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The Civil War's Irish Volunteers

I came across a Civil War song recently written by an Irishman from that era in New York City, about the Irish Brigade in the Civil War. Many of the Irish who fought in the war were the children and grandchildren of rebels who fought in the 1798 Irish Rebellion. My family has some particular connections to that uprising and one of its leaders, John Murphy. My grandmother lives in Boolavogue right down the street from the Father Murphy Center, which is on land owned by my grandfather's cousin, Jim. Jim also owns Vinegar Hill in Enniscorthy, where the Irish rebels made their last stand before a British-led massacre saw hundreds executed and the rebel leadership wiped out. Today Vinegar Hill is a small, quiet, nice bit of land overlooking the village. My great-grandfather was struck by lightning twice in his life, once while trying to herd some sheep off of the hill. A century before, that great battle saw it covered red in the blood of Irish rebels, many of whose compatriots and families fled to the United States in the subsequent decades. The Irish Americans represented an interesting part in our war, and supported the Union heavily for several reasons--not least of which was that they saw the United States as their best hope for support against their homeland's oppressors. The ballad below highlights some important historical points of all of this--the connection to the Boys of '98, the refusal to participate in a parade for the Prince of Wales, and the support for George McClellan.

My name is Tim McDonald, I'm a native of the Isle,
I was born among old Erin's bogs and left when but a child.
My granddad fought in '98 for Liberty so dear;
He fought and fell on Vinegar Hill as an Irish Volunteer.
Then raise the harp of Erin, boys, the flag we all revere--
We'll fight and fall beneath its folds like Irish Volunteers!

When I was driven from my home by an oppressor's hand,
I cut my sticks and greased my brogues and come o'er to this land.
I found a home and many friends, and some that I love dear,
Be jeebus I'll stick to them like bricks, an Irish volunteer.
Then fill your glasses up, my boys, and drink a hearty cheer,
To the land of our adoption and the Irish volunteer.

Now when the traitors in the South commenced a warlike raid,
I quickly then threw down my hod, to the Devil went my spade!
To our recruiting office then I went, that happened to be near,
And joined the good old Sixty-ninth like an Irish volunteer.
Then fill the ranks and march away, no traitors do we fear;
We'll drive them all to blazes, says the Irish volunteer!

When the Prince of Wales came over here and made a hubbaboo,
Oh, everyone turned out, you know, in gold and tinsel too;
But the good old Sixty-ninth, they didn't like these lords or peers;
They wouldn't give a damn for kings, the Irish volunteers!
We love the land of Liberty, its laws we do hold dear,
But the Devil take nobility, says the Irish volunteer!

Now if the traitors in the South should ever cross our roads,
We'll drive them to the Devil as Saint Patrick did the toads.
We'll give them all short nooses that come just below the ears,
Made good and strong from Irish hemp by Irish volunteers.
And here's to brave McClellan, whom the army now reveres!
He'll lead us on to victory, the Irish volunteers.

Now fill your glasses up, my boys, a toast come drink with me:
May Erin's Harp and the Starry Flag united ever be;
May traitors quake, and rebels shake, and tremble in their fears,
When next they meet the Yankee boys and the Irish volunteers!
God bless the name of Washington! that name this land reveres;
Success to Meagher, Nugent, and their Irish Volunteers!

Here is some more about the Irish Brigade, their leaders like Meagher, and the battles they fought in.
Categories > History

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