The Irish Love of Fighting

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIX (15) start of chapter

Innumerable stories are told of the Irishman's irrepressible love of fight. There is not a town that has not its hero of a hundred tales illustrative of this grand passion of the race. There was a soldier in the South who, during a lull, would be 'detailed' to make shoes for the men; but, whenever there was a certainty of Terry Nolan's hearing 'the music'—of the whistling rifle-bullets and the singing shells—then he was seen trotting towards his line, with his rifle on his shoulder, ready to take his part in the concert. Terry's appearance was quite as conclusive as an order of the day, for with infallible scent he sniffed the battle from afar; and as the valiant Crispin took his place in his company he was invariably hailed with a cheer. The men knew they were in for it when Terry showed his Celtic visage, with the light of battle gleaming in his eyes.

'Why then, Captain,' said a great strapping Irishman to the commander of his company, as he scratched his head with a kind of bashfulness that sat rather ill on him,—'why then, Captain, could you tell us when we're going to have something to do? The boys want a fight bad; they hadn't one now for a long time, and sure they can't he always without a scrimmage of some kind or another, just to keep their hand in, as one may say.'

'I tell you, my man,' replied the Captain, 'you'll have quite enough of it soon.'

'Faith, Captain, I'm thinking it's you don't care for it yourself, and that's the raison the poor boys don't get it,' replied the disappointed ambassador, with a look of undisguised contempt.

That captain did not remain long with his company.

A colonel told me that, previous to one of the famous battles of the war, he had given his second horse in care of his orderly, an Irishman, named Moloney, with positive instructions to keep it for him in reserve; but that scarcely had the firing well commenced when he saw Moloney spurring his, the colonel's, horse, brandishing his sword, and rushing into the thick of the fight. The colonel could not sacrifice his horse, even to gratify his orderly's warlike ardour; so poor Moloney was captured, and ingloriously led back. 'How dare you, sir, disobey my orders?' asked the indignant colonel. 'Why, Colonel, I felt I'd be disgraced if I hadn't a dash at them with the boys. Yes, faith, Colonel, I could never hold up my head again.' 'It was a barefaced excuse, sir,' said the colonel, when telling the story,—'it was nothing but sheer love of fight; for Moloney hadn't to make his character then—he had a good record long before.'

Even when wounded and sick in hospital, the 'music' was too attractive to be resisted, if they could contrive to get on their legs at all. An American officer mentioning instances of the kind, said:—

'At the Battle of Shiloh an Irishman of this company received a very severe flesh wound in the shoulder, and was carried back to the Infirmary depôt, as all supposed, disabled for several months. We became hotly engaged soon after, and to my surprise I saw this man in the ranks of his company, fighting like a tiger, the blood running freely from his arm. As soon as I could, I enquired of him why he was not at the hospital. "Oh, Colonel," he said, "when I heard the guns going I was afraid the boys would be lonesome without me, so you see I came to keep them company; besides, my arm is not so bad, after all."'

It would be difficult to say at which side of the line the fighting qualities of the Irish were held in highest esteem by those who were opposed to them; for while the Southern has often said 'Send away your damned Irish, and we'll whip you well,' the Northern as frequently said, 'If all in the South fought like the Irish, Secession would long since be an accomplished fact.' General Patrick Cleburne, confessedly one of the best men of the war, used to say that he never had tougher work than when he met the Northern Irish—that Sweeney gave him the hardest fighting he ever had.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America