeed spread confusion if they speak of such as singular, for as mother and daughter share a name, they also share the same entrancing beauty. To be in the presence of both at the same time assails my sensibilities to such a degree that all else must forever be bleak.'

'Well said, Poet,' Eleanor replied with a laugh similar to her daughter's. 'Now tell us the gossip of our cousins.'

Although Carroll had walked nearly twenty miles over the mountains and was dreadfully tired, as with all true artists, he was immediately revitalised at the opportunity to perform. The sun had set nearly three hours when he finally asked to retire.

Carroll O'Daly spent two months at Clonmullin, falling desperately in love with Eilíonóir, and she with him. The young woman was not only the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, she was intelligent and well educated, as were all of Donal Spannaigh's children. The English would not waste time and money on educating women, and, as most of the old Irish lords had adapted the English way of life to survive, they too were neglecting the schooling of their daughters. Donal Spannaigh, who was well read and fluent in Spanish, French, English, Latin 29 and the forbidden Irish, insisted the survival of his illustrious clan lay in being smarter and better educated than the English, thus tutors had long been permanent residents at the castle.

Being with Eilíonóir was so glorious for Carroll, he never noticed that Clonmullin Castle was the kind of spooky gloomy place that just naturally gave birth to wild tales of strange happenings, which embellished most of the tales about the Hy Kinsella Chief. He spent his days listening to Eilíonóir recite the glorious epics of her heroic ancestors and the fascinating tales of her father, however, her stories did nothing to calm his fear of the frightening Chief. In fact just the opposite, for everything about Donal Spannaigh Cavanaugh was bigger than life, surrealistic in its superlatives, but even so, understated from the true facts. His life was actually far more exciting even than the legends that spontaneously grew in his path.

One morning in June, as Carroll was breaking his fast in the kitchen, entertaining the cooks with his tales (a wise move), Morgan Cavanagh, Donal Spannaigh's eldest son, opened the door and spotted Carroll.

'Ah, there you are poet,' Morgan boomed. 'Finish eating, pack your things, and join me at the stables. We will be riding out to the Duffry.' The door closed and he was gone.

Morgan was a quiet man most of the time, but he was just as intimidating to Carroll as his father. The Clonmullin Cavanaghs were the ruling family of the Kavanagh Clan, and it was easy to see why. At five feet four inches, Carroll was of average height, quite typical of most of the Irish, but nearly every Cavanagh at Clonmullin was a full head taller. Donal Spannaigh was a bit over six feet tall, and with his powerful massive frame, he seemed to take up the same space as three or four normal men, but Morgan was even bigger, and although he didn't say much, he had a voice that could drown out a full blown battle. He had the family eyes, so light blue in colour that while in the darkness of the castle they appeared grey like a cats, but outside they deepened as they reflected the blue of the sky. When those pale eyes looked at him, Carroll had the feeling that nothing could be hidden for they were looking into his very soul. He gulped down his remaining milk and bread quickly, not daring to keep Morgan waiting.

Although it didn't take him but a few minutes to pack and join Morgan, the horses were already saddled. Morgan, Cahir and their brother-in-law, Connor O'Morchoe, were standing by the horses. A groom handed Carroll the reins as the others mounted and headed down the path towards the river.

'Will a guard troupe be joining us?', Carroll asked Cahir as they approached the bridge. Morgan answered though. 'There will only be the four of us. A small group draws less attention and we can be more mobile. Besides, we will probably not need protection. Father still holds all the lands of Enniscorthy. Englishmen who visit the Duffry seldom come home.' Morgan made a funny twisted smile, but didn't explain further.

The group rode at a fast pace along the base of Mount Leinster for nearly two hours, finally stopping at a fortified dun near Kiltealy owned by Niall O'Breen, who had recently returned from the west of Ireland. As they were being fed, Niall was telling how O'Neill and all the major Irish earls had left Ireland for the continent, leaving the west without leaders. This was not exactly news, having happened three years earlier, but Niall began to relate the plans O'Neill has making for an invasion force to return to Ireland. His plan was to raise an army with French support, drive the English out and set himself up as Ard ri, the High King. Could he plan on Donal Spannaigh's support? Morgan assured him, his father would always support any attempt to drive the English out, as he had been doing all his life. But Ard ri?

