Or, Eighty Years Ago

His locks are whitened with the snows of nigh a hundred years,
And now with cheery heart and step the journey’s end he nears.
He feared his God, and bravely played the part he had to play,
For lack of courage did ne’er stain the soul of Myles O’Hea.

A young man ‘lighted from his steed, and by that old man stood;
‘Good friend,’ he asked, ‘what see you in yon castle by the wood?
I’ve marked the proud glare of your eye and of your cheek the glow.’
‘My heart,’ the old man said, ‘went back to eighty years ago!

‘I was a beardless stripling then, but proud as any lord:
And well I might—in my right hand I grasped a freeman’s sword;
And, though an humble peasant’s son, proud squires and even peers
Would greet me as a comrade—we were the Volunteers!

‘That castle was our Colonel’s. On yonder grassy glade,
At beat of drum our regiment oft mustered for parade,
And from that castle’s parapets scarfs waved and bright eyes shone
When our bugles woke the echoes with the march of ‘Garryowen.’

‘Oh! then ‘twas never thought a shame or crime to love the land,
For freedom was the watchword, nerving every heart and hand;
And Grattan, Flood, and Charlemont were blessed by high and low
When our Army won the Parliament of eighty years ago.’

‘And what of him, your Colonel?’ ‘He, good old Colonel, died
While the nation’s heart was pulsing with the full and flowing tide
Of liberty and plenteousness that coursed through every vein.
How soon it ebbed, that surging tide! Will it ever flow again?’

‘Who owned the castle after him?’ ‘His son—my friend and foe.
You see yon rocks among the gorse in the valley down below.
We leaped among them from the rocks, and through their ranks we bore;
I headed the United men, he led my yeoman corps.

‘They reeled before our reddened pikes; his blood had dyed my blade,
But I spared him for his father’s sake; and well the debt he paid!
For how, when right was trampled down ‘scaped I the tyrant’s ban?
The yeoman Captain’s castle, sir, contained an outlawed man!

‘Yes, England was his glory—the mistress of the sea.
‘William,’ ‘Wellington,’ and ‘Wooden Walls,’ his toasts would ever be.
I’d pledge ‘Green Erin and her Cause,’ and then he’d laugh and say,
That he knew one honest traitor—the ‘rebel’ Myles O’Hea.

‘In after years he threatened hard to pull our roof trees down
If we failed to vote at his command. Some quailed before his frown.
Then I seized the old green banner and shouted ‘Altars free!’
The gallant Forties to a man, left him to follow me!

‘Well, God be with him. He was forced from home and lands to part,
But to think ‘twas England robbed him, it was that that broke his heart,
“Old friend,” he said, and grasped my hand, “I’m loyal to my queen,
But would such a law, at such a time, be made in College Green?”

‘And while the tears rolled down his cheeks, his grandson, a brave youth,
Clung to that tree beside the brook (good sir, I tell you truth),
And sobbing, kissed it like a child, nor tears could I restrain.’
The young man turned and hid his face in his hunter’s flowing mane.

‘And Myles O’Hea,’ he spake at length, ‘have tropic suns and time
So changed the boy who, weeping, clung to yon spreading lime?
I was that boy. My father’s home and lands are mine again:
But for every pound he paid for them I paid the Scotchman ten.’

High wassail in the castle halls. The wealthy bride is there,
And gentlemen and tenantry, proud dames and maidens fair,
And there—like Irish bard of old—beside the bridegroom gay,
A white-haired peasant calmly sits; ‘tis poor old Myles O’Hea.

With swimming eyes the bridegroom grasps that noble rustic’s hand,
While round the board, with brimming cups, the wassaillers all stand.
And louder swelled the harper’s strains and wilder rose the cheers
When he pledged ‘your comrades long ago—the Irish Volunteers.’

‘Now, God be praised,’ quoth Myles O’Hea, ‘they foully lie who say
That poor old Ireland’s glory’s gone, for ever passed away.
But gentlemen, what say you? Were not this a braver show
If sword hilts clanked against the board, like eighty years ago?’