Bravery of the Irish

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter VII-14 | Start of chapter

Few, however, will be found to assert that there is a nation on earth upon whom the gift of natural courage is more largely bestowed than on the Irish. In the common people it too often displays itself in brawls and faction-fights—but in the disciplined soldier it rises to the loftiest pitch of intrepid gallantry. As far back as Spenser's time, the bravery of the Irish soldier was generally admitted. The poet, who was no friend of Ireland, writes, "I have heard some great warriors say, that in all the services which they had seen abroad in foreign countries, they never saw a more comely man than an Irishman, nor that cometh more bravely to his charge."

This disposition has gained for the Irish a character for pugnacity; and it has been humorously said, that while the Englishman fights for love of conquest, the Frenchman for love of glory, the German for love of discipline, and the Swiss for love of pay, the son of Erin fights for love of fun. A popular Irish song gives a very graphic description of this friendly hostile feeling in an Irish boy at Donnybrook fair, who—

"Goes into a tent, and he spends his half-crown,

Comes out, meets his friend—and for love knocks him down."

Carleton, in his admirable Stories of the Irish Peasantry, illustrates this disposition in a pugnacious little tailor, who exclaims that he is "blue mowldy for the want of a bating." As a companion anecdote to that of Carleton's tailor, I once heard a story of an Irish labourer, who was in the employment of an English gentleman residing in Ireland. He was on one occasion about going to a fair, which was held annually at a neighbouring village, when his master endeavoured to dissuade him from his design. "You always," said he, "come back from the fair with a broken head; now stay at home to-day, Darby, and I'll give you five shillings." "I'm for ever and all obliged to your honour," replies Darby; "but does it stand to rason," added he, flourishing his shillelagh over his head, "does it stand to rason that I'd take five shillings for the bating I'm to get to-day?"