Originally published in the Discussion section on a Poetry Ireland Facebook Event: Arguing with Edmund Spenser in Contemporary Irish Poetry, on 15th February 2018, at which The School of English, Drama, Film and Creative Writing, University College Dublin and Poetry Ireland host readings and a discussion panel of "five poets who have been thinking and arguing with Spenser in their recent work": John McAuliffe; current Ireland Professor of Poetry, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin; Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Ireland Professor of Poetry 2001-2004; Trevor Joyce, and Leanne O'Sullivan.
One's own paternal Hiberno-Norman family name of Desmond (Swords being my mother's nee name) as well as being on the receiving end of injustice was responsible for great oppression, mass murder, vast social sorrow, a one in a millennial cultural upheaval, violent wickedness, abject wrongs; and the occasional just and wise royal personage whose reigns of hereditary governance in Desmond/South Munster were culturally positive ruling influences in Medieval Ireland prior to the family's destruction and physical eradication at the hands of courtiers and poets from Liz 1's mercenary band of mass murderers killing for cash castles booty and the escheated estates of Irish earls.
Among whose number were Walter Raleigh and Edmund Spenser, who ended up with Desmond's castle in Kilcolman, where he wrote The Fairie Queene and his call for genocide on the Irish people, A View of the Present State of Ireland.
Spenser was the literary propagandist of the courtier-poet mercenaries that had been sent to Ireland specifically to hunt down and bring to heel the last of our family's Gerald FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond, who spent three years an outlaw in the Kingdom of Desmond after being declared on Samhain, 1 November 1579, a traitor to her maj's cause of world domination, by Sir William Pelham, at the start of the Second Desmond Rebellion (1579-83).
Desmond's hereditary enemy, his step-son, "Black Tom", Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormond, a much favoured and staunch ally from childhood of Elizabeth I, was refusing to settle local disputes with his deceased mother's third husband and Desmond foe using Brehon law, as the two families had traditionally done since the literary Filí poet and Lord Chief Justice of Ireland (1367), Gerald FitzGerald, 3rd Earl of Desmond's time. He had offered during the first Desmond Rebellion (1569–1573), a £1000 alive £500 dead head-price on Gerald. An offer he re-advertised in June 1583 close to the end of the Second Desmond Rebellion.
Five months later, Gerald with his few remaining kern raided and made off with forty cows and nine horses from Maurice MacOwen, who sent word to his brothers in law, Owen and Donnell, chiefs of the clan Moriarty, who tracked him to a cabin in the wooded fastness of Glenagenty, five miles east of Tralee, and organized an ambush.
At dawn they bust in the door and all escaped but the old man, a woman, and boy; and Daniel O'Kelly, a Kerry kern killing in the name of the clan Moriarty; struck a blow with his sword and half severed an arm on the old man, who cried out: "I am the Earl of Desmond: spare my life".
A second blow took off an ear, and carrying Desmond some short distance from the cabin, at the urging of Moriarty, apprehensive of any surprise engagement with what few of Desmond supporters remained, O'Kelly ended the earl's life, hacked off his head, and, according to his first biographer, a son of the final loyal Ó Dálaigh Fili from a heriditary literary lineage that served for three centuries as the Geraldines' praise poets, Dominican priest, Rosario O'Daly, confessor to the Queen of Portugal, and founder and Vicar-general of the Irish convent of the Dominican order in Lisbon; Gerald's "corpse was thrown on the highway as food for birds and beasts."
Traditional folk lore marks the spot of an oak tree near where his body was dumped and shortly after retrieved by some supporters, Bóthar an Iarla. And this skull of our forebear's Fitzgerald blood got pickled, placed in a pipkin, and gifted to Liz in London by Butler, with a note addressed to Secretary of State Walshingham, stating: "I do send her Highness (for proof of the good success of the-service and the happy end thereof) by this bearer, the principal traitor Desmond's head, as the best token of the same, and proof of my faithful service and travail; whereas her charges may be diminished, as to her princely pleasure shall be though meet."
There were public events to celebrate Desmond's death organized in Cork in January 1584, and municipal celebrations in Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford for the rebel earl's demise and Her Majesty the Queen and England's great victory.
The decapitated head was spiked on London Bridge as an imperial statement and very effective deterrent to other would be rebels. If the mighty Royal European Ingens Rebellibus Exemplar Earl of Desmond family's head can end up an acorn on Liz 1's nut necklace, ending a line of four barons and fifteen earls that were the most powerful branch (the other being the surviving Earls of Kildare FitzGeralds) of the Hiberno-Norman FitzGerald family in Ireland for 350 years; then whose cudnt?
