I must have been at John Cushan’s school about six years. Paying a visit to the school after his death, I looked at the roll-calls, and I could not find my name on them after December, 1844. So I had been at school from the age of six to the age of thirteen. Bad times came on then. The year 1845 was the first year of the great blight of the potato crops in Ireland. The landlords of Ireland made a raid upon the grain crops and seized them and sold them for their rents, leaving the producers of those crops to starve or perish or fly the country. Thousands of families were broken up; thousands of homes were razed; I am one of the victims of those bad times. People now allude to those years as the years of the “famine” in Ireland. That kind of talk is nothing but trash. There was no “famine” in Ireland; there is no famine in any country that will produce in any one year as much food as will feed the people who live in that country during that year. In the year 1845 there were 9,000,000 people in Ireland; allowing that the potato crop failed, other crops grew well, and the grain and cattle grown in the country were sufficient to sustain three times 9,000,000 people. England and the agents of England in Ireland seized those supplies of food, and sent them out of the country, and then raised the cry that there was “famine” in the land. There was no famine in the land, but there was plunder of the Irish people by the English Government of Ireland; and Coroners’ juries, called upon to give judgment in cases of people found dead, had brought in verdicts of “murder” against that English Government. I will come to that time in another chapter of my recollections.
Many of the neighbors used to sit skurreechting at night at my father’s fireside, and it was here I learned many matters of Irish history before I was able to read history. It was here I came to know Tead Andy, of whom I wrote thirty years ago, when I was in an English prison:
In songs and ballads he took great delight,
And prophecies of Ireland yet being freed,
And singing them by our fireside at night,
I learned songs from Tead, before I learned to read.
That fireside was a big open hearth; up the chimney somewhere was fastened a rod of iron about an inch thick; at the end of it below was a crook; the whole thing was called a pot-crook, and on it was a movable pot hanger to hang a pot. Then with a turf fire and a big skulb of ver in that fire that lighted the plates on the dresser below with the photograph of all who were sitting in front of it; I, standing or sitting in the embrace of one of the men, would listen to stories of all the fairies that were “showing” themselves from Carrig-Cliona to Inish-Owen, and of all the battles that were fought in Christendom and out of Christendom.
Mind now, I am, in these “recollections,” taking in the time that transpired between the years 1839 and 1845—the time I was between the age of seven and thirteen.
In the skurreechting company at the fireside was an old man who had a lot of stories about wars and battles. One story he’d tell of one battle he was in that I could not thoroughly understand at the time, nor did I thoroughly understand it either, until several years after I heard it. It was a story of some battle he was fighting, and he’d rather have the other side win the battle than his side.
One Summer’s day I had my wheel-and-runners outside the door winding quills; an old man with a bundle on a stick on his shoulder came up the street and asked me who lived there in my house. I told him. And who lives in that house opposite? Jillen Andy. And in the next house? Joannie Roe. And the next? Paddy Lovejoy. That Paddy Lovejoy was the father of the rich man Stephen Lovejoy, of the Seventh Ward, New York, who died last year; and Joannie Roe was the sister of the old man Dan Roe, who was making the inquiries of me. He was an English pensioner soldier coming home to Ireland. He had joined the North Cork Militia when a young man, just as many an Irishman joins the Irish militia to day, for the purpose of learning the use of arms for Ireland’s sake; the war of ’98 broke out; the North Cork Militia were sent into Wexford; the battle that Dan Roe was speaking about at my father’s fireside, wherein he’d rather the other side would win than his side, was the battle of Vinegar Hill.
“Oh!” he’d say, “if they had only done so and so they’d have gained the day.”
Cork has got a bad name in Wexford on account of this North Cork Militia going into Wexford in ’98. But the same thing could occur to-day, not only as regards Cork and Wexford, but as regards all the other counties of Ireland.
Those militia regiments are officered by the English, who live in Ireland; by the landlords of Ireland, and by the office-holders of the English Government in Ireland. In ’98 the North Cork Militia were officered by the lords and the landlords of Cork; they were English; the rank and file of their command were the plundered Irish; the regiments were ordered into active service, and, under the military discipline of England the victims of England’s plunder were made to fight against their brother victims in Wicklow and Wexford, who were battling against the common plunderers. ’Tis a condition of things that the Irish nationalist of to-day has to take into consideration in connection with a fight for the independence of Ireland. Every day you will hear some good Irishman say “We will have the Irish police and the Irish soldiers with us when we take the field.” All right; but you must all be reasonable, too; you must first let the Irish policeman and Irishman red-coat soldier see that you are in earnest—that you mean fight—that you have fought a battle or taken a stand which will show him there is no turning back from it, and that if he turns over with you there is some chance of success.
