THE MANY-MANSIONED HOUSE
AND OTHER POEMS


By
EDWARD WILLIAM THOMSON




 

RIDGEWAY FIGHT

(1866)

(IRISH-CANADIAN BALLAD)

 



This tale is told by one so old that all she loved are dead,

Yet faintly glows the Irish rose where once her cheeks were red.

My boy was born where fruit and corn, widespread by Welland’s             shore,
Sway in the moaning monotone from far Niagara’s roar.
His father’s eyes on England’s skies looked first when brought

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            to birth,

And strong the stride of manful pride he had from English worth.
My own good name hath Irish fame, my heart is Erin’s heart,
My boy soon learned how hot it burned to take Old Ireland’s part.

Yet his young life was free from strife ’twixt Saxon blood and             Celt,
Because so kind his father’s mind leaned unto all I felt,

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Whose generous way was oft to say, “I love my Irish rose;
That hearts must stand for native land the heart of England             knows.”
And swift my voice would then rejoice, “Our Irish hearts but             crave
That England be as you to me, and not as Lord to Slave.”

Our threefold cord the loving Lord strengthened each year anew,

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Till hope her time had come to prime once more in Ireland grew;
’Twas in the year when Azrael’s spear had smote the fighting             South
My yearning stirred to hear the word that passed from mouth to             mouth:— [Page 87]

“Our blood can boast in either host of the battle-weary States,
Sons who have fought as heroes ought against and for the Fates;

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Their hands and eyes in War are wise, their hearts to Ireland true,
And hath not God made them His rod to do what He would do?
If once they stand on Irish land against her ancient wrong,
Then sorrows sighed since freedom died shall end in Erin’s             song.”

In that strange year my son knew clear what longing swelled my

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            heart,

While yet the thought his father taught seemed scarce from mine             apart;
So his young mind to this inclined, “Freedom is Ireland’s right,
I wish her well though she rebel against free England’s might.”

When so I heard him speak that word, how could my eyes but             shine?
And if it brought his father aught of grief he made no sign,

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But uttered grave, “May Heaven save your mother’s race from             pain,
And mine from blood spilt as a flood that England’s law may             reign.”

So strong they be who hold the sea that when that year was past,
Erin no more could hope her shore might hear her bugle blast;
Yet did her rage the strife to wage bring this strange thought to

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            birth,

“My sons, belike, may England strike upon Canadian earth.”             [Page 88]

When first we heard that raving word my son laughed out in             scorn,—
“A Fool’s parade ’t were to invade the soul where I was             born!
Here Irish folk have felt no yoke, our equal laws they share,
’T is madness starts in Irish hearts that give such talk to air!”

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Yet when next June the birds their tune through Welland orchards             poured,
Upon the land a Fenian band came seeking England’s sword.

In student’s gown Toronto town then held my darling son,
For Youth must roam afar from home lest learning be not won.
Within his breast like fire prest the urging, “Take your stand—

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Haste to obey—no hour delay—defend your native land—
Your true-born heart—your natural part—your Country’s             cause maintain—
Were foemen come with England’s drum your duty were as
             plain.”

Ere set the sun he shouldered gun with Rifles of the Queen,
Nor deemed it strange in green to range against the flag of green.

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“Near Ridgeway you shall rendezvous,” those volunteers were              told,
“Where shall be sent a regiment of regulars famed of old;
Munitions they shall bring your way—march ye with twenty                           rounds—
Your pouches full for trigger pull shall be when battle sounds.”

That regiment?  Oh, yes, ’t was sent,—but Irish was its soul,

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Its veterans dragged their feet and lagged sullen beyond control; [Page 89]

Though undismayed, pretence they laid that heat and sun-stroke              scared;
Who blames their heart to shun a part against the Blood they              shared?
Three miles of march their Colonel’s starch melted so soft he              lay
Quartered for night in broad daylight,—and Ridgeway leagues

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             away.


Oh, blossomed trees of Welland leas, how could ye bloom so fair
With fragrant joy when on my boy lay such a load of care?
For in his heart the Irish part dreamed I must suffer woe
Whene’er I learned my son had turned his hand against that foe.
And one, far born o’er seas, that morn had called him “Traitor

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             foul

Because he spoke of Ireland’s yoke, and met the Cockney              scowl
With, “Oh, that earth which gave me birth should see Canadians              slain
As if in fight that England’s might should trample Ireland’s              pain!”

Yet did his will set hard to kill when once the bullets flew,
And by his side the comrade died whom all his life he knew;

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Then wroth he fought, taking no thought beyond that field of strife
Where every lead his rifle sped searched for an Irish life.

Their twenty rounds were spent—no sounds of regulars marching              true
To keep the pledge by point and edge to reach the rendezvous.
With them not nigh a fresh supply of cartridge ours must lack;

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Though few men quailed when pouches failed they drew to              Ridgeway back. [Page 90]

But had my son his battle done?  Not he; but bitter swore,—
“Better to lie beneath this sky with him who breathes no more
Than native feet should here retreat.”  He fixed his bayonet              steel—
And By the Dead who there had bled, its point the foe should

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             feel!


“And now,” said he, “you ‘traitored’ me.  Come now and play the              game
Up to the end, my Cockney friend, who fights in England’s name!”

From South and North alike sprung forth to lift the Sunburst’s              light,
Those Fenians came from fields of fame, and knew all ways of              Fight;
So when alone his bayonet shone, there many a veteran breath

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Spoke,—“Here comes one who scorns the sun and volunteers              for Death!
By Heaven, the pride that’s in his stride!  The lad’s too young              to kill;
Now test him fair, yet try to spare his life against his will.”
For still the Brave will heroes save.  God bless the Irish voice,
Which never yet did once forget in valor to rejoice!

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As in he ran he chose his man with such a glint of eye
That all knew there how well the stare meant You or I shall die;
But when his steel with One would deal, five clashed to check the              thrust,
And yet his tierce delivered fierce brought down his man to dust
Ere other five took him alive,—for live they must who must.

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[Page 91]

O’Neil he cried in warlike pride,—“Well done, you English boy!
All soldiers here rouse up the cheer,—God give his mother joy!”
But down he sank, and sore he drank of shame to be so weak
That when he heard that Irish word the tears ran down his cheek.
Yet why he wept the secret kept—so strong his nature’s pride,

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And no man there guessed Erin’s share in him who had defied.

Their raid was past, they hurried fast to gain a friendly shore,
They left him there as free as air—yet, from afar, once more
They cheered the lad who’d strode as glad to charge their line              alone.
Then long he stood in dream he could hear who but me in moan

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That Ireland’s day had passed away, and that my own son’s              heart
Had chose the lot to fire the shot against sad Erin’s part.

But when he came to take my blame I kissed him fond, and              cried,—
“Son of my love, ’t is God above makes dear our Country’s              side;
Child of this Land, no man can stand more true to parent’s worth

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Than when his life is pledged in strife to guard his native earth;
Let who might come with outland drum, your duty were as plain.”
Dear long-dead boy, thy flush of joy delights my soul again! [Page 92]