'Cavanagh believes O'Neill sold his right to be King of Ireland when he tucked his tail and fled his kingdom,' Connor O'Morchoe countered. 'It was bad enough when Hugh O'Neill whored himself to the English back in 1587, renouncing his Irish heritage so he could be called Earl of Tyrone.'

'The Kavanaghs have renounced their heritage too,' O'Breen accused.

'We'll rot in Hell first!,' roared Morgan. 'Cahir MacArt may have renounced his Irish claims for some meaningless title of Baron of Ballianne, but he was never Chief of the Kavanaghs, no matter what the English wish to claim. Whatever rights he had within the clan were forfeited by his own words, but he spoke only for his own family. And look what good it did him. Baron one day and dead before the year was out.'

'Perhaps, Morgan, but Cahir MacArt's grandson still holds the Polmonty and Borris lands,' argued O'Breen. 'I've seen the crown of the King of Leinster in your great room at Clonmullin Castle, and we all agree Donal Spannaigh is entitled to that title, but it has no meaning and never will again unless O'Neill becomes Ard ri, and protects the rights of the Irish leaders. What good are his principles if he is king of a grave?'

'As a man can not ride a gutted horse,' charged Morgan, 'one without principle can not be a leader. Donal Spannaigh is still king of his nation of Leinster, still King of Hy Kinsella and still Chief of all the Kavanaghs. He'll die by his principles before he betrays his oath or the trust of his people.' Morgan stood up, grabbed his cloak, and turned to the men. 'As will I,' he added slowly, emphasising each word.

Morgan thanked O'Breen for his hospitality and went to the stables without another word. As they 30 rode out of the dun, he made a formal salute to O'Breen and continued down the trail.

'Where to next, Morgan,' Carroll asked?

'Back to Clonmullin, poet.'

'There was no need for me to pack then,' Carroll commented. 'I thought we were to be away for some days.'

'Yes, there was a need for you to pack, poet, because you are leaving Clonmullin,' Morgan said kindly.

'Leave Clonmullin?' Carrol asked astonished. 'I was going to ask your father for Eilíonóir's hand in marriage, for we love one another.'

'I know, poet, and so does my father. But it cannot be. Eilíonóir is a princess, the daughter of a king. Yours would not be a suitable marriage, Carroll,' Morgan was trying to be gentle, fully aware of the poet's infatuation.

'Not suitable?,' Carroll's desperation was obvious. 'How can that be? Is not your own wife the daughter of Francis Eustace, and has your sister, Owney, not wed Arthur Eustace? And Margaret's husband, is he not Robert Hay? Are these not all hated English, whereas I am from as good Irish blood as there is? And is not your own mother a grand daughter of Cahir McArt Kavanagh, who forsook his Irish heritage for an English title? It is only Joan, who married our travelling companion, Connor O'Morchoe, and Honora, who married Kavanagh of Knockangarrow, who seem to have truthfully made "suitable marriages," if Donal Spannaigh is faithful to his principles and truly hates all English. It is true that I am but a poor poet, but only kings have greater honour. How, then, can it be that I am unsuitable?'

'We do not hate all English, as you charge,' Morgan tried to explain. 'Quite the contrary, for many of them suffer as we do, some even more. What we are fighting is English Law that robs us of our rights, and makes us outlaws because of how we talk or look, or what we believe. We are fighting English courts that steal our goods. Greedy English kings that send ignorant unscrupulous administrators who steal our lands. Corrupt English adventurers, like Masterson, White and Wallop who kill our people. And, even worse, evil English policy that destroys our identity and heritage by demanding we become English and take an oath saying we believe the King is the divine leader of the church, if we are to receive justice. That is why we fight. And if we are to keep fighting, we must make alliances with the O'Morchoes, Hays, Eustaces and other families that will protect our lands and strengthen our swords. You are a fine honourable man whom I would be proud to welcome as a brother, but an alliance with your family brings only friendship. Eilíonóir must marry strength to protect the family.'

