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The Battle of Benburb by Robert Dwyer Joyce

Ireland’s 100 favourite poems

The Battle of Benburb took place on 5 June 1646.

It was one of many conflicts that took place during the Irish Confederate Wars, which were a three-way battle fought between the Irish Catholic Confederates, English and Scottish Parliamentarians and English and Scottish Royalists.

At the end of the poem there is a video of Tommy Makem singing The Battle of Benburb.


He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven. Image copyright Ireland Calling

The Battle of Benburb

O’er the hills of Benburb, rose the red beam of day
Gleaming bright from our foemen in battle array
But as brightly again, in the mid summer glow
It shone back from the troops of our brave Owen Roe.

Munroe had his thousands arrayed at his back
With their puritan mantles, steel morion and Jack
And with him fierce Blayney and Conway had come
To crush Owen Roe at the roll of the drum.

And who with O’Neill on that morn drew the band?
Brave hearts as e’er beat by the Blackwater strand
Sir Phelim, brave chief, with his bosom of fire
O’Donnell, McSweeney and gallant Maguire.

From Derry’s wild woodlands from Maine’s sounding tide
From Leitrim and Longford came chiefs to our side
From Breffni’s green hills, with his sabre in hand
Stood bold Myles the slasher, the pride of our land.

We kept all that noontide, the foemen at play
Though we thought of their forays and burned for the fray;
For our chief bade us wait, till the eve had begun
Then rush on the foe with our backs to the sun

Hurrah for the red hand! And on to a man
Our columns poured down, like a storm on their van
Where a sermon was preaching to strengthen their zeal
‘We’ll give them a sermon’ cried Owen Roe O’Neill.

There was panic before us and panic beside
As their horsemen fled back in a wild broken tide;
And we swept them along by the Blackwater shore
‘Till we reddened its tide with the Puritan’s gore.

A Kern by the river held something on high
‘Saint Columb, is it thus that our enemies fly!
Perchance ’tis my coolun, they clipped long ago
Mile Gloria, the rough wig of flying Munroe!’

And we took from the foes e’er that calm twilight fall
Their horses and baggage and banners and all;
Then we sat by our camp-fires and drank in the glow
Good health to our leader, the brave Owen Roe.

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He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Tommy Makem singing The Battle of Benburb


All images copyright Ireland Calling

Ireland's 100 favourite poems

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