Not knowing what he preached on

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIX (7) start of chapter

Archbishop Purcell, the oldest of the bishops of the American Church, was invited to preach in one of the camps of the Army of the Cumberland; and he delivered on that occasion an admirable discourse, which elicited the warm approval of non-Catholics, and excited the enthusiastic admiration of the Irish soldiers; one of whom said to his comrade—'Did you hear that, Mick?' 'To be sure I did,' replied Mick. 'Yes, man; but what did you think of it?—wasn't it the real touch?' 'Well, in my opinion, if I'm to give one—and mind 'twas you asked for it—the Archbishop didn't know what he was preaching on.' 'Why, what the d—l do you mean?—what's come over you?' 'I tell you again—and it's only my opinion—the opinion of a poor gommal, if you like—the Archbishop didn't know what he was preaching on. Look, man, what he was standing on!' Sure enough, the Archbishop did not know what he was preaching on; for there was sufficient in the boxes under his feet to blow up the Vatican and the College of Cardinals.

An Irish soldier, wounded badly, was lying on a hard-fought field in Upper Georgia, towards Chattanooga. He was found by a chaplain attached to his corps in a helpless condition, leaning against a tree. The priest, seeing the case to be one of imminent danger, proposed to hear his confession, but was surprised to hear him say—'Father, I'll wait a little. There's a man over there worse wounded than I am; he is a Protestant, and he's calling for the priest—go to him first.' The priest found the wounded Protestant, received him into the Church, and remained with him till he expired; he then returned to hear the confession of the Irish Catholic, whose first words were —'Well, Father, didn't I tell you true? I knew the poor fellow wanted you more than I did.' The priest and the penitent are still alive to tell the story.

Here is one of a thousand instances of the fact that the religious influence did not impair the martial ardour of the Irish soldier. The colours of a Tennessee regiment were carried into action at Murfreesboro' by a young Irishman named Charles Quinn, of the famous Jackson Guard. In the charge Quinn received a musket wound in the body; but instead of going to the rear, for his injury was desperate, he placed his left hand on his wound, absolutely refusing to give up the colours, until in the thick of the mêlée he was pierced through the head, and fell lifeless. The sole effects of this gallant Irishman came into possession of his heroic captain, afterwards one of the finest colonels in the service; and these were an 'Agnus Dei' and a set of beads!

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