'But we love one another,' Connor pleaded.

'And cherish that love, Carroll. But now take the trail here to Templeshanbo on to Enniscorthy, where you will pick up the road to Gorey, and then on to your home in Pallis, just beyond. I will tell Eilíonóir of your love, but you must not return to Clonmullin.' Morgan turned his horse towards Clonmullin, and after he was out of sight, Carroll slowly and sadly turned his horse up the right fork towards Enniscorthy, which Donal Spannaigh still held, although it was rumoured that King James had given the castle and manor to Sir Henry Wallop. Morgan was right, of course, but the pain ripped his soul apart. As he slowly walked his horse along the path, he could not control the tears that ran down his cheeks. If he were fortunate, maybe he would run into an English patrol that would kill him outright, and end his suffering.

Eilíonóir was devastated. Carroll Mor O'Daly had pledged his love to her by all that poets hold sacred. How could he decide to leave, just because he was poor. Her brother Cahir had told her how Carroll and Morgan fell behind, and after talking for a few minutes, Carroll apparently insisted on taking the fork in the trail to return to his home. Cahir thought Morgan was arguing with him to return to Clonmullin, and when he asked about it, Morgan had simply said, "it was as you saw, brother." What he saw was Carroll arguing, and then leaving their group, taking the trail that led towards his home in Pallis, near Arklow.

Eilíonóir wanted to die. She quit eating, and decided to starve herself to death, but gave up on that idea after missing one meal. She withdrew and stayed in her room, seldom going out anymore. Cahir could not even get her interested in fishing, which she dearly loved.

'I fear you may have made a mistake, husband,' Eleanor observed at an evening meal some two months after Carroll had departed. 'Eilíonóir is pining away for the poet. Every meal used to be a joy, ringing with her laughter, but now it is more like a wake. I miss the light she brought to our lives. And I fear for her.'

'I know, Eleanor, but these are hard times,' Donal Spannaigh tried to defend himself. 'I have suitors hounding me on all sides, and she wont see anyone. Young FitzGerald has his new commission and would be a fine match, and he is sick with love for her. Lorcan O'Toole from Powerscourt is the same. I am sorry she suffers so, but it is time she realises that even youth must shoulder some responsibility. Tell Eilíonóir I am starting marriage negotiations. We need the support from a good marriage now more than ever.'

'Is this really wise, Donal?,' Eleanor challenged?

'Am I to wait until the poet returns and they run off? I have surrendered my lands and received them back in pardons so many times, they are nearly worn out in the transfers! O'Neill and O'Donnell deserted 31 our cause like whipped puppies, and now James I is flooding their lands with "plantation vagabonds." That crazy Scotsman England now has for a King thinks he was especially chosen by God, and everything he does must be Divinely decreed, including exterminating all Irish. Masterson and Bagnel were maniacs, but the new administrators are as bad or worse. King James is a Protestant, but he is always plotting something with one or another of the popes, and if everything doesn't go his way, who knows? Maybe he will try to kill all the Irish and replace them with riffraff in their so-called plantation schemes? I need ties of strength, not childish keening for a lost love.' Donal Spannaigh deeply loved his youngest daughter, and wanted her to be happy, but Eleanor knew that what he was saying was the deadly truth.

'I will tell her, Donal, but please don't rush the marriage.'

Eilíonóir took the news calmly. Her mother explained how young men in the throws of passion often made rash promises and pledged their love to get their way. Once away from Clonmullin and the source of his infatuation, he came to his senses and knew he must go home. Perhaps she was right. Eilíonóir knew she should be excited with the prospect of marriage, but her depression only lifted slightly. A week later, her father requested she join him for diner. Such requests were not to be ignored, even though she was certain her father was going to discuss the various marriage prospects. She was only partly right.

