Cathal O’Byrne

IN the great Hall of Tara of the Kings,
Whose fourteen doors stood ever open wide,
With fourteen welcomes to the night and day,
The feast was set. White torches flared around
From niches in the pillars of red pine,
On Gallant Chiefs and Queenly Women there.

The warm light glanced and shone on the red gold
Of the rich battle gear of Erinn's Men,
And on the gleaming mail, and wolf skin cloaks
Of the sea-roving Giants of the Lochlanachs,
Strong-limbed and fierce were they, with eyes that held
The cold, blue sheen of star-lit northern deeps,
And teeth that gleamed through flowing, tawny beards.

The tables groaned beneath the mighty weight
Of ponderous vats of rare and precious wines,
And carcases of oxen roasted whole,
Methers of foaming mead went gaily round
From lip to lip, and friend and foe alike
Ate, drank, and quaffed their brimming, golden cups,
Forgetting for the moment every wrong
That ever held them sundered. Such the law-
No man might draw his sword in Tara's Hall,
In anger on another man, and live.

Then, when the feast was ended, and the Bards
And Ollavs skilled in Erinn's ancient lore
Stood in a white-robed throng around the Throne
Then was it that a silence deep as death
Fell on that mighty crowd. Outside the wind
Stirred in the quicken trees, and to and fro
As if by fairy hands, the banners waved,
And from the farther end of the great Hall
A silver rivulet of music flowed
Into the gloom and silence of the place.
Faintly at first and sweetly, like the song
Of sunbright waters, rang the Harp's clear sound;
Louder and louder yet the music swelled,
As Bard and Bard, and Bard took up the strain,
And all the burthen of their thrilling song
Was Tara and the glory of its Kings.

Of Fiann and his Matchless Men they sang,
Of the red rout of battle, and great deeds
Of skill and daring on the tented field.
And then the music took a softer sound
'Twas Deirdre's sad tale the Minstrels told,
And the dread fate of Usnach's hapless sons,
A dirge of sorrow, wailful and desolate
The saddest tale the world had ever heard,
The women listened with bright, dew-wet eyes,
And stern-brow'd warriors stood grim and mute
Instinctively each hand went to its spear,
And a low, sorrowful murmur like a caoine
Thrilled through that mighty crowd,
Still the Harps sobbed, and still the Bards sang on,
Until with one, grand, maddening crash they tore
A mighty chord from out the quivering strings,
And the sad tale was told. A down the Hall
The murmur grew to a tumultuous sound;

The music's fire had quickened hearts and brains,
Shield clanged in meeting shield, and through the gloom
The torches, in a myriad points of light,
Flashed on bright skians and forests of grey spears,
Until the swelling chorus thundered forth,
In one, great, sonorous, deep-throated roar
Of wild applause, its mighty meed of praise
That echoed through the dome of the great Hall,
And floated through its fourteen open doors.
Out and away into the silent night,
Startling the Red Deer from his ferny lair,
In the green woods round Tara of the Kings.