I am well pleased to find a goodly number of my countrymen occupying respectable positions in this city. Those in the humbler walks of life are, so far as I can judge, well-conducted, and industrious, and as a consequence (in this country) are on the high road to become rich. Yet there are few who have not had to contend with hardship and disappointment. Those who have been inured to suffering at home do not mind this much. But, alas! for those who have been driven from comfortable homes in the old country. That dear old country! how the hearts of her children ever, ever turn to her. I have met grey-haired men who came to this country in their childhood, fifty years ago and more, who are ready to give all they are worth in the world to send the “wild geese” across the Atlantic. The very children talk of the return of the “wild geese.” On questioning a little boy how he had come to know so much about this and other kindred topics, I found that he was a pupil at the Sisters of Charity’s school, and that the old man who chopped wood for the good sisters, while resting from his labours, was wont to call the urchins about him and hold forth by the hour for their edification, upon the ancient glories of Erinn. This old seer believes religiously that the time is at hand at last. Heaven send, old friend, that you are a true prophet!
I have always felt a deep interest in the farmer. So, when my friend Mr. Scanlan, president of the Fenian Brotherhood, offered to drive me out some score miles through the prairie, I jumped at the offer. Accompanied by two other friends, we set out on our prairie driver one bright Sunday, in a two horse vehicle called a buggy. A ride over a rolling prairie is a decidedly exhilarating affair. My friends called my attention to a remarkable optical delusion in the shape of a lake where there was no lake. It is said to be reflection of lake Michigan, to which our backs were turned – but I am unable to account for it satisfactorily. The phenomenon differs from the mirage of the desert, inasmuch as it is always there. We passed immense herds of cattle in charge of herdsmen booted and spurred, and mounted upon long-tailed horses. Some twenty thousand cows are kept for their milk in this way, by the citizens of Chicago. They are driven to the owners doors, morning and evening, to be milked; the while cost of keeping them being only ten cents a week for each cow. From this I may safely conclude that the good citizens of Chicago know what chalk mixture is. The land, for a considerable distance round the city, is of an inferior description for cultivation, so that many thousands of acres remain unenclosed; hence the cost of keeping a cow being only ten cents a week to the herdsman. An hour’s drive brought us to the well-cultivated country, and we began to pass by pleasant homesteads, surrounded by apple and peach orchards and trees of various kinds, the hickory (best timber extant for pike handles) predominating. We stopped at a farm house belonging to an Irishman. The house is of wood, as are nearly all houses out west – with a verandah entirely covered by a vine on two sides – the doors of two handsomely furnished rooms open on this vine-screened verandah. The owner showed us over his farm and premises, and I could not help wishing that a much larger proportion of our people would take to the prairie, instead of remaining in the towns and cities, as by far too many of them do. This farm produced wheat, potatoes, Indian corn, &c., in abundance; and from the friable nature of the soil, the labour of cultivating it is very light. And it is only after a dozen years tillage, or so, that manuring is thought of. My attention was attracted to a large wooden building, called “the barn” – though it includes barr, stable, granary, &c., and I had the curiosity to ask what it might have cost to erect it.
“What do you think?” said the owner.
I replied, “About fifty pounds.”
He laughed, and said it cost four times fifty, for that he paid the carpenter who built it ten shillings a day. I remarked that was very expensive.
“We just want to get the work done, and never mind the expense,” said he, “for when ‘tis done – why, you see, ‘tis our own.”
“Ah, that’s it!” said I, “you have no landlords here.”
And I thought what a happy country Ireland would be, and how cheerfully the farmer there would pay good wages to the mechanic and the labourer if it were not for these landlords, and the accursed government whose tools they are. While my thoughts ran on in this way, I turned round to look at the comfortable free home of this man, who was once a serf in Ireland, and my eye rested on a young man in military uniform standing in the doorway. Why should they not fight for it? Why should not Irish-born citizens be loyal to the constitution which has given them these free homes? I never could understand why they should not, or how, consistently with honour and dignity, they could have remained idle spectators of the war. I must say, though, that they ought not to be expected to do more than their fair share of fighting. It is useless to deny that “the Irish” are looked upon as mercenaries who will cut throats for pay in any cause. I have just read a letter from a Yankee “Paris Correspondent” of a Yankee newspaper, where the writer coolly speculates upon the acceptance of the Mexican crown by Maximillian of Austria, on condition of his being merely allowed to keep a body guard of fifteen or twenty thousand Irish. Here is an American looking on (at a safe distance) while Irish blood was falling like rain on American battle fields, and who evidently never thought of the Irish soldier as a good citizen and patriot, but merely as a soldier of fortune. Good Lord, has it come to this with us? Yet it is better that it should be so. It is well that the Irishman should never be allowed to forget that his own country is a slave and a beggar, and that so long as he allows her to remain in this condition, so long must be submit to share in her degradation. Much good will come to Ireland out of this war. I shall be questioned when I return home, about the war, and what party is right, and what party is wrong, – upon which points I shall be expected to deliver judgment like an oracle. But I must confess that I find it rather difficult to arrive at a satisfactory solution of the question. However I shall try. But there is another subject about which I shall be eagerly questioned too, – which subject is indeed to me the question of questions. Fortunately to this question I shall be able to reply in a manner that must prove highly satisfactory to my interrogators; so much so that I anticipate many vice-like grasps of the hand, with other demonstrations of delight when I tell what I have to tell.