Loch Sween Poem Banner

"This poem celebrates an expedition led by an Eoin MacSween, and is thought to describe a genuinely historical, although evidently unsuccessful, attempt by the MacSweens to reclaim the stronghold named for their ancestor and with it their patrimony of Knapdale. The editor of the published edition of the Lismore collection associates the events described in the poem with a document dated 22nd July 1310, by which the English king Edward II granted to 'Johannes fillius Swieni de Ergadia... the whole land of Knapdale which belonged to their ancestors, provided they could reclaim it out of his enemies hands'..."
(from page 31, "Gallowglass; Hebridean and West Highland Mercenary Warrior Kindreds in Medieval Ireland", by John Marsden. Published by Tuckwell Press, 2003)

Lismore Book Title Page

The Dean of Lismore's Book,
a selection of Ancient Gaelic Poetry

You can download this entire book
at Google Books!

Sween intro Page

Castle Sween History

Effric's Lament

Surname list of People
who lived at Castle Sween

About a Knapdale Clearance



Key to the Knapdale People Data Base
Mapping Knapdale
The Militia Act of Scotland Leaving Knapdale Section
The McMillans of Knapdale
The Affray in Arichonan
Castles in Knapdale
The Free Church of Scotland
Knapdale Cemeteries
Dealing with the Poor
The Hearth Tax of 1694
Gigha: a book review
Inverneill Estates
Castle Sween, a history and poetry
Celtic Knapdale
Leaving Knapdale: Donald McGilp Letters


The assembled fleet at Castle Sween,
Pleasant tidings in Innisfail
Of all the riders of the waves,
A finer ship no man e'er owned.
Tall men did manage the ship,
Men, I think, to urge their way;
No hand without a champion,
A slashing, vigorous, noble band.
With coats of black all were supplied,
In this bark, noble their race,
Bands with their brown, broad belts,
Danes and nobles were they all.

Chieftains with ivory and gold
The crew on board this brown-sailed ship,
Each with a sheaf of warriors' spears,
Shields on their hooks hung round the sides.
Wide-spread wings, speckled sails,
Bearing purple, all of gems;
A long, handsom, gentle band,
Stood along the stout-made spars.

The blue sea at the swift ship's prow,
The ship laden when the tide is full;
Wattled baskets full of swords,
With shields all brought on board the bark.

Fair women, too, were in the ship,
Modest, Their beds were placed on high,
Spotted cusions were provided,
Couches for the nobles' wives.
Spotted coverings of fine linen,
This was the covering of the ship;
Handsome, easy, as she rocked,
Purple linen round each mast.

No hardened hands, no tightened belt,
Nor roughened by their usual toil;
Heroes were there, nor did they labour,
Bands of men of sweetest lips.
We heard not of so many nobles,
Of our isle from labour free;
From Erin princely champions,
A troup with soft and ruddy hair.

Not ship of all did she count swifter,
None has there been nor will be,
No sigh, no sorrow, and no grief,
Nor is there any end of all.

No ship of ships she counted swift,
Full of princely men she is,
Scattering gold among the bards
, While round the ship resounds the sea.

Many the men of sword and spear.
Many men quick in fight to mix;
Down by the sea the fighting men
Above, the gentle women were.

Who is he provides this fleet,
At Castle Sween of many hills?
A vigorous man who fears no blast,
His masts up raised, seeking his right.

JOHN M'SWEEN sail thou the ship,
On the ocean's fierce-topped back;
Raise aloft the vessel's masts,
Let thy bark now test the sea.

A leading wind then for them rose,
At Kyle Aca* as rose the tide;
The speckled sails were roundly bellied,
as John ran swiftly for the land.

We entered the cheerful anchorage
in the bay of fruitful Knapdale;
The noble hero, lordly, shapely,
Comely, masted, swift, victorious,
He was then near Albin's walls,
Helpful, welcoming his men.

Fair was then the youthful hero,
Abundant dew distilling round,
Favourable at Slieve Mun's streams,
To MAC SWEEN, him of Slieve Mis.

Speakers then come near to ask,
They deal as with him of the sharpest eye.
Branches are laid beneath their knees,
To welcome those of valour great.

Their safety in each harbour nook
Suffers from the welcome they give John.
The men of Albin's isles then come
With welcome from the narrow sea.
The men who sweetest are that sing,
Tenfold welcomes to him bring.

For a while there was a conflict,
Between them and our men of song;
They come at last to know full well,
How fair the hill from whence came John.

Then did we fight at Castle Sween,
Just as a slender, furous hawk,
We set us down around that rock,
Every limb endowed with strength.

We pierced the bodies of our foes,
Just as a serpent fiercely wounds;
Our thin-bladed, well-edged swords,
The foreigners' bodies fiercely hacked.

We raised the cry of great MAC SWEEN,
Amidst the rolling of the sea;
True it is that roll won't help,
Broad-backed, long although it be,
Their javelins have no power to pierce
The shields which our brown coats protect.

Rathlin of the sharp rocks, hears
The music of our ringing swords.
The thin-bladed sword, in Europe best,
A spear that swift obeys the wish,
What shield on earth can it resist?

Fierce and fearless Erin's sons.
JOHN MAC SWEEN of stratagems
With his thin, powerful, cutting sword,
He whose shield is spotted brown,
A blind man found him brave and wise.

From the "Dean of Lismore's Book"
page 151