Soldiers of Belmullet

Asenath Nicholson
1851
Chapter V (6) | Start of Chapter

Among the marvels and dreadfuls of Erris, the Queen's soldiers certainly deserve a place in history. Government in her mercy had deposited in a shop some tons of Indian meal, to be sold or given out, as the Commissariat should direct, for the benefit of the people. This meal was in statu quo, and hunger was making fearful inroads. One hundred and fifty-one soldiers, cap-á-pie, were marching before and around this shop, with bayonets erect, from early dawn till late in "dusky eve," to guard this meal. They certainly made a warlike bloody-looking array, when contrasted with the haggard, meager, squalid skeletons that were grouped in starving multitudes about them, who, if the whole ten thousand starving ones in the barony had been disposed to rise en masse, scarcely had strength to have broken open a door of the shop, or to have knocked down a soldier; but here they were, glistening in bright armor, and the people dying with hunger about it. These soldiers were alive to their duty on all and every occasion. One Sabbath morning when the church prayers were in full progress, they marched up under arms, with fife and drum playing merrily the good old tune of "Rory O'More." The modest rector suspended operations, the congregation in breathless silence, most of them arose from their seats; the army entered, doffed their caps, planted their arms, and quietly, if not decently, took their seats, and sat till prayers and sermon were ended; as soon as "Old Hundred" closed the worship, these soldiers resumed their arms, and the musicians, upon the threshold of the door, struck up "The Girl I Left Behind Me;" and the congregation, a little confused, walked out. I never heard it applauded nor ever heard it censured, but by one. To say the least of the morality of Erris, their drinking, and card-playing, and dancing habits, would well comport with the army or navy; but they were quite in advance of anything I had seen in any part of Ireland. Here I saw the cobweb covering flung about fallen man, to hide his deformity, torn aside, and scarcely a vestige was there of beauty, amiability, or even decency left.