Week 496: At Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal

This is one of the first poems I ever remember liking, met in some nineteen-fifties collection of verse for primary school children compiled by an anthologist who clearly still regarded the Georgians as rather too racily modern. Somehow it stood out for me among the pages of R.L. Stevenson, Sir Henry Newbolt, Walter de la Mare & co. as giving me that frisson of the mysterious that I was later to encounter again in the early chapters of Alain-Fournier’s ‘Le Grand Meaulnes’, where the hero searches for his lost domain, the château that he had stumbled across in one of his escapades. I still find it an evocative little poem, perhaps because it takes me back to a time when I had no clear mental map of the world beyond my own woods and fields and anything seemed possible.

William Allingham (1824-1889) was an Irish poet and diarist, born in Ballyshannon in County Donegal, and probably now best remembered, if at all, for one poem ‘The Faeries’ (‘Up the airy mountain,/Down the rushy glen,/We daren’t go a-hunting/For fear of little men’). Some may consider this unfortunate.

At Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal

The Boy from his bedroom window
Looked over the little town
And away to the bleak black upland
Under a clouded moon.

The moon came forth from her cavern;
He saw the sudden gleam
Of a tarn in the swarthy moorland;
Or perhaps it was all a dream.

For I never could find that water
In all my walks and rides:
Far off in the Land of Memory
That midnight pool abides.

Many fine things had I glimpse of
And said ‘I shall find them one day.’
Whether within or without me
They were, I cannot say.

William Allingham