On this day in 1580, Catholic troops unconditionally surrendered to English forces at Smerwick, County Kerry, Ireland, after a three-day siege. The fort’s women were hanged, its priests gruesomely executed, and the soldiers put to the sword, much of the work being done by men under the command of Walter Raleigh.
In 1974, Seamus Heaney published a poem about Raleigh and Ireland: “Ocean’s Love to Ireland.” Its title recalls Raleigh’s own verse, written in the 1590s, “The Ocean to Cynthia,” in which the English soldier declared his intention “To seek new worlds for gold, for praise, for glory.” Of course, by then Ireland was old news, its fields strewn with bones, cursed by God, and barren of both man and beast (as described by one contemporary observer).
By Heaney’s formulation, she had been raped.
Speaking broad Devonshire,
Ralegh has backed the maid to a tree
As Ireland is backed to England
And drives inland
Till all her strands are breathless:
“Sweesir, Swatter! Sweesir, Swatter!’
He is water, he is ocean, lifting
Her farthingale like a scarf of weed lifting
In the front of a wave.
“He is water.” Interesting that Queen Elizabeth‘s nickname for Sir Walter—in a nod to that broad Devonshire of his—was Water.