Shamus O'Brien

"Just after the war, in the year ninety-eight,
As soon as the boys were all scattered and bate,
'Twas the custom, whenever a peasant was caught,
To hang him by trial, barring such as was shot.
There was trial by jury goin' on by daylight,
And the martial law hangin' the lavings by night.
It's them was hard times for an honest gossoon:
If he missed in the judges, he'd meet a dragoon;
And whether the judge or the soldiers gave sentence,
The divil a much time they allowed for repentance.
And it's many's the fine boy was then on his keeping,
With small share of restin', or atin', or sleepin',
And because they loved Erin, and scorned to sell it,
A prey for the bloodhound, a mark for the bullet,
Unsheltered by night, and unrested by day,
With the heath for their barrack, revenge for their pay.
And the bravest and hardiest boy of them all
Was Shamus O'Brien, from the town of Glengall.
His limbs were well set, and his body was light,
And the keen fangéd hound hadn't teeth half so white;
But his face was as pale as the face of the dead,
And his cheek never warmed with the blush of the red;
And for all that he wasn't an ugly young boy,
For the divil himself couldn't blaze with his eye,
So funny and so wicked, so dark and so bright,
Like the fire-flash that crosses the depth of the night.
And he was the best mower that ever has been,
And the illigantest hurler that ever was seen;
In fincin' he gave Patrick Mooney a cut,
And in jumpin' he bate Tim Maloney a foot.
For lightness of foot there wasn't his peer,
For, begorra, you'd think he'd outrun the red deer;
And his dancin' was such that the men used to stare,
And the women turned crazy, he had done it so quare -
And, begorra, the whole world gave in to him there.
And it's he was the boy that was hard to be caught,
And it's often he ran, and it's often he fought,
And it's many's the one can remember right well
The quare things he done; and it's often I heerd tell
How he frightened the magistrate in Cahirbally,
And escaped through the soldiers in Aherlow Valley,
And leathered the yeomen himself agin' four,
And stretched the two strongest on old Galtimore.
But the fox must sleep sometimes, the wild deer must rest,
And treachery preys on the blood of the best.
After many a brave action of power and pride,
And many a hard night on the' mountain's bleak side,
And a thousand great dangers and toils overpast,
In the darkness of night he was taken at last.

"Now, Shamus, look back on the beautiful moon,
For the door of the prison must close on you soon;
And take your last look at her dim lovely light,
That falls on the mountain and valley this night;
One look at the village, one look at the flood,
And one at the sheltering, far-distant wood.
Farewell to the forest, farewell to the hill,
And farewell to the friends that will think of you still;
Farewell to the hurlin', the pattern, and wake,
And farewell to the girl that would die for your sake.

"Well, twelve soldiers brought him to Maryboro' jail,
And the turnkey received him, refusin' all bail;
The' fleet limbs were chained, and the strong hands were bound,
And he laid down his length on the cold prison ground.
And the dreams of his childhood came over him there,
As gentle and soft as the sweet summer air;
And happy remembrances crowding on ever,
As fast as the foam flakes drift down the river,
Bringing fresh to his heart merry days long gone by,
Till the tears gathered heavy and thick in his eye.
But the tears didn't fall, for the pride of his heart
Wouldn't suffer one drop down his pale cheek to start;
And he sprang to his feet in the dark prison cave,
And he swore with the fierceness that misery gave,
By the hopes of the good, by the cause of the brave,
That when he was mouldering in his cold grave
His enemies never should have it to boast
His scorn of their vengeance one moment was lost;
His bosom might bleed, but his cheek should be dry,
For undaunted he'd live, and undaunted he'd die.

'Well, as soon as a few weeks were over and gone,
The terrible day of the trial came on.
There was such a crowd there was scarce room to stand,
With soldiers on guard, and dragoons sword in hand;
And the court-house so full that the people was bothered,
And attorneys and criers on the point of being smothered;
And counsellors almost given over for dead,
And the jury sittin' up in their box overhead;
And the judge settled out, so detarmined and big,
With his gown on his back, and an illigant new wig.
And silence was called, and the minute it was said,
The court was as still as the heart of the dead,
And they heard but the opening of one prison lock,
And Shamus O'Brien came into the dock.
For one minute he turned his eye round on the throng,
And he looked on the bars, so firm and so strong,
And he saw that he hadn't a hope nor a friend,
A chance to escape nor a word to defend;
And he folded his arms as he stood there alone,
As calm and as cold as a statue of stone.
And they read a big writin', a yard long at laste,
And Jim didn't understand it or mind it a taste.
And the judge took a big pinch of snuff, and he says,
'Are you guilty or not, Jim O'Brien, if you plase?'
And they all held their breath in the silence of dread;
And Shamus O'Brien made answer and said,
'My lord, if you ask me if in my life-time
I thought any treason or done any crime
That should call to my cheek, as I stand alone here,
The hot blush of shame or the coldness of fear,
Though I stood by the grave to receive my death-blow,
Before God and the world I answer you, "No!"
But if you would ask me, as I think it like,
If in the rebellion I carried a pike,
And fought for old Ireland from the first to the close,
And shed the heart's blood of her bitterest foes,
I answer you, "Yes!" and I tell you again,
Though I stand here to perish, it's my glory that then
In her cause I was willing my veins should run dry,
And that now for her sake I am ready to die.'
Then the silence was great, and the jury smiled bright,
And the judge wasn't sorry the job was made light;
By my sowl! it's himself was the crabbed old chap,
In a twinklin' he pulled on his ugly black cap.

