Wednesday 28 September 2016

Poetry: The day Wild Geese won wings on the battlefield

Ulick O'Connor

Published 29/11/2015 | 02:30

Splendid ballad: Thomas Davis
Splendid ballad: Thomas Davis

These days when France is undergoing its dark terror, it is time to recall what we owe this country.

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Through history they always supported us in our struggles with the English.

In the 18th century, we sent many thousands to France where they fought against the English in many famous battles.

They were known as the Wild Geese.

Their most notable victory was that battle at Fontenoy against their English enemy who had been responsible for driving them from Ireland.

They rubbed salt in the wounds by seizing the colours of the enemy brigades and brought them back to Paris where they were hung in the Military Museum.

There is a splendid ballad by Thomas Davis celebrating this most famous of battles in which the Irish had played such a large part.

It creates a vivid image of the mess tent in which the Irish brigade gathered the night just before battle.

Its splendid last couplet has become part of our history.

The Battle Eve of the Brigade

The mess tent is full, and the glasses are set,

And the gallant Clare General is president yet;

The veteran stands, like an uplifted lance,

Crying - "Comrades, a health to the monarch of France!"

With bumpers and cheers they have done as he bade,

For King Louis is loved by the Irish Brigade.

"A health to our monarch," and they bent as they quaffed,

"Here's to Georgie the German," and fiercely they laughed,

"Good luck to the girls we wooed long ago,

Where Shannon and Barrow and Blackwater flow;"

"God prosper Old Ireland," - you'd think them afraid,

So pale grew the chiefs of the Irish Brigade.

They fought as they revelled, fast, fiery, and true,

And, though victors, they left on the field not a few;

And they who survived fought and drank as of yore,

But the land of their heart's hope they never saw more;

For in far foreign fields, from Dunkirk to Belgrade,

Lie the soldiers and chiefs of the Irish Brigade.

Thomas Davis 1814-1845

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