The 500,000 escheated Desmond acres were divied up into the Plantation of Munster by Liz 1's mercenary mass-murdering male servants, and, rewarded for his role as chief imperial propagandist, one of the Desmond castles and a 3000 acre estate at Kilcolman fell into the possession of The Faerie Queene author, and ultimate nouveau poet toady, Edmund Spenser.
Where the classic imitative rhyme scheme and form that bore his name was invented, birthing on one of Gerald FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond's family estates the epic allusive Fairie Queene idyll in Spenserian stanza. The distinctively mongrel metrical-hybrid English cross-breed form of rhyme royal and ottava rima, ababbcbcc; eight iambic pentameter lines followed by a single 'alexandrine' line of iambic hexameter.
Spenser came to Ireland in July 1580 as secretary to newly appointed Lord Deputy, Arthur, 14th Baron Grey de Wilton's mission of taking out Desmond.
He was present at the Seige of Smerwick mass-murder of 600-800 papal soldiers in Dún an Óir ('Fort of the Gold'), an Iron age Promontory fort located near Smerwick harbour; that Walter Raleigh was the cheery organiser of under the direction of Grey, who wrote in his despatch to the culturally warm and lovely Liz in London: "Then put I in certain bands, who straight fell to execution. There were six hundred slain", and adding magnanimously: "Those that I gave life unto, I have bestowed upon the captains and gentlemen that hath well deserved..."
Three other contemporaneous accounts contradict Grey's version of how kindly the survivors were treated. According to O'Daly, O'Sullivan Beare and Russell, the less than benevolent Baron Grey promised the papal garrison in the ancient thousands of years old stone fort he would spare their lives if they surrendered and then double-crossed them. Remembered in the term "Grey's faith."
The 'papal soldiers' contemptuously described by Bingham as ‘poor simple bisognos, very ragged, and a great part of them boys’, were in all probability only rudimentary unwanted waifs and strays and economic undesirables rounded up by a local papal press-gang in Galicia, promised all kinds of swag and booty that awaited them in an easy fight, and shipped to Ireland as a perfect way of getting rid of poor and property-less single male migrants.
After several days from 7th-9th November 1580, the woefully untrained 'very ragged' 'boys' realised what they were up against in a two-pronged pounding from both musket shot and cannon on the crumbling fort by Grey from land and three ships at sea under the command of Bingham.
And after their most effective canon was eliminated from the action, and with Desmond's mythical 4000 troops failing to materialize after the besieged force replaced the Pope's banner with the unfurling of a black and white flag as a signal to him of their distress and call for assistance; the second in command of the by now crushed forces, Captain Alessandro Bertone of Faenza, "at last .. hoisted a sheet, with cries of Misericordia [mercy], and craved a parley" with Grey.
Sebastian de San Joseph, the commander of the continental adventurers, negotiated with Grey, claiming that the Spaniards and Italians had not been sent to wage war on behalf of any King, but been lured to Ireland by false representations by Recalde, the governor of Bilbao, informing Grey through the interpreter, Dr. Oliver Plunkett, that they had been sent solely to defend the Catholic faith on behalf of the Pope, that they had no quarrel with Queen Elizabeth, and, as honorable soldiers where willing to abide by the rules of war, leave the battlefied and depart as they had come.
Depending on what and whose version (if any) of this crucial episode in Irish history one chooses to accept, Grey responded either by resolutely refusing all conditions of surrender to the besieged force and only agreed "that they should render the fort to me and yield their selves to my will for life or death", voicing in true Puritan style that his Holiness was "a detestable shaveling, the right Antichrist and general ambitious tyrant over all right principalities, and patron of the diabolical faith"; or he double-crossed them after promising to spare their lives and treat them honourably according to the rules of war. As historian Alfred O'Rahilly contends in a 1938 thesis; possibly with the connivance of San Joseph who agreed to sell out those beneath him for his own and fourteen others freedom.
The Siege and Massacre at Smerwick was part of a wider European Geo-political Religious fight between Spain and England. And a cut-price disastrously uncoordinated toss into the sea of six hundred desperate young migrants, thrown from the streets of the continent into a revolting Ireland at the start of the Second Desmond Rebellion. On a gamble that their arrival created a plosive military momentum that would tip the martial scales, draw forces away from the main theater of war between Spain and England, and fatally weaken, wound and then defeat England's most historically prestigious monarch to give the Catholic Church the prize of that blessed plot, precious realm, little defensive moat of men that Nature set against a scepter'd stone.