'I have negotiated a marriage for you, Eilene,' he announced as soon as they were seated for dinner. 'You will marry Lorcan O'Toole of Powerscourt. He is a fine man, an excellent officer, and he will honour you and treat you well. What do you think?'

'I don't believe I am ready for marriage yet, father,' Eilíonóir answered. 'But, will I ever be? Lorcan is a fine man as you say, and I admire him, although my heart will not be in the marriage. Is this fair to him?'

'It will be fair, Eilene,' her mother broke in, 'if you allow it to be. Love doesn't just randomly strike, it must be sown and tended if there is to be a good harvest. I have never told anyone this before, but when I heard I was to marry your father, I wanted to fall on my father's sword and end my misery. But I was so very wrong.'

'You didn't love father when you were married?'

'I loathed him. All of the Kavanagh Septs were outraged when my grandfather, Cahir McArt, stood up in Dublin and renounced all claims to his Irish titles, so my father arranged marriages for four of us children to Kavanaghs in the other Septs. I thought Donal Spannaigh was a monster, the Devil incarnate! I..,' Donal Spannaigh coughed, and Eleanor paused.

'But, of course,' she continued, 'I was wrong, for as you know, your father is a very good man whom I love more than life itself,'

'Please tell Lorcan I do not feel that I am yet ready for marriage, Mother, but I will do as you bid, Father, if it is truly your wish for me to marry him.'

'It is more than just my wish, Eilene,' Donal Spannaigh said softly. 'It may well be our future, or even our lives. I will tell Lorcan what you have said. And I thank you for understanding. Perhaps some day we will again have the luxury of yielding to our hearts instead of a conquerors sword. After the wedding you and Lorcan can stay at Enniscorthy Castle. The English won't want to anger the Kavanaghs, O'Tooles, O'Byrnes and O'Morchoes all at the same time by attacking Enniscorthy.'

The wedding was set for the week after Easter. The O'Tooles were a large and powerful clan with deep ties to the Kavanaghs, and the wedding feast was eagerly awaited by both of the clans. Normally the Bishop of Ferns would preside over such a marriage, but there hadn't been a Bishop in nearly thirty years, since 1582 when Peter Power was appointed. When the new Bishop Power arrived in Ferns, he was immediately jailed, then swore the Oath of Supremacy to be released, recanted, was jailed again, and finally escaped. He went to Rome and died there five years later. There were not even any Abbots available as the monasteries had all been closed and the monks cast out. Although Queen Elizabeth did not allow priests or the practice of the Catholic religion, there were always a number of Jesuits around. God, Donal Spannaigh thought, send me an army of a thousand stubborn Jesuits, and I think we can defeat the English.

The first guests began arriving for the wedding on Thursday after Easter. The marriage was to be held on Saturday with the wedding feast the night before. Clonmullin took on the air of a fair with tradesmen, tinkers, horse dealers, Jews and Italian traders with beautiful cloth, perfumes, glass ware, jewellery and other fascinating items from all over the world . Bards, minstrels, magicians, rhymers, and acrobats were everywhere. Eilíonóir's thoughts were constantly on Carroll O'Daly, but the excitement of all 32 the people and the market was infectious.

Eilíonóir was not allowed to roam at will through the market, being constantly escorted by Cahir and three other men-at-arms, but she and her two sisters, Owney and Elizabeth, went wherever they wished, forcing her brother to growl at them occasionally. Lorcan had demanded an even larger escort, as would be proper for a princess, but her father knew Eilíonóir would refuse. He arranged for another patrol of four seasoned soldiers to stay within sight of his daughters at all times. The fire-eater and the sword-swallower were unbelievable. She was so fascinated, she could have remained watching for hours, but Cahir knew it was safer not to stop long enough for anyone to organise an attack. It would have been suicide, of course, for anyone to try and kidnap Donal Spannaigh's daughters in view of his castle, but Cahir took his duties very seriously because fools were never cautious.

