After the victory we returned to our camp outside Ladysmith, where we spent the Christmas Holidays in good old Irish fashion. During that period Mrs. Fannie Trichardt, wife of Commandant Trichardt, formally presented the Brigade with the flag sent us by the Irish Transvaal Committee. Mrs. Trichardt in presenting the flag made a sturdy little speech, in which she said: –

“I hope every man of the Irish Brigade would prefer death before dishonour to this flag, and I hope it may yet float in triumph above Ireland itself.”

The brigadiers were drawn up for the presentation, and they made the kopjes echo their cheers for Miss Gonne, the Irish Transvaal Committee, Green Erin of the Streams, the South African Republic and Mrs. Trichardt herself. The big flag was planted in the middle of the camp, and seeing its green folds playing fitfully in the night wind, we sent our voices rolling far over the veldt, all our hearts deeply stirred by thoughts of the old country and the associations of home. It was with deep emotion that at the end we sang the Transvaal national hymn and drank the toast of “Ireland a Nation,” Irishmen and Boers alike saluting the emblem of our country.

A few weeks afterwards we took part in the Platran fight, and later on a section of the Brigade participated in the victory of Spion Kop, where Fahy, Brennan, and Richardson were killed.

The Brigade took a conspicuous part in all the fighting round Pieter’s Hill, covering itself with distinction and again earning the praise and commendation of our commandants and generals.


At two o’clock on the morning of the 28th of February General Lucas Meyer sent me orders to leave my position and cover the retreat of the guns with the Irish Brigade. I listened to the order in amazement, but it was peremptory and could not be disobeyed. We knew the Britishers had taken Pieter’s Hill, but that did not make us feel any way uneasy as we could have retaken it as easily or easier than we took Spion Kop a short time before. We could not understand what was wrong, nor the excitement and depression visible among the Boers. It was only afterwards we learnt what caused it. The news of Cronje’s surrender had reached them and they could not be induced to continue the fight. Cronje’s surrender gave Ladysmith to the British. Shortly afterwards the Boers returned, but for the time being they were certainly demoralised, and if Buller’s cavalry had been able to follow up, we would certainly have lost three-fourths of our waggons.


We fell back to Kiip Riiver and stood by the guns until all danger was past. The weather was awful, the rain deluging the country. All through that miserable night the burghers trekked from Ladysmith, we remaining at the post of honour covering the retreat of our guns. It was a terrible time. For five days and nights, until we reached Glencoe, our horses had not been unsaddled. At Glencoe we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, without Queen Victoria’s permission, with speech and song and prayed that God would grant us strength and life to strike a blow in our native land. A short time previous the men sent out by the Dublin Transvaal Committee arrived and were received with a cead mile failthe.

From Glencoe we were sent to guard Helpmakaar Pass. At Helpmakaar Pass, much to our delight we received orders to proceed to the Free State, so we started off joyously, for the comparative inaction in Natal had grown wearisome to us. We arrived in the Free State, in time for the fighting at Brandfort, where Captain O’Connor and the Irish-Americans who had joined us, received their baptism of fire and got an opportunity of showing the metal they were made of. There is no occasion to give you a description of the fight around Brandfort; sufficient to say the Irish Brigade was the last commando to leave the field.


During the retreat from Brandfort I missed one of the men, John Boyle, a Donegal man and a Gaelic singer. A little later he rejoined us. He had gone back to the town after the English entered, and kneeling down deliberately shot three of them and then solemnly rode away. Some of the Boers who had witnessed from a kopje Boyle’s daring feat afterwards closed round him and gave him such tokens of their admiration as soldiers have to give – a pull at a flask, a pair of boots and a sore-needed campaign hat.

In all the battles thence to Pretoria we took part, the Brigade having the honour of being chosen with another Boer commando to cover the retreat. At Zand River, Ritspruit and Kroonstadt, we gave the advancing English a pretty warm time of it. As we retired Lieutenant Gaynor and Sergeant Major O’Reilly blew up the bridges and destroyed the railway line, leaving messages for the British posted up which, I fear they did not take too kindly.


From Brandfort to Pretoria, the Irish Brigade had the English always pressing hard on it. Time after time we beat back their advance guard, and gave them an example of what Irishmen could do when they were earnest in their efforts. We were kept so busy that when the British were entering Johannesburg at one side we were leaving by the other. If we had had a day to spare in Johannesburg some of the mines would have gone sky high.

Around Elandsfontein and Irene, the Brigade inflicted heavy damage on the English. We would have liked to put up a hard fight within the capital, but it would have been a foolish waste of from two to three thousand men, who could do more effective work on the open field than couped up, perhaps, for many months, or even for years, in the defence of the city. In the big fight of Donkerhoek, which occupied the 10th and 11th of June, we drove the enemy back twice, the Irish Brigade under General Delarey doing considerable execution. All during the retreat from Donderhoek, through Bronkerspruit, Balmoral, Middleburg, to Belfast, the Brigade was doing all the scouting and outpost duty, for which arduous and dangerous task our methods of fighting made us more apt than the Boers.


