The Great Gun of Athlone

John Johnson Marshall
Chapter VIII (3) - Start of Chapter

Persons endowed with an excess of adipose tissue are said to be “beef to the heels like a Mullingar heifer,” which, if a left-handed compliment to the individual referred to, is a direct one to the fattening qualities of the fertile plains of Westmeath. There is also a saying about “going through them the way the devil went through the streets of Athlone.” It is Private Terence Mulvany as recorded by his Boswell, Rudyard Kipling (“Soldiers Three”) who describes more particularly this mode of progression.

“Mother of Hivin! but I made that horse walk, an’ we came into the Colonel’s compound as the divil went through Athlone—in standin’ leps.”

The town on the Shannon has another title to notoriety in “the great gun of Athlone.” What this wonderful piece of ordnance is, or where it is kept, the writer does not know, but in an old Orange toast the Papists were consigned to be “rammed, damned and crammed into the great gun of Athlone.” A most unusual species of ammunition. However, that ingenious person, Mickey Free (“Charles O’Malley, the Irish Dragoon”), specifies another use for this mythical weapon, in one of his inimitable songs:—

“And we still might get on without doctors,

If they’d let the ould island alone;

And purple-men, priests and tithe proctors,

Were crammed down the great gun of Athlone.”