CELT document E860001-001

The Burial of King Cormac

Introductory Note

[Cormac, son of Art, son of Con Cead-Catha (Hundred Battle), enjoyed the sovereignty of Ireland through the prolonged period of forty years, commencing from A.D. 213. During the latter part of his reign, he resided at Sletty on the Boyne, being, it is said, disqualified for the occupation of Tara by the personal blemish he had sustained in the loss of an eye, by the hand of Angus "Dread-Spear," chief of the Desi, a tribe whose original seats were in the barony of Deece, in the county of Meath. It was in the time of Cormac and his son Carbre, if we are to credit the Irish annals, that Finn, son of Comhal, and the Fenian heroes, celebrated by Ossian, flourished. Cormac has obtained the reputation of wisdom and learning, and appears justly entitled to the honour of having provoked the enmity of the Pagan priesthood, by declaring his faith in a God not made by hands of men.]

Samuel Ferguson

Whole text

  1. "Crom Cruach and his sub-gods twelve,"
    Said Cormac "are but carven treene;
    The axe that made them, haft or helve,
    Had worthier of our worship been.
  2. "But He who made the tree to grow,
    And hid in earth the iron-stone,
    And made the man with mind to know
    The axe's use, is God alone."
  3.  p.2
  4. Anon to priests of Crom was brought —
    Where, girded in their service dread,
    They minister'd on red Moy Slaught —
    Word of the words King Cormac said.
  5. They loosed their curse against the king;
    They cursesd him in his flesh and bones;
    And daily in their mystic ring
    They turn'd the maledictive stones,
  6. Till, where at meat the monarch sate,
    Amid the revel and the wine,
    He choked upon the food he ate,
    At Sletty, southward of the Boyne.
  7. High vaunted then the priestly throng,
    And far and wide they noised abroad
    With trump and loud liturgic song
    The praise of their avenging God.
  8. But ere the voice was wholly spent
    That priest and prince should still obey,
    To awed attendants o'er him bent
    Great Cormac gather'd breath to say, —
  9. "Spread not the beds of Brugh for me
    When restless death-bed's use is done:
    But bury me at Rossnaree
    And face me to the rising sun.
  10. "For all the kings who lie in Brugh
    Put trust in gods of wood and stone;
    And 'twas at Ross that first I knew
    One, Unseen, who is God alone.
  11.  p.3
  12. "His glory lightens from the east;
    message soon shall reach our shore;
    And idol-god, and cursing priest
    Shall plague us from Moy Slaught no more."
  13. Dead Cormac on his bier they laid: —
    "He reign'd a king for forty years,
    And shame it were," his captains said,
    "He lay not with his royal peers.
  14. "His grandsire, Hundred-Battle, sleeps
    Serene in Brugh: and, all around,
    Dead kings in stone sepulchral keeps
    Protect the sacred burial ground.
  15. "What though a dying man should rave
    Of changes o'er the eastern sea?
    In Brugh of Boyne shall be his grave,
    And not in noteless Rossnaree."
  16. Then northward forth they bore the bier,
    And down from Sletty side they drew,
    With horsemen and with charioteer,
    To cross the fords of Boyne to Brugh.
  17. There came a breath of finer air
    That touch'd the Boyne with ruffling wings,
    It stir'd him in his sedgy lair
    And in his mossy moorland springs.
  18. And as the burial train came down
    With dirge and savage dolorous shows,
    Across their pathway, broad and brown
    The deep, full-hearted river rose;
  19.  p.4
  20. From bank to bank through all his fords,
    'Neath blackening squalls he swell'd and boil'd;
    And thrice the wondering gentile lords
    Essay'd to cross, and thrice recoil'd.
  21. Then forth stepp'd grey-hair'd warriors four:
    They said, "Through angrier floods than these,
    On link'd shields once our king we bore
    From Dread-Spear and the hosts of Deece.
  22. "And long as loyal will holds good,
    And limbs respond with helpful thews,
    Nor flood, nor fiend within the flood,
    Shall bar him of his burial dues."
  23. With slanted necks they stoop'd to lift;
    They heaved him up to neck and chin;
    And, pair and pair, with footsteps swift,
    Lock'd arm and shoulder, bore him in.
  24. 'Twas brave to see them leave the shore;
    to mark the deep'ning surges rise,
    And fall subdued in foam before
    The tension of their striding thighs.
  25. 'Twas brave, when now a spear-cast out,
    Breast-high the battling surges ran;
    For weight was great, and limbs were stout,
    And loyal man put trust in man.
  26. But ere they reach'd the middle deep,
    Nor steadying weight of clay they bore,
    Nor strain of sinewy limbs could keep
    Their feet beneath the swerving four.
  27.  p.5
  28. And now they slide, and now they swim,
    And now, amid the blackening squall,
    Grey locks aloat, with clutching grim,
    They plunge around the floating pall.
  29. While, as a youth with practiced spear
    Through justling crowds bears off the ring,
    Boyne from their shoulders caught the bier
    And proudly bore away the king.
  30. At morning, on the grassy marge
    Of Rossnaree, the corpse was found,
    And shepherds at their early charge
    Entomb'd it in the peaceful ground.
  31. A tranquil spot: a hopeful sound
    Comes from the ever youthful stream,
    And still on daisied mead and mound
    The dawn delays with tenderer beam.
  32. Round Cormac Spring renews her buds:
    In march perpetual by his side,
    Down come the earth-fresh April floods,
    And up the sea-fresh salmon glide;
  33. And life and time rejoicing run
    From age to age their wonted way;
    But still he waits the risen Sun,
    For still 'tis only' dawning Day.

