O'Connell.

A poem by Denis Florence MacCarthy

AUGUST 6TH, 1875.

Harp of my native land
That lived anew 'neath Carolan's master hand;
Harp on whose electric chords,
The minstrel Moore's melodious words,
Each word a bird that sings,
Borne as if on Ariel's wings,
Touched every tender soul
From listening pole to pole.
Sweet harp, awake once more:
What, though a ruder hand disturbs thy rest,
A theme so high
Will its own worth supply.
As finest gold is ever moulded best:
Or as a cannon on some festive day,
When sea and sky, when winds and waves rejoice,
Out-booms with thunderous voice,
Bids echo speak, and all the hills obey--

So let the verse in echoing accents ring,
So proudly sing,
With intermittent wail,
The nation's dead, but sceptred King,
The glory of the Gael.


1775.

Six hundred stormy years have flown,
Since Erin fought to hold her own,
To hold her homes, her altars free,
Within her wall of circling sea.
No year of all those years had fled,
No day had dawned that was not red,
(Oft shed by fratricidal hand),
With the best blood of all the land.
And now, at last, the fight seemed o'er,
The sound of battle pealed no more;
Abject the prostrate people lay,
Nor dared to hope a better day;
An icy chill, a fatal frost,
Left them with all but honour lost,
Left them with only trust in God,
The lands were gone their fathers owned;
Poor pariahs on their native sod.
Their faith was banned, their prophets stoned;
Their temples crowning every height,
Now echoed with an alien rite,
Or silent lay each mouldering pile,
With shattered cross and ruined aisle.
Letters denied, forbade to pray,
And white-winged commerce scared away:
Ah, what can rouse the dormant life
That still survives the stormier strife?
What potent charm can once again
Relift the cross, rebuild the fane?
Free learning from felonious chains,
And give to youth immortal gains?
What signal mercy from on high?--
Hush! hark! I hear an infant's cry,
The answer of a new-born child,
From Iveragh's far mountain wild.

Yes, 'tis the cry of a child, feeble and faint in the night,
But soon to thunder in tones that will rouse both tyrants and slaves.
Yes, 'tis the sob of a stream just awake in its source on the height,
But soon to spread as a sea, and rush with the roaring of waves.

Yes, 'tis the cry of a child affection hastens to still,
But what shall silence ere long the victor voice of the man?
Easy it is for a branch to bar the flow of the rill,
But all the forest would fail where raging the torrent once ran.

And soon the torrent will run, and the pent-up waters o'erflow,
For the child has risen to a man, and a shout replaces the cry;
And a voice rings out through the world, so wing`ed with Erin's woe,
That charmed are the nations to listen, and the Destinies to reply.

Boyhood had passed away from that child, predestined by fate
To dry the eyes of his mother, to end the worst of her ills,
And the terrible record of wrong, and the annals of hell and hate,
Had gathered into his breast like a lake in the heart of the hills.

Brooding over the past, he found himself but a slave,
With manacles forged on his mind, and fetters on every limb;
The land that was life to others, to him was only a grave,
And however the race he ran no victor wreath was for him.

The fane of learning was closed, shut out was the light of day,
No ray from the sun of science, no brightness from Greece or Rome,
And those who hungered for knowledge, like him, had to fly away,
Where bountiful France threw wide the gates that were shut at home.

And there he happily learned a lore far better than books,
A lesson he taught for ever, and thundered over the land,
That Liberty's self is a terror, how lovely may be her looks,
If religion is not in her heart, and reverence guide not her hand.

The steps of honour were barred: it was not for him to climb,
No glorious goal in the future, no prize for the labour of life,
And the fate of him and his people seemed fixed for all coming time
To hew the wood of the helot and draw the waters of strife.

But the glorious youth returning
Back from France the fair and free,
Rage within his bosom burning,
Such a servile sight to see,
Vowed to heaven it should not be.
"No!" the youthful champion cried,
"Mother Ireland, widowed bride,
If thy freedom can be won
By the service of a son,
Then, behold that son in me.
I will give thee every hour,
Every day shall be thy dower,
In the splendour of the light,
In the watches of the night,
In the shine and in the shower,
I shall work but for thy right."


1782-1800.

