On November 26th we got word that another attack was about being made on Ladysmith, and on the following day I received orders to take 100 of the men to a position situated about a mile in front of Lombard’s Kop. At midnight we accordingly started off. It was a good four hours’ march from where we were stationed, as we had to make a detour in order to conceal our movements from the English, for at this time Sir George White used to work his flash lights all night. Shortly after we had reached the position appointed us we partook a hearty breakfast, which was over by 5 o’clock a.m. The expected attack did not, however, take place; but at about 9 o’clock Lieutenant Coetzee rode round to us and said he had been sent by Commandant Trichard to ask if we would make a reconnaissance towards the Rooi Kopjes just to ascertain their strength. I gladly consented, and divided my small force into two bodies, one of which I put under the command of Captain Mitchel, giving him instructions to take up a certain position from which his fire would have covered us in case of accident, but this, through overzeal, no doubt, he failed to do. Among the fifty men who accompanied me on this occasion were Captain MacCallum, Gaynor, Wade, McGlew, Kennedy, O’Keefe, Murphy, of Kilkenny (a bright young fellow, who died eight weeks later at the hospital in Modderspruit), Joe Tully, Frank Dunlop, fiery old Pat Malone, Jim French (a plucky lad from Cork’s Own City, who had been at the carriage-building trade in Dublin before his departure for the Transvaal), and Bob McKibbin and Pat Quinn, two daring lads all the way from Co. Down.

With characteristic impetuosity, the brave fellows dashed at the English positions, two of which were captured, one right after the others, before the English had begun to realise what was happening. We advanced up to within twelve hundred yards of Ladysmith that morning, and if our numbers had been five hundred instead of fifty we could unquestionably have pushed right on into the town. As it was, we approached so near that we were able to shoot men on the outskirts of the town, and the very audacity with which the whole affair was carried through astonished Boer and Briton alike. After forty minutes’ stiff fighting the English were getting around us on all sides, and as we saw no signs of the Boers coming to our assistance, I gave the order to the men to make for their horses and to get back under shelter of the big guns as quickly as possible. Some half-a-dozen of us remained on the little kopje, and kept the enemy’s attention engaged answering a brisk fire whilst the bulk of the men were getting on their horses. Then, when they were safely off, we started to clear away ourselves. It was about time we did, as the English in overwhelming numbers were within five hundred yards of us at the time. When I reached the base of the kopje I found to my consternation that “Fenian Boy,” a beauty of a pony, had smashed his bridle and bolted. MacCallum’s horse had bolted also; but Jack Hinton (no relation of Lever’s hero) dashed right across the enemy’s fire, succeeded in capturing him, and brought him back to his owner. It was a brave and kindly act. All this time the English were pouring lead in our direction at the close quarters mentioned; so that when MacCallum, seeing my plight on foot, endeavoured to pull up his horse with the object of taking me up behind him, the animal was so excited by the frightful snaping of the maxims and rifles that his plucky owner was unable to control him for the purpose. I had no coat on, and my soft white shirt and green sash afforded a good mark for the English – if they had been able to hit even a haystack except by pure accident. They must have known I was an Irishman, and for that reason I did not like to give the satisfaction of seeing me run, and was just discreetly rounding a kopje at a brisk walk when I happened to glance round and saw Frank Dunlop in the open trying to mount his horse. Dunlop had been wounded in some engagement in South America and had a wooden leg. It was easy to see he was in serious difficulties with his horse, which was prancing madly under the hail of bullets. There was nothing to do but to rush to his assistance as quickly as possible. Having helped him to mount he wanted me to get up behind him, but I declined, and was marching back to cover when Pat Darragh galloped out with “Fenian Boy,” and we were soon out of all danger. I heaved a deep sigh of relief when I heard the shells from Commandant Trichard’s big guns rushing overhead to their destination in the English ranks. But for this gallant artillery officer’s keen discernment of the plight we were in and the timely intervention of his big guns we would most probably have fared very badly at the hands of the English that day.