Document details

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Title statement

Title (uniform): The Burial of King Cormac

Author: Samuel Ferguson

Responsibility statement

Electronic edition compiled and proof-read by: Beatrix Färber and Seán Pilcher

Funded by: School of History, University College, Cork

Edition statement

1. First draft.

Extent: 1700 words

Publication statement

Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland—http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2014

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: E860001-001

Availability: The works by Sir Samuel Ferguson are in the public domain. This electronic text is available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of private or academic research and teaching.

Notes statement

This poem was first published in the volume Lays of the Western Gael in 1864 (Peter Denman, states p. 73, 'it came off the press in the latter part of 1864').

Source description

Life and Work of Sir Samuel Ferguson

  1. Mary Catherine Guinness Ferguson, Sir Samuel Ferguson in the Ireland of his Day (Edinburgh/London 1896).
  2. Arthur Deering, Sir Samuel Ferguson, Poet and Antiquarian (Philadelphia 1931).
  3. Malcolm Brown, Sir Samuel Ferguson (Lewisburg) 1973.
  4. Robert O'Driscoll, An ascendancy of the heart: Ferguson and the beginnings of modern Irish literature in English (Dublin 1976).
  5. Joseph Th. Leerssen, Mere Irish and Fíor-Ghael: Studies in the idea of Irish nationality, its development and literay expression prior to the nineteenth century (Amsterdam/Philadelphia 1986).
  6. Terence Brown and Barbara Hayley (eds), Samuel Ferguson: a centenary tribute (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy 1987).
  7. Maurice Harmon, The Enigma of Samuel Ferguson, in: O. Komesu, M. Sekine (eds), Irish writers and politics (Irish Literary Studies 36) (Gerrards Cross 1989) 62–79.
  8. Peter Denman, Samuel Ferguson: the literary achievement (Gerrards Cross, Bucks. 1990).
  9. Eve Patten, 'Samuel Ferguson: a tourist in Antrim', in: Gerald Dawe and John Wilson Foster, (eds), The poet's place: Ulster literature and society: essays in honour of John Hewitt, 1907–87 (Belfast: Queen's University of Belfast, Institute of Irish Studies, 1991).
  10. Gréagóir Ó Dúill, Samuel Ferguson: Beatha agus Saothar (Baile Átha Cliath [=Dublin) 1993).
  11. Gréagóir Ó Dúill, Sir Samuel Ferguson (1810–1886), in: Eamon Phoenix (ed), A century of northern life: The Irish News and 100 years of Ulster history, 1890s–1990s (Belfast 1995) 182–186.
  12. Sean Ryder, 'The politics of landscape and region in nineteenth-century poetry', in: Leon Litvack, Glenn Hooper (eds), Ireland in the nineteenth century: regional identity (Dublin 2000).
  13. Eve Patten, Samuel Ferguson and the culture of nineteenth-century Ireland (Dublin 2004).
  14. Peter Denman, William Carleton and Samuel Ferguson: lives and contacts, in: Gordon Brand (ed), William Carleton, the authentic voice (Gerard's Cross 2006) 360–377.
  15. Eve Patten, Samuel Ferguson's Hibernian Nights' Entertainments, in: James H. Murphy (ed), The Irish book in English, 1800–1891. The Oxford History of the Irish Book, 4 (Oxford: 2011).
  16. Matthew Campbell, 'Samuel Ferguson's Maudlin Jumble', in: Kirstie Blair, Mina Gorji (eds), Class and the canon: constructing labouring-class poetry and poetics, 1780–1900 (Basingstoke 2013).


  • Poems of Sir Samuel Ferguson are available on www.archive.org.

The edition used in the digital edition

Ferguson, Samuel (1918). ‘The Burial of King Cormac’. In: Poems of Sir Samuel Ferguson‍. Ed. by Alfred Perceval Graves. Dublin: Talbot Press, pp. 1–5.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  author 	 = {Samuel Ferguson},
  title 	 = {The Burial of King Cormac},
  editor 	 = {Alfred Perceval Graves},
  booktitle 	 = {Poems of Sir Samuel Ferguson},
  publisher 	 = {Talbot Press},
  address 	 = {Dublin},
  date 	 = {1918},
  pages 	 = {1–5}


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Project description: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts

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The whole poem.

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Correction: The text has been proof-read twice.

Normalization: The electronic text represents the edited text.

Hyphenation: The editorial practice of the hard-copy editor has been retained.

Segmentation: div0= the individual poem, quatrains are marked lg.

Interpretation: Names of persons (given names), and places are not tagged. Terms for cultural and social roles are not tagged.

Profile description


Date: 1864

Language usage

  • The poem is in English. (en)

Keywords: Irish mythology; poetry; Celtic revival; 19c

Revision description

(Most recent first)

  1. 2014-06-09: Bibliographic details added; file parsed and validated; SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2014-06-06: File converted to XML; Provisional TEI header created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2014-06-06: First proofing; structural markup applied according to CELT practice. (ed. Seán Pilcher)
  4. 2014-06: Text and Introductory note captured. (data capture Seán Pilcher)

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