Mam loved poetry and yet it wasn’t until her later years that we realised her great talent as a reciter. The release of a film about Oscar Wilde reminded me of this particular poem. It was written by the Wexford lady, Jane Wilde, mother of Oscar Wilde who wrote many poems about Irish history always under the name, Esperenza.
Mam recited the poem on the steps of St Michans during the 1798 centenary celebrations. The brothers in the title were two Cork lads, Henry and John Shears who fought for the United Irishmen, were betryed, arrested, tried, and hanged drawn and quarterd before burial in St Michan’s. The lord Mayor of Cork heard mam’s recitiation and invited her recite it on the steps of the Shears home in Cork as part of their celebrations.
The Brothers – John and Henry Shear
(A scene from 1798)
Tis midnight, falls the lamp-light dull and sickly
On a pale and anxious crowd
Through the court, and round the judges, thronging thickly
With prayers none dare to speak aloud.
Two youth, two noble youths, stand prisoners at the bar-
You can see them through the gloom-
In pride of life and manhood’s beauty, there they are
Awaiting their death doom.
Before them shrinking, cowering, scarcely human
The base informer bends
Who, Judas-like, could sell the blood of true men
While he clasped their hands as friends.
Aye, could fondle the young children of his victim
Break bread with his young wife
At the moment that for gold his perjured dictum
Sold the husband’s and the father’s life.
There is silence in the midnight – eyes are keeping
Troubled watch till forth the jury come;
Ther is silence in the midnight – eyes are weeping-
“Guilty” is the fateful uttered doom.
For a moment o’er the brothers’ noble faces
Came a shadow sad to see;
Then silently they rose up in their places,
And embraced each other fervently.
But the youngest – oh, he spake out bold and clearly:
“I have no ties of children or of wife;
Let me die – but spare the brother who more dearly
Is loved by me than life”.
Pale martyrs, ye may cease, your days are numbered;
Next noon your sun of life goes down;
One day between the sentence and the scaffold-
One day between the torture and the crown.
Yet none spring forth their bonds to sever
Ah! Methinks had I been there,
I’d have dared a thousand deaths ere ever
The sword should touch their hair.
It falls! – there is a shriek of lamentation
From the weeping crowd around;
They’re stilled – the noblest hearts within the nation-
The noblest heads lie bleeding on the ground.
Years have [passed since that fatal scene of dying,
Yet, lifelike to this day.
In their coffins still those severed heads are lying,
Kept by angels from decay.
Oh! They preach to us, those still and pallid features-
Those pale lips yet implore us, from their graves,
To strive for birthright as God’s creatures,
Or die, if we can but live as slaves.
Enjoy reading them with Pat – he gave mam many years of happiness involving her in the talent project! Tell him that I said that!!!