"Then Shamus's mother, in the crowd standing by,
Called out to the judge with a pitiful cry:
'Oh, judge darlin', don't! - oh, don't say the word!
The crathur is young; have mercy, my lord!
He was foolish, he didn't know what he was doin';
You don't know him, my lord - oh, don't give him to ruin!
He's the kindliest crathur, the tenderest hearted,
Don't part us for ever, we that's so long parted!
Judge, mavourneen, forgive him! forgive him, my lord!
And God will forgive you. Oh, don't say the word!'

"That was the first minute that O'Brien was shaken,
When he saw that he wasn't quite forgot or forsaken;
And down his pale cheeks, at the words of his mother,
The big tears were runnin' fast, one after th' other;
But in vain, for his hands were too fast bound that day.
And two or three times he endeavoured to spake,
But the strong, manly voice used to falter and break;
Till at last, by the strength of his high-mounting pride,
He conquered and mastered his grief's swelling tide.
'And,' says he, 'Mother darlin', don't break your poor heart
For sooner or later the dearest must part.
And God knows it's better than wandering in fear
On the bleak, trackless mountain among the wild deer,
To lie in the grave, where the head, hand, and breast
From thought, labour and sorrow for ever shall rest.
Then, mother, my darlin', don't cry any more,
Don't make me seem broken in this my last hour;
For I wish, when my head is lyin' under the raven,
No true man can say that I died like a craven!'
Then towards the judge Shamus bowed down his head,
And that minute the solemn death sentence was said.

"The morning was bright, and the mist rose on high,
And the lark whistled merrily in the clear sky.
But why are the men standin' idle so late?
And why do the crowds gather fast in the street?
What come they to talk of? what come they to see?
And why does the long rope hang from the cross-tree?
Now, Shamus O'Brien, pray fervent and fast;
May the saints take your soul! for this day is your last;
Pray fast, and pray strong, for the moment is nigh
When, strong, proud, and great as you are, you must die.
And faster and faster the crowd gathered there -
Boys, horses, and gingerbread, just like a fair;
And whisky was sellin', and cussamuck too,
Aud ould men and young women enjoym' the view;
And ould Tim Mulvany he made the remark,
'There wasn't such a sight since the time" of Noah's ark.'
And, begorra, 'twas true for him, the divil such a scruge,
Such divarshin and crowds was known since the deluge!
Ten thousand was gathered there, if there was one,
All waitin' till such time as the hangin' 'id come on.
At last they threw open the big prison gate,
And out come the sheriffs and soldiers in state,
And a cart in the middle, and Shamus was in it
Not paler, but prouder than ever that minute.
And as soon as the people saw Shamus O'Brien,
With prayin' and blessin' and all the girls cryin',
A wild, wailin' sound came on by degrees,
Like the sound of the lonesome wind blowin' through trees.
On, on to the gallows the sheriffs are gone,
And the cart and the soldiers go steadily on;
And at every side swellin' around of the cart,
A wild, sorrowful sound that would open your heart.
Now under the gallows the cart takes its stand,
And the hangman gets up with the rope in his hand;
And the priest gives his blessing and goes down op the ground,
And Shamus O'Brien throws one last look round;
Then the hangman drew near, and the people grew stilt
Young faces turned sickly and warm hearts grew chill.
And all being ready, his neck was made bare
For the gripe of the life-stranglin' cord to prepare;
And the good priest has left him, having said his last prayer.
But the good priest done more, for his hands he unbound,
And with one daring spring Jim has leaped on the ground!
Bang! bang! go the carbines, and clash go the sabres!
'He's not down! he's alive still! now stand to him, neighbours!
Through the smoke and the horses, he's into the crowd!
By the heavens he is free!' than thunder more loud,
By one shout from the people the heavens were shaken -
One shout that the dead of the world might awaken.
Your swords they may glitter, your carbines go bang,
But if you want hangin', it's yourselves you must hang,
For tonight he'll be sleepin' in Aherlow glen,
And the divil's in the dice if you catch him again.
The soldiers ran this way, the hangman ran that,
And Father Malone lost his new Sunday hat;
And the sheriffs were both of them punished severely,
And fined like the divil because Jim done them fairly."