It was beginning to get dark and Eilíonóir was tired when she returned to the castle. She was going to bathe before the wedding feast, so there was no time for a nap. The noise of the market softened as the light of day faded. Her sisters, who were going to bathe and prepare her for the feast, were laying out her dress as she sank into the warm water of the tub. She could hear a minstrel through the narrow window softly strumming his harp. Ah, this is so nice, she thought. A warm bath with exotic oils Owney purchased from an Italian trader, perfumed soap and a minstrel serenading below her window. It is so romantic. Then the minstrel began to sing:

“When I am far away, Eilene Aroon.
Be gayest of the gay, Eilene Aroon.
Too dear your happiness,
For me to wish it less;
Love has no selfishness,
Eilene Aroon.
And it must be our pride,
Eilene Aroon.
Our trusting hearts to hide,
Eilene Aroon.
They wish our love to blight,
We'll wait for fortune's light,
The flowers close up at night,
Eilene Aroon"

 Ahhh, how sentimental and perfect, Eilíonóir sighed. Carroll used to call me that. "Eilene Aroon: Eilene my dearest." But I should not be thinking of Carroll O'Daly on the night before my wedding. It must surely be a sin.

“And when we meet alone, Eilene Aroon.
Upon thy bosom thrown, Eilene Aroon.
That hour with light bedecked,
Shall cheer us and direct,
A beacon to the wrecked, Eilene Aroon.”

"A beacon to the wrecked,' indeed! But so true, for wrecked I am if not wed to the one I love so dearly.

“For one thus sought has come, Eilene Aroon.
We'll win a happy home, Eilene Aroon.
And as I slowly rose,
Twill tranquilly repose,
A rock 'mid melting snows,
Eilene Aroon"

‘Oh, why could it not be Carroll below my window, instead of some silly minstrel, probably hired by Lorcan O'Toole to impress me.”

Her sister brought her back to reality. 'Get out of the tub now, Eilíonóir,' Owney scolded. 'We'll all be late for the feast. I know it is fashionable for the bride to be a little late, so she can be admired as she enters, but I am starved after that walk around the market.” And, Elizabeth, close that window. That silly bard has Eilíonóir's mind floating in a dream world.

The feast was a wonderful raucous affair. In these troubled times, it was an occasion of joy sought by one and all. There was so much food, even Owney could not complain, and the wine never stopped flowing. Poets gave recitations to the ecstasies of love, and bards sang of her beauty. Lorcan O'Toole was terribly handsome, and she knew he loved her, but...

Eilíonóir caught her father's eye as the feast became more animated. He nodded with a smile, and she and her sisters rose, made their farewells, and retired from the hall. After settling Eilíonóir in bed, her two sisters rejoined the party below. Eilíonóir lay on her back gazing out the narrow window, which was framing the moon. She thought, what a perfect evening, as she began to drift off. Such singing and dancing. And the minstrels trying to outdo one another in flattering her.

"They wish our love to blight,
We'll wait for fortune's light,
The flowers close up at night..."

Carroll O'Daly could have sung words like that. Suddenly she sat bolt upright in her bed.

"For one thus sought has come, Eilene Aroon..."

'Oh, My God! It can not be!,' she said aloud, as she jumped out of bed, and dressed hurriedly in dark, hunting clothes and found her warmest cloak to wrap around her. She had to find out. The feast was two floors below her, and she knew she had to be very careful as she descended the stairs so no one would see her. She had to hide in the flour storeroom for a few minutes to avoid a group making their way up to the feast, but finally she reached the entry door and slipped quickly outside. She made her way to the back of the castle, the side her bedroom window opened towards, and stopped to let her eyes adjust to the darkness.

Her heart fell. There was no one there. The moon gave enough light so she could see clearly to the back of the weavers' building. What a silly fool, I am, she chastised herself. What a childish, romantic silly fool! And she turned about to return to bed and let sleep consume her disappointment.

As she reached the corner of the castle, she heard harp strings strum, as a young poet stepped out of the shadows, leading two horses. The two mounted and no one saw them as the rode across the stream, disappearing in the darkness.

 


From "The Lions of Leinster" : Copyright © James F. Cavanaugh