A dazzling gleam of evanescent glory,
Had passed away, and all was dark once more,
One golden page had lit the mournful story,
Which ruthless hands with envious rage out-tore.

One glorious sun-burst, radiant and far-reaching,
Had pierced the cloudy veil dark ages wove,
When full-armed Freedom rose from Grattan's teaching,
As sprang Minerva from the brain of Jove.

Oh! in the transient light that had outbroken,
How all the land with quickening fire was lit!
What golden words of deathless speech were spoken,
What lightning flashes of immortal wit!

Letters and arts revived beneath its beaming,
Commerce and Hope outspread their swelling sails,
And with "Free Trade" upon their standard gleaming,
Now feared no foes and dared adventurous gales.

Across the stream the graceful arch extended,
Above the pile the rounded dome arose,
The soaring spire to heaven's high vault ascended,
The loom hummed loud as bees at evening's close.

And yet 'mid all this hope and animation,
The people still lay bound in bigot chains,
Freedom that gave some slight alleviation,
Could dare no panacea for their pains.

Yet faithful to their country's quick uprising,
Like some fair island from volcanic waves,
They shared the triumph though their claims despising,
And hailed the freedom though themselves were slaves.

But soon had come the final compensation,
Soon would the land one brotherhood have known,
Had not some spell of hellish incantation
The new-formed fane of Freedom overthrown.

In one brief hour the fair mirage had faded,
No isle of flowers lay glad on ocean's green,
But in its stead, deserted and degraded,
The barren strand of Slavery's shore was seen.


1800-1829.

Yet! 'twas on that barren strand
Sing his praise throughout the world!
Yet, 'twas on that barren strand,
O'er a cowed and broken band,
That his solitary hand
Freedom's flag unfurled.
Yet! 'twas there in Freedom's cause,
Freedom from unequal laws,
Freedom for each creed and class,
For humanity's whole mass,
That his voice outrang;--
And the nation at a bound,
Stirred by the inspiring sound,
To his side up-sprang.

Then the mighty work began,
Then the war of thirty years--
Peaceful war, when words were spears,
And religion led the van.
When O'Connell's voice of power,
Day by day and hour by hour,
Raining down its iron shower,
Laid oppression low,
Till at length the war was o'er,
And Napoleon's conqueror,
Yielded to a mightier foe.


1829.

Into the senate swept the mighty chief,
Like some great ocean wave across the bar
Of intercepting rock, whose jagged reef
But frets the victor whom it cannot mar.
Into the senate his triumphal car
Rushed like a conqueror's through the broken gates
Of some fallen city, whose defenders are
Powerful no longer to resist the fates,
But yield at last to him whom wondering Fame awaits.

And as "sweet foreign Spenser" might have sung,
Yoked to the car two wing`ed steeds were seen,
With eyes of fire and flashing hoofs outflung,
As if Apollo's coursers they had been.
These were quick Thought and Eloquence, I ween,
Bounding together with impetuous speed,
While overhead there waved a flag of green,
Which seemed to urge still more each flying steed,
Until they reached the goal the hero had decreed.

There at his feet a captive wretch lay bound,
Hideous, deformed, of baleful countenance,
Whom as his blood-shot eye-balls glared around,
As if to kill with their malignant glance,
I knew to be the fiend Intolerance.
But now no longer had he power to slay,
For Freedom touched him with Ithuriel's lance,
His horrid form revealing by its ray,
And showed how foul a fiend the world could once obey.

Then followed after him a numerous train,
Each bearing trophies of the field he won:
Some the white wand, and some the civic chain,
Its golden letters glistening in the sun;
Some--for the reign of justice had begun--
The ermine robes that soon would be the prize
Of spotless lives that all pollution shun,
And some in mitred pomp, with upturned eyes,
And grateful hearts invoked a blessing from the skies.


1843-1847.

A glorious triumph! a deathless deed!--
Shall the hero rest and his work half done?
Is it enough to enfranchise a creed,
When a nation's freedom may yet be won?
Is it enough to hang on the wall
The broken links of the Catholic chain,
When now one mighty struggle for ALL
May quicken the life in the land again?--

May quicken the life, for the land lay dead;
No central fire was a heart in its breast,--
No throbbing veins, with the life-blood red,
Ran out like rivers to east or west:
Its soul was gone, and had left it clay--
Dull clay to grow but the grass and the root;
But harvests for Men, ah! where were they?--
And where was the tree for Liberty's fruit?