The company of the fireside would be occasionally recruited by some poor old traveling man or woman who had a lodging in the house that night, and seemed to be a pensioner of the family, who had known them in better days.
Looking up at the rafters and at the rusty iron crooks fastened into them, I heard one of those lady lodgers say one night, “Mo chreach! do chomairc-sa an la, na bheidheach meirg air na croocaidhe sin, air easba lon,” which in English would mean “my bitter woe! I saw the day that the rust would not be on those hooks, from want of use.”
The bacon-hooks had no bacon hanging on them, and were rusty. Other articles of better times were rusty, too. On the mantelpiece or clevvy over the arch of the hearth, was a big steel fork about a yard long; it was called a flesh-fork. That used to get rusty, too, and only on Christmas Days, Easter Day, New Year’s Day, Shrove Tuesday and some other big feast-days would the girls take it down to brighten it up for service in the big pot of meat they were preparing for the feast.
The decay in trade and manufacture that had set in on Ireland after the Irish Parliament had been lost, had already been felt by my people. They had a Linen bleachery convenient to the town, and in a shop in the house in which I was born, we had four looms in which four men were at work. Mick Crowley and Peter Crowley had “served their time” with my father’s people as apprentices to the trade; they were now “out of their time” and working as journeymen. Peter was a great singer, and every farthing or ha’penny I’d get hold of, I’d buy a ballad for it from blind Crowley, the ballad-singer, to hear Peter sing it for me. Peter was a Repealer, too, and I should judge his hopes for a Repeal of the Union were high, by the “fire” he would show singing:
“The shuttles will fly in the groves of Blackpool,
And each jolly weaver will sing in his loom,
The blackbird in concert will whistle a tune
To welcome Repeal to old Erin.”
And I used to learn some of those songs of Peter’s. I have them by heart to-day. “The Wonderful White Horse” was a great one. It evidently meant Ireland, for the first verse of it is:
“My horse he is white, altho’ at first he was grey,
He took great delight in traveling by night and by day;
His travels were great if I could but the half of them tell,
He was rode by St. Ruth the day that at Aughrim he fell.”
But the song about “The Kerry Eagle” is the one I used to take delight in. Here are a few verses of it:
“You true sons of Grania come listen awhile to my song,
And when that you hear it I’m sure you won’t say that I’m wrong;
It is of a bold eagle, his age it was over three-score,
He was the pride of the tribe, and the flower of Erin’s green shore.”
From the green hills of Kerry so merry, my eagle took wing,
With talents most rare, in Clare he began for to sing;
The people admired and delighted in his charming air,
And soon they elected him in as a member for Clare.“
Then straight off to London my eagle took flight o’er the main,
His voice reached America, all over Europe and Spain;
The black-feathered tribe, they thought for to bribe his sweet notes,
But he would not sing to the tune of their infernal oaths.…“
Then back to Graniawail he set sail like a cloud through a smoke,
And told her that one of her long galling fetters was broke;
For the Emancipation the nation stood up to a man,
And my eagle in triumph united the whole Irish land.“
There was at that time a pert little bird called d’Esterre,
Who challenged my eagle to fight on the plains of Kildare;
But my eagle that morning, for Ireland he showed a true pluck,
For a full ounce of lead in the belly of d’Esterre he had stuck.…“
And now to conclude: may his soul rest in heaven, I pray,
His motto was peace, his country he ne’er did betray;
The whole world I’m sure, can never produce such a man,
Let us all rest in peace, and forever remember brave Dan.”
Oh, yes; I have love-songs, too, with big rocky words of English in them, such as the song of the Colleen Fhune, of which this is a verse:
“One morning early for recreation,
As I perigrinated by a river-side,
Whose verdant verges were decorated
With bloom, by nature diversified;
A charming creature I espied convenient,
She sadly playing a melodious tune;
She far transcended the goddess Venus,
And her appellation was the Colleen Fhune.”
The song that all the boys and girls in the house had, was the song of “The Battle of Ross.” It was composed by John Collins, of Myross, a man of some fame as a Gaelic scholar and poet, who wrote the Gaelic poem on Timoleague Abbey. “The Battle of Ross” was fought about the year 1800. I suppose it was no regular battle, but the little boys at our side of the house used to celebrate the victory of it every July 12, and march through the lanes and streets, with twigs and rods as guns, upon their shoulders.
Most of the grown people of my day remembered the battle. At the time of its occurrence the towns of Cork were famed for their societies of Orangemen,—men who were born in Ireland, but who were sworn to uphold the foreign rule of England in their native land. They were schooled, and the like of them are to-day schooled, into believing that only for the protecting power of England, the Catholics of Ireland would kill the Protestants of Ireland. These Orangemen societies grew strong in many places, and became so aggressive and so fostered and patronized by the English governors, that they acted as if their mission was the English mission of rooting the old Irish race out of Ireland altogether. The spirit that harmonized with their education was the spirit expressed by those words painted on the gates of the town of Bandon:
“Turk, Jew or Atheist may enter here, but not a papist.”
