Wednesday 25 May 2016

The Madman's Grave

IN the year 1793, an unknown maniac, whose dress and figure bore the vestiges of a once better lot, wandered to Ballycastle, a beautiful village on the shore of the county of Antrim. He was sullen, melancholy, and incommunicative; his days and nights were spent among the wild and lofty rocks in the neighbourhood of the bay, and his food was the shell-fish, or the sea-weed that was washed in by the tide. A life of such hardship and privation would have soon terminated the existence of one endued with unimpaired reason; but insanity hardens the constitution, by depriving it of a sense of its affliction, and by diverting the mind from real sorrow to imaginary objects. At certain periods of the month his sullenness was changed to frenzy, he then would groan and shriek as if suffering from excessive anguish, and although the neighbouring peasantry were frequently disturbed by his nightly moanings, yet, as he never attempted any act of violence, they suffered him unrestrained to indulge his misery. For several weeks he thus continued alternately melancholy or outrageous, until one night in the latter end of July, when the neighbouring cottagers were awakened by the loudness and horror of his shrieks. For a while they continued violent, then grew fainter, and at length sunk in total silence. Early the following morning a fisherman arose to examine a kelp-kiln which he had lit the night before, when the shocking spectacle of the half-consumed maniac met his sight. The wretched sufferer, while wandering on the projecting ledge of a steep cliff, had missed his footing, tumbled down the precipice, and rolled into the blazing kiln, which burned at the base of the rock! His mutilated remains were enveloped in a piece of sail-cloth, and buried in a little green recess at the foot of the precipice from which he fell. The verdure of this spot is rendered more lively by being contrasted with the grey tints of the surrounding rocks; it is adorned by sea pinks and other marine dowers, and on no part of the romantic shores of Antrim does the traveller of taste feel emotions more varied, or sensations more interesting, than on the spot where heaves the Madman's Grave.


Where Rathlin's fierce contending tides,
      In storms and calms incessant roar,
And rudely lash the moss-grown sides
      Of Ballycastle's rock-bound shore.
Where western winds for age prevail
      And chide the weary wanderers stay,
Who crowd the heaven aspiring sail,
      And swiftly fly the dangerous bay.*
Where the dark mine of old so fam'd,†
      Now echoes to the tempest's moan —
By song of poets never nam'd,
      Unmark'd by any sculptur'd stone.
'Tis there beneath the rock's bold brow,
      And lash'd by every foaming wave,
The child of sorrow's eyes may view,
      The poor deserted madman's grave.—
The sea-pink droops its feeble head,
      The lonely night-hawk screaming flies
Above the spot where low and dead,
      The maniac's form for ever lies.
No plated mockery held his frame,
      No train of friends wept o'er his bier;
No child sobb'd loud a father's name,
      Or kiss'd a speechless mother's tear.
Long, long beside the dangerous shore
      Beneath the wint'ry blast he stray'd,
And mingled with the ocean's roar
      The dreadful cries he nightly made.
His feet by every rough rock torn,
      Through snares of death he urg'd his way;
With him despair rose every morn,
      And clos'd each sad and cheerless day.
Yet dark oblivion's gloomy veil.
      O'er all his senses was not flung —
The midnight wanderer heard the tale,
      Of deep distress flow from his tongue.
Remembrance rack'd his tortur'd brain —
      Where hope has fled, a dreadful guest,
And incoherence mark'd the strain,
      Which sighs convey'd from misery's breast.
Dire was the night, when his last cry
      Pierc'd sad and oft the troubled air:
The sun rose o'er the Fairhead high
      But shone upon no maniac there.
The storm may raise the troubled sea,
      The wild winds o'er the mountain rave;
The maniac's soul from pain is free —
      He sleeps in yonder nameless grave.
Oh God of heaven! on me look down;
      Though dark distress be ever mine,
Let reason still maintain her throne,
      And I will bear, and not repine.
With reason all my steps to guide
      My soul shall shine supremely brave, —
When mercy shuns the vault of pride,
      And peace wide opens misery's grave.
M. B.

* Ballycastle bay is formed by the promontories of Fairhead and Bengore: it is very unsafe from the prevalence of westerly winds.
† A mine was discovered near the Fairhead, which had been worked some hundred years since.

Story from the Belfast Monthly Magazine, 1st December 1808.
Poem from the Analectic Magazine, August 1818.
Image: Ballycastle Strand by JP Rooney.

1 comment:

  1. I have included your blog in Interesting Blogs on Friday Fossicking at

    Thank you, Chris