Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Fighting Race by J.I.C. Clarke

THE FIGHTING RACE.; J.I.C. Clarke's Poem, Recited by Him at President Roosevelt's Request

March 19, 1905, Sunday
Page 8, 562 words

The President led the applause that followed the reading. Then there was some whispering between him and Judge Fitzgerald, resulting in the announcement from the latter that Mr. Clarke, in direct response to the President's request, would recite "Kelly, Burke, and Shea," which was done to the evident enjoyment of Mr. Roosovelt…… - fighting

The Fighting Race
by Joseph I.C. Clarke

"Read out the names!" and Burke sat back,
And Kelly drooped his head,
While Shea -- they called him Scholar Jack --
Went down the list of the dead.
Officers, seamen, gunners, marines,
The crews of the gig and yawl,
The bearded man and the lad in his teens,
Carpenters, coal passers -- all.

Then, knocking the ashes from out his pipe,
Said Burke in an offhand way:
"We're all in that dead man's list, by Cripe!
Kelly and Burke and Shea."
"Well, here's to the Maine, and I'm sorry for Spain,"
Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

"Wherever there's Kellys there's trouble," said Burke.
"Wherever fighting's the game,
Or a spice of danger in grown man's work,"
Said Kelly, "you'll find my name."
"And do we fall short," said Burke, getting mad,
"When it's touch and go for life?"
Said Shea, "It's thirty-odd years, bedad,
Since I charged to drum and fife
Up Marye's Heights, and my old canteen
Stopped a rebel ball on its way.
There were blossoms of blood on our sprigs of green --
Kelly and Burke and Shea --
And the dead didn't brag." "Well, here's to the flag!"
Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

"I wish 'twas in Ireland, for there's the place,"
Said Burke, "that we'd die by right,
In the cradle of our soldier race,
After one good stand-up fight.
My grandfather fell on Vinegar Hill,
And fighting was not his trade;
But his rusty pike's in the cabin still,
With Hessian blood on the blade."

"Aye, aye," said Kelly, "the pikes were great
When the word was 'clear the way!'
We were thick on the roll in ninety-eight --
Kelly and Burke and Shea."
"Well, here's to the pike and the sword and the like!"
Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

And Shea, the scholar, with rising joy,
Said, "We were at Ramillies.
We left our bones at Fontenoy
And up in the Pyrenees.
Before Dunkirk, on Landen's plain,
Cremona, Lille and Ghent,
We're all over Austria, France and Spain,
Wherever they pitched a tent.
We've died for England from Waterloo
To Egypt and Dargai;
And still there's enough for a corps or a crew,
Kelly and Burke and Shea."
"Well, here is to good honest fighting blood!"
Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

"Oh, the fighting races don't die out,
If they seldom die in bed,
For love is first in their hearts, no doubt,"
Said Burke; then Kelly said:
"When Michael, the Irish Archangel, stands,
The angel with the sword,
And the battle-dead from a hundred lands
Are ranged in one big horde,
Our line, that for Gabriel's trumpet waits,
Will stretch three deep that day,
From Jehoshaphat to the Golden Gates --
Kelly and Burke and Shea."

"Well, here's thank God for the race and the sod!"
Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.


A note at the end of the poem states the date of composition as March 16, 1898: about a month after the sinking of the Maine, and before the declaration of war with Spain (April 11).

Several of the poems in the book's first section, "Songs of the Celt," relate to the Spanish-American War (which apparently got Clarke's Irish fighting blood up); there are three more in which Kelly, Burke and Shea figure.

I won't bother with a point-by-point rundown of all the references to major battles and military engagements to which the trio refer in "The Fighting Race," merely note that, in the passage to which Moore evidently referred, Howard would have well known that Vinegar Hill was the decisive battle of the 1798 United Irishmen rising. At the time, Hessians comprised the bulk of Britain's mercenary troops -- as, indeed, they had done in America.

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