Of that it is said that some one wrote under it these words:
“Whoever wrote that wrote it well,
For the same is written on the gates of hell.”
But about this battle of Ross that is celebrated in song by John Collins, I may as well let the poet tell the story of it in those words of his that are sung to the air of “The Boyne Water.”
July the twelfth in ancient Ross
There was a furious battle.
Where many an Amazonian lass
Made Irish bullets rattle.
Sir Parker pitched his Flavian band
Beyond the Rowry water,
Reviewed his forces on the strand
And marshaled them for slaughter.
They ate and drank from scrip and can
And drew their polished bayonets;
They swore destruction to each man
Dissenting from their tenets.
Replete with wrath and vengeance, too,
They drank “Annihilation
To that insidious, hated crew—The Papists of the nation!”
Their chief advanced along the shore
And every rank incited;
“Brave boys,” said he, “mind what you swore”—
And what they swore recited.
“This night let’s stand as William stood:
Set yonder town on fire;
Wade through a flood of Papist blood
Or in the flames expire.”
The listening multitude approved,
With shouts of approbation,
Of what their generous leader moved
In his sweet peroration.
Each swore that he would never flee,
Or quit the field of action,
Unless assailed by more than three
Of any other faction.
They crossed the purling Rowry Glen,
Intent on spoil and plunder;
Their firelocks raised a dreadful din,
Like peals of distant thunder.
The Garde-de-Corps first led across;
The rest in martial order,
And in full gallop entered Ross
In fourteen minutes after.
The warlike women of the town,
Apprized of the invasion,
Like Amazons of high renown,
Soon formed into a legion.
With courage scarcely ever known,
Led on by brave Maria,
Each stood, like David with a stone,
To face the great Goliah.
The Flavian corps commenced the fray,
And fired a sudden volley;
The women, strangers to dismay,
Made a most vigorous sally.
The fight grew hot along the van,
Both stones and bullets rattle.
And many a brave young Orangeman
Lay on the field of battle.
Now here, now there, Maria flies,
Nothing can stop her courses.
All instruments of death she plies
Against the Orange forces.
Such is her speed upon the plain,
No mortal can outpace her,
And such her valor—’tis in vain
For any man to face her,
Great Major Hewitt, for tactics famed,
Renewed the fierce alarms,
Celestial rays of lightning gleamed
From his refulgent arms.
His father was of earthly race,
His mother—once the fairest
Of rural nymphs—the stolen embrace
Of Jove upon a “Papist.”
He rushed into the virgin throng
And put them in commotion,
But brave Maria quickly ran
And stopped his rapid motion.
With his own pistol, on his head,
She gave him such a wherrit
As laid him with the vulgar dead,
Devoid of sense and spirit.
Barclay, the second in command,
Renowned for killing number
Was by Margretta’s daring band,
Knocked into deadly slumbers;
With a sharp saw upon his crown
She cut so deep a chasm,
He fell, and bit the bloody ground,
In a most frightful spasm.
The Orange banner was displayed
By youthful Ensign Legoe,
Who was by war’s sad chance soon laid
Low as the other hero:
In this predicament he found
Himself in no small hazard,
When a rude bullet of ten pound
Rebounded from his mazzard
He fell upon his brawny back
To the cold marble pavement;
The victors beat him like a sack,
By way of entertainment.
She said, “Go, vagrant, to the shades,
And tell Sir John the story,
How a small band of Carbery maids
Pulled down the Orange glory.”
Sir Parker, seeing his banner fall,
His warlike troops defeated,
Under the cover of a wall
To a small fort retreated,
Where he and all his Garde de Corps
Lay for some time securely,
And braved the clamor and uproar
Of th’ Amazonian fury.
But while the hero from within
Fired on a brave virago,
Who then pursued four of his men
With vengeance and bravado,
A rocky fragment from without
Made a most grievous rattle
Upon his cheek, his eye knocked out—
Which finished all the battle.
Some of his men in ditches lay
To shun their near extinction;
Some from their helmets tore away
The badges of distinction;
Some in the public streets declared
Against the name and Order.
And thus our Orange heroes fared
The day they crossed the border.
I print the “Battle of Ross” not to foster the feuds it represents, but to show the agencies that create them; I print it because the battle occurred in my native town; because my people were in the battle; because it was a fireside story in every house around me when I was a boy, and because my “Recollections” would not be complete without it. I have through life done as much as one Irishman could do to checkmate the common enemy’s work of fostering those feuds; I am growing into the mood of mind of thinking that I have done more than I would care to do again could I live my life over, because the gain of a few Protestants or Orangemen here and there to the side of the cause of their country’s independence, is not worth the time and trouble that it takes to convince them you want that independence for some purpose other than that of killing all the Protestants and all the Orangemen of Ireland.