Never till then, in victory's hour,
Had a conqueror felt a joy so sweet,
As when the wand of his well-won power
O'Connell laid at his country's feet.
"No! not for me, nor for mine alone,"
The generous victor cried, "Have I fought,
But to see my Eire again on her throne;
Ah, that was my dream and my guiding thought.

To see my Eire again on her throne,
Her tresses with lilies and shamrocks twined,
Her severed sons to a nation grown,
Her hostile hues in one flag combined;
Her wisest gathered in grave debate,
Her bravest armed to resist the foe:
To see my country 'glorious and great,'--
To see her 'free,'--to fight I go!"

And forth he went to the peaceful fight,
And the millions rose at his words of fire,
As the lightning's leap from the depth of the night,
And circle some mighty minster's spire:
Ah, ill had it fared with the hapless land,
If the power that had roused could not restrain?
If the bolts were not grasped in a glowing hand
To be hurled in peals of thunder again?

And thus the people followed his path,
As if drawn on by a magic spell,--
By the royal hill and the haunted rath,
By the hallowed spring and the holy well,
By all the shrines that to Erin are dear,
Round which her love like the ivy clings,--
Still folding in leaves that never grow sere
The cell of the saint and the home of kings.

And a soul of sweetness came into the land:
Once more was the harp of Erin strung;
Once more on the notes from some master hand
The listening land in its rapture hung.
Once more with the golden glory of words
Were the youthful orator's lips inspired,
Till he touched the heart to its tenderest chords,
And quickened the pulse which his voice had fired.

And others divinely dowered to teach--
High souls of honour, pure hearts of fire,
So startled the world with their rhythmic speech,
That it seemed attuned to some unseen lyre.
But the kingliest voice God ever gave man
Words sweeter still spoke than poet hath sung,--
For a nation's wail through the numbers ran,
And the soul of the Celt exhaled on his tongue.

And again the foe had been forced to yield;
But the hero at last waxed feeble and old,
Yet he scattered the seed in a fruitful field,
To wave in good time as a harvest of gold.
Then seeking the feet of God's High Priest,
He slept by the soft Ligurian Sea,
Leaving a light, like the Star in the East,
To lead the land that will yet be free.


1875.

A hundred years their various course have run,
Since Erin's arms received her noblest son,
And years unnumbered must in turn depart
Ere Erin fails to fold him to her heart.
He is our boast, our glory, and our pride,
For us he lived, fought, suffered, dared, and died;
Struck off the shackles from each fettered limb,
And all we have of best we owe to him.
If some cathedral, exquisitely fair,
Lifts its tall turrets through the wondering air,
Though art or skill its separate offering brings,
'Tis from O'Connell's heart the structure springs.
If through this city on these festive days,
Halls, streets, and squares are bright with civic blaze
Of glittering chains, white wands, and flowing gowns,
The red-robed senates of a hundred towns,
Whatever rank each special spot may claim,
'Tis from O'Connell's hand their charters came.
If in the rising hopes of recent years
A mighty sound reverberates on our ears,
And myriad voices in one cry unite
For restoration of a ravished right,
'Tis the great echo of that thunder blast,
On Tara pealed or mightier Mullaghmast,
If arts and letters are more widely spread,
A Nile o'erflowing from its fertile bed,
Spreading the rich alluvium whence are given
Harvests for earth and amaranth flowers for heaven;
If Science still, in not unholy walls,
Sets its high chair, and dares unchartered halls,
And still ascending, ever heavenward soars,
While capped Exclusion slowly opes it doors,
It is his breath that speeds the spreading tide,
It is his hand the long-locked door throws wide.
Where'er we turn the same effect we find--
O'Connell's voice still speaks his country's mind.
Therefore we gather to his birthday feast
Prelate and peer, the people and the priest;
Therefore we come, in one united band,
To hail in him the hero of the land,
To bless his memory, and with loud acclaim
To all the winds, on all the wings of fame
Waft to the listening world the great O'Connell's name.

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