Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu ~ Shamus O’Brien

A Tale of ’98, As Related By An Irish Peasant

Jist after the war, in the year ’98,
As soon as the Boys wor all scattered and bate,
‘Twas the custom, whenever a peasant was got,
To hang him by trial—barrin’ such as was shot.
An’ the bravest an’ hardiest Boy iv them all
Was Shamus O’Brien, from the town iv Glingall.

An’ it’s he was the Boy that was hard to be caught,
An’ it’s often he run, an’ it’s often he fought;
An’ it’s many the one can remember right well
The quare things he did: an’ it’s oft I heerd tell
How he frightened the magistrates in Chirbally,
An’ ‘scaped through the sojers in Aherlow valley;
How he leathered the yeoman, himself agin four,
An’ stretched the two strongest on ould Golteemore.
But the fox must sleep sometimes, the wild deer must rest,
An’ treachery prey on the blood iv the best;
Afther many a brave action of power and pride,
An’ many a hard night on the mountain’s bleak side,
An’ 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.
Farewell to the forest, farewell to the hill,
An’ farewell to the friends that will think of you still.
Farewell to the pathern, the hurlin’ an’ wake,
And farewell to the girl that would die for your sake!
An’ twelve sojers brought him to Maryborough jail,
An’ the turnkey resaved him, refusin’ all bail.

Well, as soon as a few weeks were over and gone,
The terrible day iv the thrial kem on,
There was sich a crowd there was scarce room to stand,
An’ sojers on guard, an’ Dragoons sword-in-hand;
An’ the courthouse so full that the people were bothered,
An’ attorneys an’ criers on the point iv bein’ smothered;
An’ counsellors almost gev over for dead,
An’ the jury sittin’ up in their box overhead;
An’ the judge settled out so detarmined an’ big
With his gown on his back, and an illegant wig;
An’ silence was called, an’ the minute ’twas said
The court was as still as the heart of the dead,
An’ they heard but the openin’ of one prison lock,
An’ Shamus O’Brien kem into the dock.
For one minute he turned his eye round on the throng,
An’ he looked at the bars so firm and so strong,
An’ he saw that he had not a hope nor a friend,
A chance to escape, nor a word to defend;
An’ 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,
An’ Jim didn’t understand it nor mind it a taste,
An’ the judge took a big pinch iv snuff, and he says,
“Are you guilty or not, Jim O’Brien, av you plase?”
An’ all held their breath in the silence of dhread,
An’ Shamus O’Brien made answer and said:
“My lord, if you ask me, if in my lifetime
I thought any treason, or did 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 would answer you, No!
But if you would ask me, as I think it like,
If in the Rebellion I carried a pike,
An’ fought for ould Ireland from the first to the close,
An’ 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 willin’ my veins should run dhry,
An’ that now for her sake I am ready to die.”

Then the silence was great, and the jury smiled bright,
An’ the judge wasn’t sorry the job was made light;
By my sowl, it’s himself was the crabbed ould chap!
In a twinklin’ he pulled on his ugly black cap.
Then Shamus’s mother, in the crowd standin’ by,
Called out to the judge with a pitiful cry:
“O judge! darlin’, don’t, O, don’t say the word!

The crather is young, have mercy, my lord;
He was foolish, he didn’t know what he was doin’;
You don’t know him, my lord—O, don’t give him to ruin!
He’s the kindliest crathur, the tindherest-hearted;
Don’t part us forever, we that’s so long parted!
Judge mavourneen, forgive him, forgive him, my lord,
An’ God will forgive you—O, don’t say the word!”

That was the first minute O’Brien was shaken,
When he saw that he was not quite forgot or forsaken;
An’ down his pale cheeks, at the word of his mother,
The big tears wor runnin’ fast, one afther th’ other;
An’ two or three times he endeavored to spake,
But the sthrong manly voice used to falther and break;
But at last, by the strength of his high-mountin’ pride,
He conquered and masthered his grief’s swelling tide;
“An’,” 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 wand’ring in fear
On the bleak, trackless mountain, among the wild deer,
To lie in the grave, where the head, heart, and breast,
From labor and sorrow, forever 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’s lyin’ undher the raven,
No thrue man can say that I died like a craven!”

Then toward the Judge Shamus bent down his head,
An’ that minute the solemn death-sentence was said.
The mornin’ was bright, an’ the mists rose on high,
An’ the lark whistled merrily in the clear sky;
But why are the men standin’ idle so late?
An’ why do the crowds gather fast in the strate?
What come they to talk of? what come they to see?
An’ why does the long rope hang from the cross-tree?
O Shamus O’Brien! pray fervent and fast,
May the saints take your soul, for this day is your last;
Pray fast an’ pray sthrong, for the moment is nigh,
When, sthrong, proud, an’ great as you are, you must die!—

At last they threw open the big prison-gate,
An’ out came the sheriffs and sojers in state,
An’ a cart in the middle an’ Shamus was in it,
Not paler, but prouder than ever, that minute.
An’ as soon as the people saw Shamus O’Brien,
Wid prayin’ and blessin’, and all the girls cryin’,
A wild, wailin’ sound kem on by degrees,
Like the sound of the lonesome wind blowin’ through trees.
On, on to the gallows the sheriffs are gone,
An’ the cart an’ the sojers go steadily on;
An’ at every side swellin’ around of the cart,
A wild, sorrowful sound, that id open your heart.
Now under the gallows the cart takes its stand,
An’ the hangman gets up with the rope in his hand;
An’ the priest, havin’ blest him, goes down on the ground,
An’ Shamus O’Brien throws one last look round.

Then the hangman dhrew near, an’ the people grew still,
Young faces turned sickly, and warm hearts turned chill;
An’ the rope bein’ ready, his neck was made bare,
For the grip of the life-strangling cord to prepare;
An’ the good priest has left him, havin’ said his last prayer.
But the good priest did more, for his hands he unbound,
An’ with one daring spring Jim has leaped on the ground;
Bang! bang! go the carbines, and clash go the sabers;
He’s not down! he’s alive! now stand to him, neighbors!
Through the smoke and the horses he’s into the crowd,—
By the heavens, he’s 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.
The sojers ran this way, the sheriffs ran that,
An’ Father Malone lost his new Sunday hat;
To-night he’ll be sleepin’ in Aherloe Glin,
An’ the divil’s in the dice if you catch him ag’in.
Your swords they may glitter, your carbines go bang,
But if you want hangin’, it’s yourselves you must hang.

Foroglio (Ticino)


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