A word of praise is due to Corporal Dick MacDonough for his soldierly action on this occasion. He had been left in the rear with some fifteen men on foot, when with the keen eye of an old campaigner he noticed the fix we were in, and at once advanced to our assistance. From the shelter of some neighbouring rocks he with his fifteen men poured a deadly volley into the ranks of the advancing English that considerably hampered their advance and immensely eased our position. Dick is at the present time a lieutenant in the First Brigade of Irish Volunteers in New York, and I trust he may be a Captain in the army of Irish Independence in the near future.

On the same evening Lieutenant Malan, of the artillery, asked if we could remain with him as a guard for his guns; but much as we appreciated the compliment, I was obliged to tell him that it was impossible to do so unless under special orders from the General, as the Brigade had its own position to hold, and it would never do to have it split up into two divisions. A week later the English made the first of their two famous sorties from Ladysmith. Portion of one regiment succeeded in climbing Lombard’s Kop, and in inflicting some damage on the Long Tom that was situated there. This gun was under the charge of Major Erasmus and Lieutenant Malan, and seems to have been badly guarded, although no blame attaches to either of the above officers in the matter, as they had frequently reminded their General that they had not a sufficient number of men to guard the gun. They had only a dozen men altogether, so that it is scarcely to be wondered that the English were almost successful in seriously damaging this formidable artillery monster. On the night of Dec. the 8th, six hundred Britishers moved silently out of Ladysmith, cautiously ascended the kopje, and put a charge of dynamite in Long Tom’s muzzle. It was, undoubtedly, a plucky attempt to destroy the gun, but from over-excitement or incompetence they only succeeded in temporarily disabling it. The following day Long Tom was hauled down off the kop, placed on a train and sent to Pretoria, where after having six inches taken off its muzzle it was again fit for active service, and in a fortnight was once more vomiting shells into Ladysmith.

Four or five days after the attempt on Long Tom the English made another attack on the guns, which were under the care of the Pretoria commando, and succeeded in blowing a howitzer to pieces. On their way down the hill, however, they encountered about one hundred of the commando, when a fierce fight ensued, in which State Secretary Reita’s two sons highly distinguished themselves. The English lost on this occasion ninety men, between killed and wounded, while 15 or 20 were taken prisoners, so that the destruction of the howitzer was a costly business after all – too costly to be repeated. These two attacks on the guns were undoubtedly characterised by much pluck and daring, and were the only redeeming features in the whole conduct of the English troops during the Siege of Ladysmith.

Immediately after this encounter Commandant Trichard made a request to have fifty men of the Brigade sent to Pepworth Hill every night to guard his guns, as he said “he could sleep in peace so long as he knew the Irish were on guard.” Another remark which the gallant Commandant made more than once was, “Before the Rooinecks get my guns they will have to kill all my Irish.”

One of the first nights the men were on guard over the guns big Mick Ryan strayed away looking for English surprise parties. Mick stumbled on a Boer picket, and, when challenged in the usual form, answered that he was “a poor unfortunate Irishman.”

The Boer sentry, who had almost shot Mick in mistake, asked in surprise, “Why did you not call out ‘Friend’?”

To which the big Tipperary lad, in all sincerity, but none the less comically, rejoined, “Sure, devil a friend I have in the world, so I’ve been down trying to shoot my enemies.”

Another rather amusing incident which occurred some time after we had been re-established in our old positions may be recounted here. Sergeant Pat Malone, an old ’67 man hailing from the County Louth, and as sturdy a man as ever stepped in shoe-leather, went out from the camp to the small kopje near at hand, from which he discerned signs of an advancing body of Lancers.

The old fellow at once rushed back and called out breathlessly, “Come along here, five or six of you boys, till we drive away the damned Lancers.” Pat always did estimate the Lancers at their true value.

At this particular time the men were more anxious than ever to get to close quarters with the British, as a rumour had reached the Brigade that Maurice Quinlan, of Kilkenny, and John R. Whelan, of Dublin, had been shot by order of Baden-Powell at Mafeking, and they wished to avenge their deaths. A month later we heard the rumour was unfounded.

My next article will deal with the Battle of Colenso.