One never knows who might come calling. Behind the curtain in the Parlor is a gun loop, a hole through which a gun can be fired, and which provides a clear shot at the front door leading into the Great Hall.
Spenser lived at Kilcolman under constant threat. Full-scale rebellion against him and the New English was always a possibility, as were sporadic raids by thieving, ambitious and/or disgruntled neighbors who would have borne a grudge or simply wanted his property. Some would have resented the creation of the plantation by the (mostly Protestant) New English settlers. Others, like his powerful Old English neighbor Lord Roche, engaged Spenser in regular lawsuits over property, and this led to violence on both sides. Spenser was eventually burned out when the Nine Years’ War, led by Hugh O’Neill, earl of Tyrone, began in Ulster and spread south, reaching the plantation in August, 1599. Appropriately, the name of Spenser’s estate was “Hap-Hazard.”
Guns were an early modern innovation in Europe. They are recorded as being in use in Ireland as early as the Battle of Knockdoe in 1504. Even the most mighty and feared Irish lords put gun-loops outside their front doors, as did the 10th earl of Ormond at his Tudor mansion at Carrick-on-Suir. The plantation home of Mallow Castle, occupied by the Norris family of soldiers and administrators, had gun-loops, as did Kanturk Castle, built in the early seventeenth century by the native Irish MacCarthys. Spenser’s fellow planter William Herbert lists cannon and hand-guns among his household inventory at Castleisland, Co. Kerry. Gun-loops are also found at Enniscorthy Castle, Co. Wicklow. Spenser briefly owned property in Enniscorthy in the early 1580s, before he sold it on to Sir Henry Wallop. Spenser’s friend and co-author Lodowick Bryskett lived and wrote in the town of Enniscorthy.
Spenser makes extensive use of guns in his poetry. It has been argued that the highly destructive flail of Talus, Artegall’s iron-man enforcer in Book V of The Faerie Queene, could allegorize raking gunfire. Elsewhere in the epic, the character Timias (an allegorical stand-in for Sir Walter Raleigh) blasts open the castle of the giant Orgoglio with his “horne,” and Orgoglio’s forceful response is compared to cannon-fire (FQ I.viii.3-9). Book II contains “hideous Ordinaunce” (or cannon) used by villains who besiege a castle, the House of Temperance (II.xi.14.3). These same villains are earlier compared to “a swarme of Gnats at euentide” that rise “Out of the fennes of Allan” (II.ix.16.1-2), i.e., the Bog of Allen in the Irish midlands.
Cyril Falls, Elizabeth’s Irish Wars (NY: Barnes and Noble, 1950).
Alistair Fowler, “Spenser and War.” War, Literature and the Arts in Sixteenth-Century Europe, ed. J.R. Mulryne and Margaret Shewring (Basingstoke: MacMillan, 1989), 147-64.
Rev. Kieran O’Shea, “A Castleisland Inventory, 1590.” Journal of the Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society 15-16 (1982-3), 37-46.
Michael West, “Spenser’s Art of War: Chivalric Allegory, Military Technology, and the Elizabethan Mock-Heroic Sensibility.” Renaissance Quarterly 41 (1988), 654-704: 663-4.
—. “warfare.” The Spenser Encyclopedia. Ed. A. C. Hamilton (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1990), 726-7.