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Irish Father’s Address to His Son who has Joined the English Army
Tom Lenihan
Knockbrack, Miltown Malbay
Recorded in singer's home, July 1985

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Tom Lenihan

You have donned the red of England, you are England’s creature now.
And the cursed brand of serfdom, has its mark upon your brow.
From this moment I disown you, you who have spurned your name and race;
You have sold your Irish birthright for a bargain of disgrace.

Wait a moment boy and listen for the last time ere you go
From the father who has lived to see this day of bitter woe.
I would rather see you lying straight and lifeless by my side
Than the purchased slave of power, or the stool of brutal pride.

You were careless, happy, guiltless from the moment of your birth,
Until vile companions lured you from your father’s humble hearth.
And your mother’s voice upbraiding from the darkness of her grave,
Shall be with you night and morning, on the land or on the wave.

You will go to fetch free burning (?) the fruit of honest toil.
Peaceful homes to loot and trample, sacred altars to defile.
And the curse of maid and mother every day will greet your ears.
Is England’s record written - ruined hearts with blood and tears.

Then away and seek the glory of a Saxon robber war.
It will be mayhap a fortune or a title or a scar,
Or some resting place forever in some land where wild beasts roam,
Or the meanest, darkest, fate of all, a pauper’s grave at home.

Were you standing on the scaffold for old Ireland’s cause to die,
I would bless you calmly, proudly, without tears or faltering sighs.
But you’re son of mine no longer, wretched stool of England go
Black and ruthless be the harvest of the seed that now you sow.

“It is unclear when Tom’s bitter song originated; it seems not to have been recorded from a traditional singer or appeared in any collections. Opposition to young Irishmen joining the army has been a prominent feature of Irish history. Anti-recruitment has been immortalized in such songs as ‘Mrs McGrath’ and ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew You’ and later with ‘We Fought Everybody’s Battles But Our Own’. The anti-recruiting campaign in Ireland reached its climax at the time of the Boer War; Constitutional nationalists and separatists associated the Boers' fight against the British with their own struggle for home rule or independence.

During World War One, the number of recorded Irish deaths in the British Army was 27,405, a casualty rate of 14 percent, and Irish troops appear to have been treated with particular harshness. They constituted just two per cent of the membership of the force, yet they were the recipients of eight per cent of all death sentences imposed by courts-martial. On average, one British soldier out of every 3,000 of their troops that died in the war did so due to being court martialed and executed by firing squad, compared to the much higher figure of one out of every 600 of the Irish troops that died. Out of the total that were executed, 26 have since been pardoned.”
Jim Carroll


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