John Boyle O'Reilly

(28 June 1844 - 10 August 1890 / Dowth Castle, County Meath)

The Priests Of Ireland - Poem by John Boyle O'Reilly

YOU have waited, Priests of Ireland, until the hour was late:
You have stood with folded arms until 'twas asked—Why do they wait?
By the fever and the famine you have seen your flocks grow thin,
Till the whisper hissed through Ireland that your silence was a sin.
You have looked with tearless eyes on fleets of exile-laden ships,
And the hands that stretched toward Ireland brought no tremor to your lips;
In the sacred cause of freedom you have seen your people band,
And they looked to you for sympathy: you never stirred a hand;
But you stood upon the altar, with their blood within your veins,
And you bade the pale-faced people to be patient in their chains!
Ah, you told them—it was cruel—but you said they were not true
To the holy faith of Patrick, if they were not ruled by yon;
Yes, you told them from the altar—they, the vanguard of the Faith—
With your eyes like flint against them—that their banding was a death—
Was a death to something holy: till the heart-wrung people cried
That their priests had turned against them—that they bad no more a guide—
That the English gold had bought you—yes, they said it— but they lied!

Yea, they lied, they sinned, not knowing you—they had not gauged your love:
Heaven bless you, Priests of Ireland, for the wisdom from above,
For the strength that made you, loving them, crush back the tears that rose
When your country's heart was quiv'ring 'neath the statesman's muffled blows:
You saw clearer far than they did, and you grieved for Ireland's pain;
But you did not rouse the people—and your silence was their gain;
For too often has the peasant dared to dash his naked arm
'Gainst the saber of the soldier: but you shielded him from harm,
And your face was set against him—though your heart was with his hand
When it flung aside the plow to snatch a pike for fatherland!

O, God bless you, Priests of Ireland! You were waiting with a will,
Yon were waiting with a purpose when you bade your flocks be still;
And you preached from off your altars not alone the Word Sublime,
But your silence preached to Irishmen—'Be patient: bide your time!'
And they heard you. and obeyed, as well as outraged men could do:—
Only some, who loved poor Ireland, but who erred in doubting you,
Doubting yon, who could not tell them why you spake the strange behest—
You, who saw the day was coming when the moral strength was best—
You, whose hearts were sore with looking on your country's quick decay—
You, whose chapel seats were empty and your people fled away—
You, who marked amid the fields where once the peasant's cabin stood—
You, who saw your kith and kindred swell the emigration flood—
You, the soggarth in the famine, and the helper in the frost—
You, whose shadow was a sunshine when all other hope was lost—
Yes, they doubted—and you knew it—but you never said a word;
Only preached, ' Be still: be patient!'' and, thank God, your voice was heard.
Now, the day foreseen is breaking—it has dawned upon the land,
And the priests still preach in Ireland: do they bid their flocks disband!
Do they tell them still to suffer and be silent? No! their words
Flash from Dublin Bay to Connaught, brighter than the gleam of swords!
Flash from Donegal to Kerry, and from Waterford to Clare,
And the nationhood awaking thrills the sorrow-laden air.
Well they judged their time—they waited till the bar was glowing white,
Then they swung it on the anvil, striking down with earnest might,
And the burning sparks that scatter lose no luster on their way,
Till five million hearts in Ireland and ten millions faraway
Feel the first good blow, and answer; and they will not rest with one:
Now the first is struck, the anvil shows the labor well begun;
Swing them in with lusty sinew and the work will soon be done!
Let them sound from hoary Cashel; Kerry, Meath, and Ross stand forth;
Let them ring from Cloyne and Tuam and the Primate of the North;
Ask not class or creed: let 'Ireland! ' be the talismanic word;
Let the blessed sound of unity from North to South be heard;
Came the words: 'No creed distinctions!' on O'Connell's granite tomb,
And his dust will feel their meaning and rekindle in the gloom.
Priest to priest, to sound the summons—and the answer, man to man;
With the people round the standard, and the prelates in the van.
Let the heart of Ireland's hoping keep this golden rule of Cloyne
Till the Orange fades from Berry and the shadow from the Boyne.
Let the words be carried outward till the farthest lands they reach:
'After Christ, their country's freedom do the Irish prelates preach!'


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Poem Submitted: Monday, May 21, 2012



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