(An incident in the Siege of Limerick)

“They have sent for fresh artillery,

The guns are on their way,

God help our hapless Limerick

When dawns another day.”

Thus speaks the gallant Sarsfield,

As sadly he recalls

The famine and despair that lurk

Behind those crumbling walls.

“And yet one blow for freedom –

One daring midnight ride!

And William may be humble yet,

For all his power and pride!

“Go! Bring to me ‘The Galloper,’

To Highway Hogan say

‘Tis Ireland has need of him,

And him alone to-day!”

The Soldier and the Highwayman

Are standing face to face,

The fearless front, the eagle eye,

In both of them we trace

“Hogan! The night is dark and drear,

Say, canst thou lead the way

To Keeper Mountain’s black ravines

Ere dawn another day?”

“Can the eagle find his eyrie?

Can the fox forget his den?

I can lead ye as none other

Of the Slievecamatha men.

The black mare knows it blindfold,

It’s not by the stars she’ll steer,

Ye’ll be to-night on the Keeper’s height –

And dawn will find ye here.”

“Lead on!” and well he led them,

Though the Shannon ford ran deep,

And though the white-lipped floor ran fierce

Around O’Brien’s Keep.

The sentinel on Killaloe

Looked out, but failed to see –

Five hundred silent horsemen ride

Behind the Rapperee.

That night by Balleneety’s towers

The English gunners lay.

“King William’s Camp and safety lies

But twelve short miles away.

What need of further caution?

What Irish wolf would dare

To prowl around our camp to-night,

So near the lion’s lair?”

An Irish wolf is near them now,

And Irish ears have heard

The chosen watchword for the night,

And “Sarsfield” was the word.

A tramp of horse – “Who’s there?  The word!”

“Sarsfield” the answer ran,

And then the sword smote downwards,

“Ay, and Sarsfield is the man!”

“To arms! the foe!”  Too late, too late,

Though Villiers’ vengeful blade

Is wet with Hogan’s life blood,

As he leads the ambuscade.

Then foot to foot, and hand to hand,

They battleround the guns,

Till victory declares itself

For Erin’s daring sons.

“Oh for those guns in Limerick now

Placed on the city walls!

We’d bid King William breakfast

On his own black cannon balls!

It may not be – but terribly charged

And filled with shot and shell,

They’ll toll the robber’s requiem,

And sound the soldier’s knell.”

Oh, sudden flash of blinding light!

Oh, hollow-sounding roar!

Down history’s page in Irish ears

It echoes evermore.

And Balleneety’s blackened tower

Still marks the famous place

Where Sarsfield stakes his all to win,

And won that midnight race!

 French, Percy. (1980) ‘Prose, Poems & Parodies.’  Dublin, Helicon Limited