From Irish Freedom, May 1911.
The blossoms of early summer whitened the fragrant hedgerows, a cluster of delicate rose bloom here and there breaking through the gleaming whiteness, like a blush on the snowy white cheek of some beautiful young cailín, coyly, yet gladly, tripping towards the curtained portals of the future, behind which love and life are waiting. The gold sun shimmered through the blue mist of morn. The vivid green of the pasture fields, where the milk-white calves and the kindly red and dappled kine were browsing, was all tender and succulent, a yellow brocade of dew-gemmed butter-cups making, at intervals, a brilliant spangle in the warm, mellow glister of sunny light. Oh! how vivifying the sight of that sweet May morning in holy Ireland! Resurgent nature, again vigorous and imperious, and in the long sleeping heart the divine sense of beauty on earth in air, and sky—the senses keen to see and hear and feel; the awakened mind alight with the glow of a new perceptiveness.
The dreamer smiled serenely. Then ‘a change came over the spirit of his dream.’ He sees the silent drilling of sinewy men and beardless striplings in the hush of a moon-bright night. Again his heart beats with the fervour of high hopes and noble aspirings. Later on he is in Tir na n-Og, or some gladsome, familiar spot as lovely. He and his merry grey-eyed cailín deas are dancing, hilariously footing it with wild glee, she stepping up to him with all the buoyant, coaxing merriment of the world in her twinkling eyes. He can hear the lively piping of old blind Owen: ‘Oh, the days of the Kerry dancing!’ But, ochone! these are but the fragments of a dream. For a while there is a semi-wakefulness, a heavily-troubled semi-wakefulness.
Then, again fragmentary visions—long files of marching men—men tramping over rugged mountains and down through heathery, winding glens—tramping to the inspiring strains of the war pipes, tramping to the big fight, the great uprising of the Gael, of which the outcome is to be victory or death.
Anon there is a mingling of other scenes. The cailín of the silken curls, and the graceful step, is standing among the flowers in the trellised porch. The grey, dark eyes that can so flash with the fearless love of Ireland and Liberty are now looking into his with loving trust. But again he sees them flash with fire, as, with kindling verse, they talk of all that is to come. But another change; and, somewhere in the clouded background, he hears the stifled mutterings of a people’s crushing, despairing sense of yet another defeat. Then, in quick succession, he sees the blessed sight of the cailín, now his wife, more beautiful than ever in her fortitude, she hushes the cries of their frightened children with brave words of motherly reproval, and strengthens his manhood with her own courage and undaunted hope. Her eyes are on the dreamer now, and he reads in them the full measure of her love and sacrifice. He feels her kisses, the repressed anguish of the last good-bye, the tender, passionate Dia go deo leat is lived through once more…. And after there are many wanderings, many shifting scenes, or snatches of scenes, but at last comes the proud consummation. The Capital is in the hands of the Fenian men—the day, the cause is won. The soldiers of Liberty are shouting one long, mighty, reverberating shout, the shout of a giant triumphant, the great heart of a long crushed, but never extinct, old nation, in its deep, yet loud, and vibrant acclaim. Look! yonder is blood and smoke and fire. The hated Castle is demolished. The Green Flag begrimed, blood-stained, but all-conquering waves above the smouldering ruins. Now, now, at length the hour has come. The stronghold of an odious, grinding, foreign tyranny, the asylum and citadel of home-grown treachery and weakness is dismantled, its defenders flying before the outraged justice of centuried years. What though the agony of the dying is painfully evident, what though loved comrades lie among the slain, the joy, the rapture of this moment are supreme, unsurpassable. Pity and love and all things else are swallowed up in the wild exultation of victory. Abú! Abú! Abú!
Ireland, Abú! breaks shrilly from the dreamer’s white lips. With a brutal swear in his mouth, a warder looks through a spy-hole in the door of a cold, bare cell in an English prison, flashing his bull’s-eye lantern on the Fenian convict within. He sees the prisoner fling up his emaciated arms with a gesture of frantic joy, the Abú just dying on his wan, parted lips. Then presently the dreamer lies still.
‘Blazes to you, No. 99, leave off. No more of this bluff, I say, no more. D’ye hear?’ And without waiting for a reply, the door of the spy-hole is shot to, with a loud snap, and soon the echo of the night watchman’s footsteps in the corridor is the only sound that breaks the heavy deadly silence of night within those grim, dark prison walls.
In the morning, when the day warder is going his rounds, he finds a prisoner dead in his cell. The prisoner is No. 99. A sudden, most unexpected death, the prison authorities aver, but who could truly think it unexpected, and look at the wasted frame that was once so strong and sturdy, the chest that had been broad and deep as a gladiator’s now shrunken to skin and bone. There is a strange majesty beauty in the cold face of the dead which the dull, hard eyes of the prison spectators cannot see, or seeing, cannot understand. The rigid pose is proud and defiant, and the smile on the colourless lips is of triumph—not defeat.
The Fenian convict is dead, but Ireland is living; nay, in his final hour he has seen her victorious, and therefore in his desolate cell the captive is conqueror. Failure, imprisonment, even Death, have met their King.