Before I commence setting down my own reminiscences of my brother’s boyhood I shall give the words of ‘The Old Grey Mare’ which he had mentioned, and of which he was very fond. Also I shall give, in his own words, a dream which he relates in The Story of a Success. I think it is an appropriate place to do so, as he has just been recording the childish dreams which used to affright him.
The following is the old ballad which he loved:—
THE OLD GREY MARE
(A Bonaparte Ballad)
At break of day I chanced to stray
All by the Seine’s fair side,
When to ease my heart young Bonaparte
Came forward now to ride.
On a field of green with gallant mien
He formed his men in square,
And down the line with look so fine
He rode his Old Grey Mare.
My sporting boys that’s tall and straight,
Take counsel and be wise,
Attention pay to what I say,
My lecture don’t despise:
Let patience guide you everywhere,
And from traitors now beware,
For there’s none but men that’s sound within
Can ride my Old Grey Mare.
Bonaparte on her did start,
He rode too fast, it’s true!
She lost a shoe at Moscow fair
And got lame at Waterloo.
But wait till she comes back to the shamrock shore
Where she’ll get farrier’s care,
And at the very next gate she’ll win the plate,
My sporting Old Grey Mare!
It is certainly a very fine old ballad, with quaint rhymes and fancies.
I will now quote from The Story of a Success, the following extract. As my brother remembered very vividly his childish dreams and nightmares, so this strange dream impressed itself on his mind.
I dreamt (he writes) that I saw a pupil of mine, one of our boys at St Enda’s, standing alone upon a platform above a mighty sea of people; and I understood that he was about to die there for some august cause, Ireland’s or another.
He looked extraordinarily proud and joyous, lifting his head with a smile almost of amusement; I remember noticing his bare, white throat and the hair on his forehead stirred by the wind, just as I had often noticed them on the hurling-field. I felt an inexplicable exhilaration as I looked at him, and this exhilaration was heightened rather than diminished by my consciousness that the great silent crowd regarded the boy with pity and wonder rather than approval—as a fool who was throwing away his life, rather than a martyr that was doing his duty.
It would have been so easy to die before an applauding crowd or before a hostile crowd; but to die before the silent unsympathetic crowd!
I dreamt then that another of my pupils stepped upon the scaffold and embraced his comrade, and that then he tied a white bandage over the boy’s eyes, as though he would resent the hangman doing him that kindly office. And this act seemed to me to symbolise an immense brotherly charity and loyalty, and to be the compensation to the boy that died, for the indifference of the crowd.
This is the only vivid dream I have ever had since I used to dream of hobgoblins when I was a child.
A strange dream, truly, and perhaps a prophetic one, for many of the boys of St Enda’s have died gallantly for Ireland.
And my brother’s other dreams! His dreams of Waking, not of Sleep! Surely they have come true! He dreamed of founding a school where he could foster and cherish his beloved boys. And lo!—his dream was realised at historic Cullenswood! He dreamed of one day giving his life for Ireland’s freedom. One fair May morning, that dream also came true, when English bullets found their billets in his heart!
As a further prelude to what I shall personally have to say, I will here give place to the following words by my mother:—
A MOTHER’S GOLDEN MEMORIES
‘There are so many golden memories of my son enshrined in my heart that I find it difficult to separate them, one from the other, and write about any one thing in particular. These memories are so fragrant—so delicate—so loving! But for the sake of the Irish boys whom Pádraig loved so much, I will endeavour to set down just a few incidents and reminiscences which may, I trust, interest the young readers of this little book.
‘Pádraig was always an affectionate child. I can remember the heartful delight of my chubby little son when the nurse told him of the arrival of his little brother—the little brother whom he loved so dearly through his life, and who followed him always during their years of childhood, boyhood, and early manhood. Ah, yes! That faithful little brother who marched along the thorny road with him, even to death, for the freedom of their beloved country. It seems but a few short years since they both made a vow to fight for Ireland, and, if necessary, to die for her.
‘Pádraig was always very devoted to me, his mother. I remember, oh, so clearly, when he was only a tiny little fellow, I used to sing his little sister to sleep. The songs were Irish songs I often recall to my memory.
‘In later years I used to sing a song about O’Donovan Rossa, and little Pádraig would stand by my side and say: “Muddie! Sing that song again!” It is strange that my boy should have remembered this particular song so vividly; for I find in some of his writings a reference to it. He says that he felt that Rossa must have been a great man. Another song which Pádraig loved to hear was, “My Mother Dear,” which his father used to sing.
‘This exquisite and profound love for me, his mother, grew with his growth. He always called me “Little Wommie,” and “Little Mother.” In that beautiful play, The Singer, when Mac Dara rushes into his mother’s arms, it was of me, his own mother, that Pádraig was thinking. I knew that, instinctively; and Willie afterwards confirmed my belief when he told me that I was the prototype of Mac Dara’s mother, Máire. His own “Little Mother” was in my boy’s brave heart when he wrote that play.