Fifteen professional soldiers who could afford it were offered life in exchange for being ransomed and renouncing their Catholic faith, and thus spared the fate of the six to eight hundred penniless frightened economic migrants who were methodically decapitated by the poet Walter Raleigh and their bodies tossed into the sea by his merry helpers. Those who refused suffered the same fate as the interpreter Dr. Plunkett, Laurence Moore, and William Walsh, for refusing to acknowledge the religious supremacy of Liz 1, and: "On refusal, their arms and legs were broken in three places by an iron-smith. They were left in agony for a day and night and then hanged."
His prominent role in this massacre became a criminal charge for which he was convicted in one of Raleigh's trials, at which he argued he was "obliged to obey the commands of his superior officer".
As Seamus Heaney pointed out in his 1993 Pratt Lecture and essay published in the critical collection The Redress of Poetry: Extending the Alphabet: On Christopher Marlowe's Hero and Leander; the author of The Faire Queene obliquely referred to the mass-murder of six to eight hundred mostly poor and press-ganged economic migrants in the old Spenser Handbook, writing that Raleigh 'had done rough work for Lord Grey'.
Spenser lived a decade and a half in the old family's former property, and left without packing when it was razed by arson several years before the end of the Nine Years War by the forces of the final O'Neil Mór and second Earl of Tyrone, Hugh O'Neill. With Ben Jonson, asserting that one of Spenser's infant children perished in the blaze. In 1599 aged 46 he returned to London, and died that year, according to one of Johnson's more unprovable claims, "for want of bread".
Buried by other rhymers in Poets' Corner; poems and pens were ritualistically dropped into the grave. His sister, Sarah, who had gone to Ireland with her brother the poet, married into a family of wealthy Cork landowners, the Travers, and the poet's sister's Travers descendants were for centuries prominent local Cork figures.
A forced exit from what had become for him at the end a land cursed by the indescribably tragic spirits of the FitzGerald Desmonds he played a minor secretarial role in extinguishing, burying into silence with powerful propaganda for the past half-millennia the true nobility of spirit speaking back now in the lawful learned laughing warm authentic voice of the only loving earthly son of our FitzGerald Desmond Swords' familial faerie Queen up above in heaven. And, perhaps signalling the onset of some music of magic and memory making start a song at the beginning of the end of an entire royal courtier-poet role-model, at risk of being consigned, unwittingly perhaps, to contemporary irrelevance, I'm afraid.
Perhaps the most egregious intellectually evil literary creation Spenser composed in one's male ancestral family home, is his vile genocidal call for the extermination of the Irish race and culture, that appears in his most humanly evil text, A View of the Present State of Ireland.
In which he argues for what he chillingly refers to as the 'pacifying' of Ireland. Orwellian double speak for the physical extermination of Her people. But only of course, the mentally ill monarchical madman argued, if they refused to stop speaking Gaelic, wearing Irish dress, and engaging in Irish habits. An arch courtier toady propagandist's most dangerous, dark and disturbing thoughts, far too inflammatory to publish until long after his death, in the 17C. When his suggestions about how to enact official policy for exterminating Irish people and Her culture were more acceptable to voice and were enacted in the Penal Laws that outlawed Gaelic culture in Ireland.
In a similar vein intellectually, I always thought, as Ezra Pound argued his mad dog-shite three and a half centuries later. And a trace chic retro-cool soupcon of it in the aristocratic star at the start of last month's episode of Britain's Baddest Bardic Bidjaz; yo! Oxbreligious Trinity slammer and literary mawjastactic vulgarian Well Hard Rebecca Watts, showing the earliest mental signs of it in her intellectual assassination attempt on the reputation of the genuinely modest and very talented lovely human being and poet Hollie McNish, in an article titled The Cult of the Noble Amateur, published in the most recent issue of Carcanet's Poetry Nation Review (Volume 44 Number 3, January - February 2018).
Wholly opposite in sentiment to The Fairie Queene with its extolling over VI Books virtues that are a "feature" solely of "the nobly born"; such as Holiness Temperance Chastity Justice and Courtesy.
In which the Redcross Knight and chaste fair Lady Una have jolly adventures with dragons, wizards, giants, ogres, and saintly goodly noble brave Sirs rescue virgins from the clutches of evil sorcerers, battle on the side of goodness whilst facing constant bombardment of sexual propositions from fetishized one dimensional phony wicked fantasy females crazed with lust for noble English aristocrats. Nymphomaniacs rescued and driven to suicide when rebuffed by brave Sirs with the sacred jizz of nobility. And with only an elite special, chaste, holy, just, aristocratic people born to spurt that spirit, they wisely fall in love and marry lucky beautiful virgins.
As Spencer told in the letter to his old captain and expert in mass-murderer's 'rough work', Raleigh, published with the first three books: "the general end of the book is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline."
Kevin FitzGerald Desmond.