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Poetry Magnum Opus

The Minstrel Boy


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On the rain-sodden field at Fontenoy

there is nothing to be seen or remembered

but a misty view of Belgium, formerly France,

just outside the town of Tournai.

And here are no ghosts,

no galloping horses,

no spirits moaning in the air.


I return to the waiting car,

settle into its lingering warmth,

and turn my mind to the evening:

back to Brussels or on to Paris?

There, there are many ghosts,

perhaps no galloping horses,

but lighter spirits in the air.


That year of Bonnie Prince Charlie

when the butcher Duke of Cumberland,

who won the slaughter at Culloden,

was soundly defeated here,

is rarely recalled. So many

wretched, reeling years

have sadly intervened.


And it was my young clansman Liam,

sweet Liam Óg Ó Laighin,

a harpist of darling promise,

who, following his father and grandfather,

grew to military age in France

and happily joined the regiment

whose banner you see below.






Young Liam, Liam, ochóne,

you did not survive the battering day

although the hard-fought field was won.

And you were carried to your father’s home

by six young sorrowful comrades,

and sadly laid to rest. The weathered stone

lies broken under a grove of elms.


The music:


The history:


Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Oh, man! You know I love these bloodline accounts; they read like historical provenance, complete with a contemporary sense of the time and events. The mournful music provides a mystical background that completes the "being there" sensations and emotions. Very moving, like wading through the fog of time and personalized visions. I firmly believe in inherited vs. learned behavior, having seen my children and grand babies showing instinctual gestures and attitudes long before they were old enough to have learned imitation. I shall keep a copy of this one for "show and tell" to anyone interested. Thank you.


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I like what you have done with this.. and your references prove what I've said once before,"the Irish have long memories" :-) Most British children of my era would have learnt at junior school the universal lyrics of "The Minstrel Boy". It is however, an Irish patriotic song; written (as you doubtless know) by Thomas Moore, with an even older Irish air. Provenance indeed. B.

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David W. Parsley

Bren, this one pulses with the "blood of the warrior bard" tempered to a contemplative regard. Wondeful sense of legacy and lost passion.


- Dave

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Many thanks for the comments. I came across a photo the other day which I had taken in the Invalides military museum in Paris. It was a shot of one of the original banners of the Irish Brigade, the Berwick regiment, which looks like a red and green Union Jack. That got me thinking, and one thing led to another. Quite a lot of the Jacobite army left Ireland in 1691 under the terms of the Treaty of Limerick and found service with France, Spain and Austria. Most joined the French in the knowledge they'd soon have another crack at England! There was an Irish Brigade during the American civil war as well ... plus widespread Irish draft riots in New York! Irish immigrants got sucked into every American war from Mexico in the 1840s to Vietnam, which was the theme behind 14 Shades. One interesting but little-known episode concerns the Irish who were sent to fight against Mexico and simply switched sides and became the San Patricios, a crack artillery unit which caused many if not most American casualties. Those who survived the war were hanged. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Patricios

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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