Pádraig was always very kind to, and fond of, the poor and the aged, and his brother Willie was just the same. Pádraig was especially kind to his delicate sister, who spent most of her time in bed. I remember how, when living in Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street), he would race up the stairs as soon as he came from school to the front room to see her; when he would find that she was not there he would run up the other two flights to the bedroom to her. Then he would take up Little Folks, or any other story he could lay hands on, and read chapter after chapter for her. I could scarcely get him down to his dinner; and as soon as he had finished, he would rush up again to continue reading the child’s beloved books.
‘My son was exceedingly fond of study. In fact, his father could not get him to put his books away even at night-time.
‘When Pádraig left school he could not make up his mind what profession to take up. He had an abhorrence of the Civil Service, into which all his school-fellows had entered; yet he felt he must do something. His whole ambition was to teach boys; and he told me himself that from the time he was sixteen years old he had determined to have a school of his own, where he could teach Irish boys as they should be taught.
‘I could write many, many more loving little instances of Pádraig’s childhood days; but I feel that I have given sufficient for my purpose. And that purpose is to impress on the minds of the boys, and of girls also, that they, too, can grow up as this gentle teacher and lover of children grew up—affectionate, kindly, and brave, as he was in his childhood days.
‘All his life he confided in his “Little Mother”; and he never did the least thing which I did not wish him to do. Even to the last night he was with me, he was just the same. On Good Friday, April, 1916, he stood, as he usually did, with his beloved brother at the foot of the bedroom stairs to bid me that fond good-night: in his last letter, which he wrote to me from Kilmainham, he still turned to me:
Good-bye again, dear, dear mother! May God bless you for your great love for me and for your great faith in me. May He remember all that you have so bravely suffered. Good-bye! I have not words to tell you of my love for you and home, and how my heart yearns to you all. I will call to you in my heart at the last moment!
‘Oh! What inexpressible consolation this beautiful promise has been to me! What greater happiness of exultation could any mother’s soul contain!
‘It has been difficult for me to write about Pádraig without mentioning Willie more frequently. Both were lovable, and they were inseparable. Since their death, I have never spoken of one without speaking of the other also. Both my sons died for their country; both lived in their mother’s heart; both their names will shine on the pages of their country’s history.’
As a fitting pendant to the foregoing words by my mother I will quote Pádraig’s famous poem:
I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge
My two strong sons that I have seen go out
To break their strength and die, they and a few,
In bloody protest for a glorious thing;
They shall be spoken of among their people,
The generations shall remember them,
And call them blessed;
But I will speak their names to my own heart
In the long nights;
The little names that were familiar once
Round my dead hearth.
Lord, Thou are hard on mothers:
We suffer in their coming and their going;
And tho’ I grudge them not, I weary, weary
Of the long sorrow—and yet I have my joy:
My sons were faithful, and they fought.
My mother asked me to insert the little prayer which Pádraig wrote for her, his mother, on the eve of his execution. The circumstances surrounding it are curiously touching.
One evening at Sgoil Éanna some time before the rising of 1916, my mother was sitting very dejected and cast down, pondering sadly many things. Already the ominous thunder of war could be heard far off, and the mother’s heart was very heavy, thinking of what might come. Pádraig noticed that she was sorrowful, and, putting his arms around her, tried to cheer her.
‘What are you thinking of, little mother?’ he asked her tenderly.
‘I’m thinking,’ she told him, ‘that perhaps you may be arrested.’
‘I may be,’ he smiled.
‘And I’m thinking,’ she went on, still more sadly and fearfully, ‘that perhaps you—and Willie—may be killed!’
‘It would be better to be killed than imprisoned,’ he said quietly.
‘But—’ she whispered, ‘if you were killed—and Willie left—or if Willie were killed and you left—how awful that would be for the one left behind!’
Pádraig was very quiet for a moment and then said slowly: ‘Yes! That would be terrible!’
They were silent for a few moments, and then Pádraig saw that she was crying.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said gently. ‘Don’t upset yourself! Things will be all right.’
A few minutes afterwards she got up and put her arms around him, as he sat writing at a table.
‘What is it, little mother?’ he asked her, smiling into her eyes.
‘I’m thinking,’ she whispered tearfully, ‘that—if you go—there will be no one to write something for me—as your father used to. He wrote such beautiful things when your Auntie Kate and Grandfather died. Do you think you—could write something for me? If you—get time?’
He looked at her, with his soul in his eyes.
‘Yes,’ he promised her: ‘I will write something for you—if I get time!’
Just at the last hours that time came, and Pádraig wrote the following prayer for the little mother of his heart:
A MOTHER SPEAKS
(Written in Kilmainham Jail)
Dear Mary, that didst see thy only Son
Go forth to die amidst the scorn of men
For whom He died:
Receive my first-born son into thy arms,
Who also hath gone out to die for men,
And keep him by thee till I come to him:
Dear Mary, I have shared thy sorrow,
And soon shall share thy joy.