Wednesday, October 03, 2007

In love with death

I was listening to a CD of the Clancy Brothers in the car. To you who are too young to know who they were, the were Irish folk singers back in the day, and are very well worth listening to now.

G] O see the fleet-foot host of men, who [C] march with faces [G] drawn,
From farmstead and from [C] fishers' [G] cot, along the [C] banks of [D] Ban;
[G] They come with vengeance [C] in their [G] eyes. Too late! [C] Too late are
[D] they,
[G] For young Roddy McCorley goes to die on the [C] bridge of Toome
[G] today.

Oh Ireland, Mother Ireland, you love them still the best
The fearless brave who fighting fall upon your hapless breast,
But never a one of all your dead more bravely fell in fray,
Than he who marches to his fate on the bridge of Toome today.

Up the narrow street he stepped, so smiling, proud and young.
About the hemp-rope on his neck, the golden ringlets clung;
There's ne'er a tear in his blue eyes, fearless and brave are
As young Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome

When last this narrow street he trod, his shining pike in hand
Behind him marched, in grim array, an earnest stalwart band.
To Antrim town! To Antrim town, he led them to the fray,
But young Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome today.

The grey coat and its sash of green were brave and stainless then,
A banner flashed beneath the sun over the marching men;
The coat hath many a rent this noon, the sash is torn away,
And Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome today.

Oh, how his pike flashed in the sun! Then found a foeman's heart,
Through furious fight, and heavy odds he bore a true man's part
And many a red-coat bit the dust before his keen pike-play,
But Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome today.

There's never a one of all your dead more bravely died in fray
Than he who marches to his fate in Toomebridge town today;
True to the last! True to the last, he treads the upwards way,
And young Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome today.

I especially like the line about his golden ringlets curling around the noose round his neck. It's a great song, but it glorifies death. Conor Cruise O'Brien pointed out, somewhere in his voluminous writings, that the Irish love funeral processions, sometimes appearing to prefer death to life. He was referring to the madness in Ulster specifically, but also to the rebellion of 1916. But as in Ireland, so it is with Palestinian suicide bombers. O'Brien spoke out against this romanticizing of death.

I once read the memoirs of Frank O'Connor, an Irish writer (also well worth looking up and reading) who took part in the 1916 war and was briefly jailed. It happened that he was in prison when one of the rebels was hanged, and he referred to this song and said the hanging did not resemble the song. The young man was not smiling and proud. He was terrified and wept as he was dragged to his place of execution. Perhaps at the last, he did not feel romantic to be giving up his young life.

I'm not a pacifist.

Those buried here died for a worthy cause. They died in the Normandy invasion, June 1944, liberating France from the Nazis. It is very sad to think of their young lives being cut short, but they died honorably.


dick stanley said...

Good cause or bad, romance is always preferable to the reality. Even on the battlefield of the good cause, the mortally wounded still cry out for their mothers.

miriam said...

I agree. Those who die for a good cause suffer terribly. But their lives are not wasted. But a suicide bomber--dying so he can kill some schoolchildren and old ladies?

dick stanley said...

Oh, no, the lives of soldiers who fight for the right are never wasted.

Anonymous said...

There are many worse things, in this very dark world, than to die for one's country. I pray that God would strengthen me to do that if given the chance.

Mothers and fathers mourn for their sons killed in war. But the sons, who were little boys once, have grown into men with their own destinies, and it is something we mothers and fathers have to accept.

How much more painful to see one's son die in a turf battle over drug dealing, or one's daughter pimped.