My horse he is white,
Though at first he was bay,
And he took great delight
In travelling by night
And by day.
His travels were great
If I could but half of them tell, He was rode in the garden by Adam, The day that he fell.
On Babylon plains
He ran with speed for the plate, He was hunted next day
By Hannibal the great.
After that he was hunted
In the chase of a fox,
When Nebuchadnezzar ate grass,
In the shape of an ox.
We are told in the next verses of his going into the ark with Noah, of Moses riding him through the Red Sea; then
He was with king Pharaoh in Egypt When fortune did smile,
And he rode him stately along
The gay banks of the Nile.
He was with king Saul and all
His troubles went through,
He was with king David the day
That Goliath he slew.
For a few verses he is with Juda and Maccabeus the great, with Cyrus, and back again to Babylon. Next we find him as the horse that came into Troy.
When ( ) came to Troy with joy,
My horse he was found,
He crossed over the walls and entered The city I'm told.
I come on him again, in Spain,
And he in full bloom,
By Hannibal the great he was rode, And he crossing the Alps into Rome.
The horse being tall
And the Alps very high,
His rider did fall
And Hannibal the great lost an eye.
Afterwards he carries young Sipho (Scipio), and then he is ridden by Brian when driving the Danes from Ireland, and by St. Ruth when he fell at the battle of Aughrim, and by Sarsfield at the siege of Limerick.
He was with king James who sailed To the Irish shore,
But at last he got lame,
When the Boyne's bloody battle was o'er.
He was rode by the greatest of men At famed Waterloo,
Brave Daniel O'Connell he sat
On his back it is true.
* * * * * * *
Brave Dan's on his back,
He's ready once more for the field. He never will stop till the Tories, He'll make them to yield.
Grotesque as this long rhyme appears, it has, as I said, a sort of existence when it is crooned by the old man at his fireside, and it has great fame in the island. The old man himself is hoping that I will print it, for it would not be fair, he says, that it should die out of the world, and he is the only man here who knows it, and none of them have ever heard it on the mainland. He has a couple more examples of the same kind of doggerel, but I have not taken them down.
Both in English and in Irish the songs are full of words the people do not understand themselves, and when they come to say the words slowly their memory is usually uncertain.
All the morning I have been digging maidenhair ferns with a boy I met on the rocks, who was in great sorrow because his father died suddenly a week ago of a pain in his heart.
'We wouldn't have chosen to lose our father for all the gold there is in the world,' he said, 'and it's great loneliness and sorrow there is in the house now.'
Then he told me that a brother of his who is a stoker in the Navy had come home a little while before his father died, and that he had spent all his money in having a fine funeral, with plenty of drink at it, and tobacco.
'My brother has been a long way in the world,' he said, 'and seen great wonders. He does be telling us of the people that do come out to them from Italy, and Spain, and Portugal, and that it is a sort of Irish they do be talking--not English at all--though it is only a word here and there you'd understand.'
When we had dug out enough of roots from the deep crannies in the rocks where they are only to be found, I gave my companion a few pence, and sent him back to his cottage.
The old man who tells me the Irish poems is curiously pleased with the translations I have made from some of them.
He would never be tired, he says, listening while I would be reading them, and they are much finer things than his old bits of rhyme.
Here is one of them, as near the Irish as I am able to make it:--