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My Old Fenian Gun
(Roud 9297)
Tom Lenihan
Knockbrack, Miltown Malbay
Recorded in singer's home, 1975

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Tom Lenihan

It hung above the kitchen fire, its barrel long and brown.
And one day with a boy's desire, I climbed and took it down.
My father's eyes with anger flashed, he cried, ‘What have you done?
I wish you left it where it was, that's my old Fenian gun.’

Curiosity awakened me, I looked it o'er and o'er.
I placed it on my shoulder and I marched across the floor.
My father's anger softened then, he shared my boyish fun.
‘Ah, well,’ he said ‘’tis in your breed to hold that Fenian gun.’

I was down there in Kilmallock, ‘twas the hottest fight of all.
And you see I burned my arm, there's the mark still of the ball.
I hope the boys that’s going now will keep the ground that’s won,
And not disgrace the cause in which we held the Fenian gun.’

‘I remember sixty-seven well,’ he said, ‘when lads like me,
We said we'd strike another blow to set old Ireland free.
How foolish were our boyish hopes I was months upon the run,
But it did good work for Ireland then, did that old Fenian gun.’

I placed it o'er the fire once more, I heard my father sigh.
I knew his thoughts was turning back on days now long gone by.
And then I solemnly declared I'll be my father's son,
And if ever Ireland wants my aid I'll hold a Fenian gun.

That's years ago, I've grown to man and weathered many a gale.
The last long year was spent inside a gloomy English jail.
I've done my part, I'll do it still, until the fight is won.
And when Ireland's free, we'll bless the man who held the Fenian gun.

“The Fenian uprising began in the morning of March 5th, 1867, when 7,000 men, members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, assembled at Tallaght village outside Dublin, with the aim of toppling British rule and establishing an Irish State; more were later to join them from the surrounding areas. At the same time, 4,000 assembled at Fair Hill, in Cork, and another 1,000 did likewise in Drogheda, with similar assemblies taking place in different locations in the East and South of Ireland. By the following day, the rebels had all been dispersed and were being hunted throughout the hills by Irish police and British soldiers. The rising was treated with distain by the establishment and the Press; ‘The Irish Times’ referred to it as ‘a teacup rebellion’ and ‘a wretched conspiracy’. Despite its short duration and failure, apart from a few minor reforms, it remains a significant event in Irish history, inspiring many songs such as this one, and many accounts of heroism and hardship.

This is an eye-witness account from the remarkable autobiography of Tallaght-man, Malachie Horan:
‘It was outside the Jobstown Inn that the men from this countryside banded themselves for the Battle of Tallaght [5th March, 1867]. Battle, indeed! It was not even a fight. The Fenians took their stand before the Tallaght Barracks (it was in the main street then), and they without a plan or a leader or any hope of either. An’ well the police in Dublin knew it, too. Head-Constable Burke ordered his men to fire on them. One was killed and some more wounded. That was the battle, glory be! But the flying lads were not at the end of their trouble. The Scots Greys, out of Portobello Barracks, were loosed on them. They were the hard, cruel merchants. Such was their brutality on the Fenians that Mr. John Robinson, the Resident Magistrate for the district, gave them free passage to escape through his place. And more: ‘Men,’ said he, ‘have you had any breakfast?’ ‘Little enough, sir,’ they answered. When he heard this he sent for sweet-milk and oaten cakes, and bade them eat their fill. And were they glad of it—ah, don’t be talking!

When they had satisfied themselves and the food brought back their courage, Mr. Robinson told them that their only chance of escape was to strike across country to Celbridge; there were no troops there. He had got information that the police were waiting for them if they returned to Dublin. The Fenians thanked him and thanked God for kindness, and did as they were bid. Having seen the last of them off the place, he took his stand at the gate. There he stood for three hours to head off from their trail any soldiers he saw. Perhaps one day he was glad of the prayers of those men. I knew one of the Fenians who did his part that day in Tallaght. Poor Patrick Noonan, of Moore Street, it was. I can see him now—strong as an ashplant and with a head on him black as a crow. A great man for life and company; I think he had friends everywhere.’

And from the ‘Freeman’s Journal’, 7th March, 1867.
‘The police arrested sixty-five of the party and filled the little station. The village of Tallaght remained pretty quiet during the remainder of the night, but it is believed that some four or five thousand men succeeded in reaching Tallaght Hill, which was the appointed rendezvous. At about two o’clock on Wednesday morning, Lord Strathnairn, Commander of the Forces, accompanied by a strong detachment of the 52nd Regiment, some squadrons of the Scots Greys and Lancers and a demi-battery of the Royal Horse Artillery, from Portobello Barracks, proceeded through Crumlin in pursuit of the Fenians in the direction of the Green Hills. The artillery were drawn up in front of the Crumlin Church, where they remained till five o’clock yesterday morning. The military captured eighty- three of the insurgents. ... A very large number of men congregated last evening at Corballis Con¬stabulary Station and at Mr. Clarke’s public-house at Jobstown, where they were as ‘thick as they could stand’.’”
Jim Carroll

Reference:
Both the account and the ‘Freeman Journal’ article are taken from ‘Malachie Horan Remembers’, Dr George Little (ed), M.H. Gill, Dublin, 1943.


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