From Milan to Cremona Duke Villeroy rode,
And soft are the beds in his princely abode;
In billet and barrack the garrison sleep,
And loose is the watch which the sentinels keep:
‘Tis the eve of St. David, and bitter the breeze
Of that mid-winter night on the flat Cremonese;
A fig for precaution!—Prince Eugene sits down
In winter cantonments round Mantua town!
Yet through Ustiano, and out on the plain,
Horse, foot, and dragoons, are defiling amain.
“That flash!” said Prince Eugene: “Count Merci, push on”—
Like a rock from a precipice Merci is gone.
Proud mutters the Prince: “That is Cassioli’s sign:
Ere the dawn of the morning Cremona’ll be mine;
For Merci will open the gate of the Po,
But scant is the mercy Prince Vaudemont will shew!”
Through gate, street, and square, with his keen cavaliers—
A flood through a gulley—Count Merci careers—
They ride without getting or giving a blow,
Nor halt till they gaze on the gate of the Po.
“Surrender the gate!”—but a volley replied,
For a handful of Irish are posted inside.
By my faith, Charles Vaudemont will come rather late,
If he stay till Count Merci shall open that gate!
But in through St. Margaret’s the Austrians pour,
And billet and barrack are ruddy with gore;
Unarmed and naked, the soldiers are slain—
There’s an enemy’s gauntlet on Villeroy’s rein—
“A thousand pistoles and a regiment of horse—
Release me, MacDonnell!”—they hold on their course.
Count Merci has seized upon cannon and wall,
Prince Eugene’s headquarters are in the Town-hall!
Here and there, through the city, some readier band,
For honour and safety, undauntedly stand.
At the head of the regiments of Dillon and Burke
Is Major O’Mahony, fierce as a Turk.
His sabre is flashing—the major is dress’d,
But muskets and shirts are the clothes of the rest!
Yet they rush to the ramparts, the clocks have tolled ten,
And Count Merci retreats with the half of his men.
“In on them!” said Friedberg—and Dillon is broke,
Like forest-flowers crushed by the fall of the oak;
Through the naked battalions the cuirassiers go;—
But the man, not the dress, makes the soldier, I trow
Upon them with grapple, with bay’net, and ball,
Like wolves upon gaze-hounds, the Irishmen fall—
Black Friedberg is slain by O’Mahony’s steel,
And back from the bullets the cuirassiers reel.
Oh! hear you their shout in your quarters, Eugene?
In vain on Prince Vaudemont for succour you lean!
The bridge has been broken, and, mark! how, pell-mell
Come riderless horses, and volley and yell!
He’s a veteran soldier—he clenches his hands,
He springs on his horse, disengages his bands—
He rallies, he urges, till, hopeless of aid,
He is chased through the gates by the Irish Brigade.
News, news, in Vienna!—King Leopold’s sad.
News, news, in St. James’s!—King William is mad.
News, news, in Versailles!—”Let the Irish Brigade
Be loyally honoured, and royally paid.”
News, news, in old Ireland!—high rises her pride,
And high sounds her wail for her children who died,
And deep is her prayer: “God send I may see
MacDonnell and Mahony fighting for me!”