by William Allingham (1824 - 1889)

The Abbot of Inisfalen
Language: English 
The Abbot of Inisfalen
Awoke ere dawn of day;
Under the dewy green leaves
Went he forth to pray.
The lake around his island
Lay smooth and dark and deep,
And wrapt in misty stillness
The mountains were all asleep.
Low kneel'd the Abbot Cormac,
When the dawn was dim and gray;
The prayers of his holy office
He faithfully 'gan say.
Low kneel'd the Abbot Cormac,
When the dawn was waxing red;
And for his sins forgiveness
A solemn prayer he said:
Low kneel'd that holy Abbot,
When the dawn was waxing clear;
And he pray'd with loving kindness
For his convent-brethren dear.

Low kneel'd that blessed Abbot, 
When the dawn was waxing bright; 
He pray'd a great prayer for Ireland, 
He pray'd with all his might. 
Low kneel'd that good old Father,
While the sun began to dart;
He pray'd a prayer for all mankind,
He pray'd it from his heart.
The Abbot of Inisfalen
Arose upon his feet;
He heard a small bird singing,
And O but it sung sweet!
He heard a white bird singing well
Within a holly-tree;
A song so sweet and happy
Never before heard he.
It sung upon a hazel,
It sung upon a thorn;
He had never heard such music
Since the hour that he was born. 
It sung upon a sycamore,
It sung upon a briar;
To follow the song and hearken
This Abbot could never tire.

Till at last he well bethought him; 
He might no longer stay; 
So he bless'd the little white singing-bird, 
And gladly went his way. 
But, when he came to his Abbey walls,
He found a wondrous change;
he saw no friendly faces there,
For every face was strange.
The strange men spoke unto him;
And he heard from all and each
The foreign tongue of the Sassenach,
Not wholesome Irish speech.
Then the oldest monk came forward
In Irish tongue spake he:
'Thou wearest the holy Augustine's dress,
And who hath given it to thee?'
I wear the holy Augustine's dress,
And Cormac is my name
The Abbot of this good Abbey
By grace of God I am.
'I went forth to pray, at the dawn of day;
And when my prayers were said,
I hearken'd awhile to a little bird,
That sung above my head.'
The monk to him made answer,
'Two hundred yeas have gone o'er,
Since our Abbot Cormac went through the gate,
And never was heard of more.'
'Matthias now is our Abbot,
And twenty have pass'd away.
The stranger is lord of Ireland;
We live in an evil day.'
'Now give me absolution;
For my time is come,' said he.
And they gave him absolution,
As speeddily as might be.
Then, close outside the window,
The sweetest song they heard
That ever yet since the world began
Was utter'd by any bird. 
The monks looked out and saw the bird,
Its feathers all white and clean;
And there in a moment beside it,
Another white bird was seen.

Those two they sang together, 
Waved their white wings and fled: 
Flew aloft, and vanish'd; 
But the good old man was dead. 
They buried his blessed body
Where lake and greensward meet;
A carven cross abovehis head,
A holly-bush at his feet. 
Where spreads the beautiful water
To gay or cloudy skies,
And the purple peaks of Killarney
From ancient woods arise.


Musical settings (art songs, Lieder, mélodies, (etc.), choral pieces, and other vocal works set to this text), listed by composer (not necessarily exhaustive)

Researcher for this text: Ferdinando Albeggiani

This text was added to the website: 2008-07-17
Line count: 100
Word count: 562