The poem is published in Dr. Campion’s Life of Michael Dwyer. It is from that book, sold by P. J. Kenedy, of 5 Barclay street, New York, that I copy it now. My childhood story of the battle is, that the men of Ross did not engage in it at all; that martial law was in force at the time; that the parade of the Orangemen was only a provocation to make the Irishmen show themselves and put them in the power of the law, and have them either shot down or put to prison; but, that the women of the town sallied out, and with sticks and stones put the Orangemen to flight. Their leader, Parker Roche, lost an eye from the stroke of a stone hurled at him by “brave Maria,” Mary O’Mahony (Baan), or “Mauria Vhaan,” as the people familiarly called her.
The leaders of those Orangemen were the people who led the North Cork Militia into Wexford in ’98, and sixteen years before that, they were some of the people that were leaders of the volunteers of ’82, about whom I think a little too much has been said in praise and plaumaus. I look at the names and titles of the Cork delegates to the convention of Dungannon in 1782, and I find them much the same as the names and titles of those who commanded the Irish volunteers of Cork, and the North Cork Militia, who were fighting for England in Wexford in ’98. Just look at these names as I take them from the history of the volunteers of 1782; by Thomas McNevin and Thornton MacMahon. “Delegates to the Convention of Dungannon, County of Cork, Right Hon. Lord Kingsborough, Francis Bernard, Esq., Col. Roche, Sir John Conway Colthurst, Major Thomas Fitzgerald.”
Names of the Irish Volunteers, County of Cork—Bandon Independent Company, Col. Francis Bernard.
Carbery Independent Company, Capt. John Townsend.
Duhallow Rangers, Lieut.-Col. William Wrixon.
Imokilly Horse, Col. Roche.
Kanturk Volunteers, the Earl of Egmont.
Mitchelstown Light Dragoons, Lord Kingsborough.
Ross Carberry Volunteers, Col. Thomas Hungerford.
Carbery Independents, Captain Commanding, William Beecher.
Doneraile Rangers, Col. St. Leger Lord Doneraile.
Bantry Volunteers, Col. Hamilton White.
That Col. Hamilton White is very likely the same White who got the title of Lord Bantry, fourteen years after, for making a show of resisting the landing of the French in Bantry Bay in 1796. The whole army of those volunteers of ’82 was officered by the English landlord garrison of Ireland—in every county of Ireland; and so much English were they, that they would not allow a Catholic Irishman into their ranks. Why, the great Henry Grattan himself opposed the admission of Catholic Irishmen into the ranks of the Irish Volunteers. In his opposition to a motion made in the Irish Parliament House in 1785, he said:
“I would now wish to draw the attention of the House to the alarming measure of drilling the lowest classes of the populace by which a stain had been put on the character of the volunteers. The old, the original volunteers, had become respectable because they represented the property of the nation. But attempts had been made to arm the poverty of the kingdom. They had originally been the armed property—were they to become ‘the armed beggary?’”
The words “the armed beggary” are italicized in the history I quote from. And who profited by that “beggary” of the unarmed people? The plunderers who made them beggars, and who assembled in Dungannon—not to free Ireland, but to fortify themselves in the possession of their plunder.
I don’t know how it is that on this subject of the volunteers of ’82, I think differently from other people. I can’t help it; ’tis my nature some way. And I’m cross and crooked other ways, too. I remember one day, thirty odd years ago, in The Irish People office in Dublin, the company in the editor’s room were talking of Tom Moore, the poet. I said there were some very bad things in his writings, and I did not care to laud to the skies an Irishman who would tell us to
“Blame not the bard,
If he try to forget what he never can heal.”
The editor remarked that I did not understand his writings.
I suppose I did not. Nor do I suppose I understand them to-day; for I cannot yet conceive how any Irishman can be considered an Irish patriot who will sing out to his people, either in prose or verse, that it is impossible to free Ireland from English rule. Show me that anything else is meant by the line,
“If he try to forget what he never can heal,”
and I will apologize to the memory of Moore. That is what England wants the Irish people to learn. That is what she wants taught to them. And that is what she is willing to pay teachers of all kinds for teaching them—teaching them it is better to forget the evils they never can heal—better forget all about Irish freedom, as they can never obtain it. That’s the meaning of the song, and while I have a high opinion of the poetic talent of the man who made it, I cannot laud the spirit of it, or laud the maker of it for his patriotism; I incline rather to pity him in the poverty and cupidity that forced him, or seduced him, to sing and play into the enemy’s hands.