By William O'Brien

Page 150


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cast into the fire. The wild animals that provided the sport of the ruling caste held not their lives on a more precarious tenure than the tillers of the soil. The agent's whip cracked, and they paid as he pleased to exact; the bailiff frowned, and their cabins fell in ruins to the earth. They came into the world, these fated children of the Gael, with gifts which might have distanced most modern nations both in arms and intellect, in feats of body or soul. They possessed the physical qualities of a more jovial Sparta, an intellectual hunger which never died even in the starless midnight of the penal times, and hearts panting with the most passionate affections, and souls expanding towards ideals of eternal truth and beauty here and hereafter. But the Gaelic intellect was to be left as desolate as the Munster plains, upon which the marauders thought they had left nothing behind but corpses and ashes. The schoolmaster became an object of even greater aversion in Dublin Castle than the bard, and was hunted down with sword and bribe almost as ruthlessly as the priest. Wherever a young Irishman's eyes turned triple walls of ascendency overshadowed him; disabilities bound his arms, choked his voice, searched out his very soul with bribes and terrors. Parliament, the Universities, the learned professions, the trade guilds, were not for such as he. Did the sacred thirst for learning seize upon him? He must fly to some wild western creek in search of some outlawed galley that will bear him away to Salamanca or to St. Omer. Did the soldier's glorious trade allure him? He must first become a rebel and an exile. Did the sports of the field stir his hot Irish blood? The lord whom he outstripped in the hunting-field could have his revenge by riding off upon his hunter, on payment of a five-pound note, and could summarily dispose of any protest with the ...continue reading »

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