At Belfast we had an opportunity to form some idea of the peculiarly British method of making war upon women and children. The wives and little ones of the burghers fighting for their country’s freedom had been transported from Krugersdorp, Johannesburg and Pretoria to Belfast in open cattle trucks, herded together for 15 or 16 hours in the most painful way. They arrived very late in a bitterly cold night, after suffering agonies from fear and from the cruel weather. As they came off the train they looked the most miserable collection of human beings one could possibly imagine – the women overwrought and wearied to death, the poor little children crying pitifully, quite unable to understand why they had been flung out of their homes so suddenly and sent away so far in such discomfort. Many of the women learned then for the first time that their husbands or sons had been killed, and there were terrible scenes at the station when they heard the bad news from the comrades of the dead. The soldiers were very good to these miserable people. The whole Irish Brigade tried to help them and comfort them, making warm coffee to set the blood stirring again in their veins, and doing a thousand little things to relieve their distress.


On the morning of the 24th of August, McCormick and Hay brought me word that the English were advancing on Belfast. The town was deserted, no one there except a handful of the Irish Brigade. But for hours we held them in check by fighting from kopje to kopje, till General Viljoen came up with reinforcements. The advance of the English was stopped, and both sides suspended fighting in preparation for the great battle of Bergendael and Dalamnutha, which commenced next day. Generals Botha and Viljoen, with barely 2,000 men under them held their position for two days against the combined forces of Buller, Pole-Carew, French and Lyttleton. In this battle it was that the Johannesburg police made a glorious stand, sixty-nine of them astonishing both the burghers and the British army by holding a kopje for six hours against five batteries of artillery and thousands of English troops. The kopje was enveloped in the thick smoke and the shells and portions of solid rock flying all over. About fourteen were killed or wounded. Finally the brave holders of the fort wearied to death and sick from the fumes of lyditte, were obliged to leave the position, having performed that day as brave a feat as ever man performed.


When retreating from Bergendael we noticed that one of our big guns was in rather a tight corner. The British were making a desperate effort to capture it, hurrying up their light artillery, they started to shell it with a vengeance. We perceived their little move and wheeled into position under a raking fire and succeeded after some hard fighting and the loss of one man, Jack Mullins, in putting their cannons on the run. Between Nooitgedacht and Waterval Onder we lost O’Hara and Luther, two gallant fellows, especially the former, who gave his life to save the Brigade from an ambuscade. On a scouting expedition, we fell between two hills held by the British, whom, however, by a mistake our men took to be the Johannesburg commando. O’Hara, who was going in advance, got quite close to them before his suspicions were aroused. Suddenly noticing the yellow khaki against the sky above him he sang out, “Who are you, anyhow?”

The answer came back, “We are the English. Hands up!”

“Hands up be damned!” yelled O’Hara. “Run, corporal; run and warn the boys!”

As he spoke he threw himself between the corporal and the British and he fell pierced by a dozen English bullets. The Brigade was saved. Who will despair of Ireland while she can produce such gallant fighting men.


At Komatipoort we had hoped to make a last stand, but the Portuguese authorities sent up word asking the Boer generals not to fight so near the frontier. The President was at Lorenzo Marques at the time, a guest of the Portuguese Government. The request amounted to an order. There was a large British force in our front and on our flanks, and the Portuguese in our rear. It was therefore a question whether we were to be taken by the English or the Portuguese, so we chose the latter. King blew up the last of our “Long Toms,” and we crossed into Portuguese territory with sad and weary hearts and drooping heads. We had fought from border to border. The proudest day of my life was the day we faced our British foes with guns in our hands; the saddest the day the Brigade smashed their rifles and said good-bye to the gallant comrades we had fought side by side with.


I cannot in the limits of a lecture give anything like a history of the Brigade. The war from the time the British reached Komatipoort changed. Regular warfare ceased and guerrilla fighting took its place. This mode of warfare required that its upholders should be thoroughly conversant with the country, should operate in small bodies and have good horses. Unfortunately by the time the Brigade approached the border three-fourths of the men were on foot. All of the burghers who had horses and who could still be of service remained, determined to fight to the last, several Americans being amongst the number. Before leaving the South African Republic I received on behalf of the Boer Government letters of commendation of the Brigade from Commandant General Botha and General Ben Viljoen, and State Secretary Reitz.

Botha wrote as follows: –


“Major MacBride.
Irish Brigade.

Dear Sir – Hereby we have much pleasure in expressing our deepest gratitude towards you and your Irish Brigade for all the military services rendered during the past twelve months, in which we are engaged in a war against Great Britain.

We appreciate very highly the assistance which you have so sincerely rendered to us during this war.

We wish you and your men a hearty farewell on your return voyage.

Sincerely yours,
Commdt. General.
B. VILJOEN, General.”

State Secretary Reitz’s letter read: –

“In the name of the Government of the South African Republic I hereby express my hearty thanks to Major MacBride of the Irish Brigade for the valuable services rendered to our country during the war.

State Secretary.
Hectorsprait, S. African Rep.”


During the war the Brigade took part in all the pitched battles in Natal, in all the pitched battles from Brandfort in the Free State to Pretoria in the Transvaal, and from Pretoria to Komatipoort, and about forty or fifty minor engagements and skirmishes. It lost over 50 per cent in killed, wounded and prisoners. It won the golden opinion of the Boers. Our greatest regret during the war was the death of that brave and dashing French officer, General Villebois-Mareuil.

The Brigade has left many of its members in soldiers’ graves, but it kept aloft proudly and unsullied the flag of Ireland. The sword has dropped from our hands at present, but we hope to pick it up in our own island home and never let it drop until we sweep away every vestige of the “Empire of Hell.”