03 FEBRUARY 1900
Two years ago one summer night in Pretoria we gathered to greet a comrade who had journeyed down from Bechuanaland to drink a toast to the memory of the dead. The stars were shining when he came, and when we had shaken his hand we sallied out through the streets of the capital, and wended our way to the Arcadia Brug and lay us down beside the singing Aapies River; and there under the shadow of the black hills he sang us ‘The Memory of the Dead,’ and we made the kopjes re-echo back the chorus. We chorused in many brogues, for we were Leinstermen and Ulstermen, Connaughtmen and Munstermen, and some of us had never seen Ireland at all.
That night old Aapies heard more Irish songs than ever he had heard before. It was midnight ere we quitted his side, with the parting chorus of—
Vive la! the Old Brigade,
Vive la! the new one, too,
Vive la! the rose shall fade,
And the shamrock shine for ever new!
The Boers who passed the bridge and heard our singing cried out to us encouragingly. They knew we were, like them, no fond lovers of the rooinek.
He was a Leinsterman, and next day when we pic-nicked, Jem from Derry’s walls extolled the Northernman. ‘The men of Ulster,’ quoth Jem, ‘are the best men of all Ireland.’ ‘Let us not talk of who may be the best men,’ said the Eastern, ‘are we not all Irish?’ ‘Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connaught—Ireland over all!’ said Big Mick, and we cheered the sentiment. But Jem felt aggrieved. That night we gathered again to toast the little country that lay 8,000 miles away from us. He talked to us long and earnestly of Ireland and her future and his hopes for it. He spoke of an Ireland free—with her flag amongst the flags of the nations, with her language on the lips of her children. ‘I am teaching my children Irish,’ he said, proudly. ‘I hope to live to see the day when they will speak it, and nothing but it, in their own free land.’
I see him now as he stood up to sing the parting song—‘The Memory of the Dead.’ I hear his voice in memory again as he sang—
Through good and ill, be Ireland’s still,
Though sad as theirs your fate,
And true men, be you men,
Like those of ’98.
But only in memory. Never again shall my eyes behold him or my ears hearken to his voice. For he died for Ireland like the men whose memory he revered. Tied to a post in Mafeking he was riddle by the bullets of Baden-Powell’s assassins for being ‘an Irish Fenian.’ His name was James Quinlan. Let his countrymen be but as true through good and ill to Ireland as he was, and the dream he dreamed will yet be realised.
And Jem from Derry, who is with the Brigade, I can trust to think of the Leinsterman, when some English assassin howls to him for mercy.