James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

January 5


By John Boyle O’Reilly (1844–1890)

  • On Jan. 5, 1878, three of the Irish political prisoners, who had been confined since 1866, were set at liberty. The released men were received by their fellow countrymen in London. “They are well,” said the report, “but they look prematurely old.”

  • THEY are free at last! They can face the sun;

    Their hearts now throb with the world’s pulsation;

    Their prisons are open—their night is done;

    ’Tis England’s mercy and reparation!

    The years of their doom have slowly sped—

    Their limbs are withered—their ties are riven;

    Their children are scattered, their friends are dead—

    But the prisons are open—the “crime” forgiven.

    God! what a threshold they stand upon:

    The world has passed on while they were buried;

    In the glare of the sun they walk alone

    On the grass-grown track where the crowd has hurried.

    Haggard and broken and seared with pain,

    They seek the remembered friends and places;

    Men shuddering turn, and gaze again

    At the deep-drawn lines on their altered faces.

    What do they read on the pallid page?

    What is the tale of these woeful letters?

    A lesson as old as their country’s age,

    Of a love that is stronger than stripes and fetters.

    In the blood of the slain some dip their blade,

    And swear by the stain the foe to follow;

    But a deadlier oath might here be made,

    On the wasted bodies and faces hollow.

    Irishmen! You who have kept the peace—

    Look on these forms diseased and broken:

    Believe, if you can, that their late release,

    When their lives are sapped, is a good-will token.

    Their hearts are the bait on England’s hook;

    For this are they dragged from her hopeless prison;

    She reads her doom in the Nation’s book—

    She fears the day that has darkly risen;

    She reaches her hand for Ireland’s aid—

    Ireland, scourged, contemned, derided;

    She begs from the beggar her hate has made;

    She seeks for the strength her guile divided.

    She offers a bribe—ah, God above!

    Behold the price of the desecration:

    The hearts she has tortured for Irish love

    She brings as a bribe to the Irish nation!

    O, blind and cruel! She fills her cup

    With conquest and pride, till its red wine splashes:

    But shrieks at the draught as she drinks it up—

    Her wine has been turned to blood and ashes.

    We know her—our Sister! Come on the storm!

    God send it soon and sudden upon her:

    The race she has shattered and sought to deform

    Shall laugh as she drinks the black dishonor.