A Night with the Rapparees by Edmund
(From the Memoirs of an Officer of the Irish Brigade.)
It was towards the end of October in the year before
the Battle of Fontenoy, and a few months before I
joined one of the flocks of “the Wild Geese” in
their flight to France, that I fell in with the experience
which I am now about to relate. I had
been staying for a few days with a friend in the
west of the County of Cork, and I had started for
home in full time, as I had hoped, to reach it before
nightfall. My shortest way, about five miles, lay
across the mountains. It was familiar to me since I
was a child, and I felt sure I could make it out in
dark as well as in daylight. When I started a light
wind was blowing. Some dark clouds were in the
sky, but the wind was not from a rainy point, and I
was confident that the weather would keep up.
When, however, I had traversed half the way, the
wind changed suddenly and a light rain began to
fall. I pushed on more quickly, yet without misgiving,
but before I had gone a half-mile further the
mountain was suddenly enveloped in mist that
became denser at every step. I could scarcely see
my hand when I stretched it out before me. The
mossy sheep-track beneath my feet was scarcely
distinguishable, and now and again I was almost
tripped up by the heather and bracken that grew
high at either side.
I found it necessary to move cautiously and very
slowly; yet, notwithstanding my caution, I frequently
got tangled in the heather, but succeeded
in regaining the path. I continued on until I
judged that I had made another half-mile from the
spot in which I was first surrounded by the mist.
How long I had been making this progress it was
difficult for me to estimate, but I became aware
that the night had fallen, and I was no longer able
to distinguish anything even at my feet. I began
to doubt whether I was on the proper path, for
sheep tracks traversed the mountain in all directions.
It occurred to me to turn into the bracken
and try to make the best shelter I could. The
bracken here grew to a height of nearly three feet,
and some of the stalks were thick and strong. I
had often amused myself when a child twining the
stalks together, and making them into a cosy house,
and often escaped thereby from a heavy summer
shower. The mere recollection of my childish
efforts lightened my heart, though I was conscious
enough that the experiment I was about to make
was not likely to be very successful. But I set to,
and tore up some of the bracken, and began to
twist it around the standing clumps so as to form a
roof, but when I had gone on a few feet from the
track I felt the ground slipping from my feet. I
caught hold of a clump of bracken only to pull it
from the roots, and to find myself sliding down I
knew not whither. Stones were rumbling by my
side, but fortunately none of them touched me, and
quicker than I can tell it I was lying prone on the
earth. I stretched out my hands, and found level
ground as far as I could reach on either side. I
struggled till I regained my feet. I was dazed for
a while, but when I fully recovered myself I was
utterly perplexed as to what I was to do. After the
experience which I had had I was afraid to move
either to the right or left. I stood still, and I am
not ashamed to say that I could distinctly hear the
beating of my heart. The mist still enveloped
me, so I was unable to see anything. Suddenly I
thought I heard the sound of voices, but set that
down to my imagination, for I knew there was no
house within miles of me. I listened, however, with
the utmost eagerness, and again I heard the voices.
I was about to shout when the mist a little in
advance of me was brightened, as if a light were
thrown on it. Instinctively I advanced in the
direction of the luminous haze, when I felt myself
caught by the neck by a firm grasp, and I was flung
forward. My feet slipped on some projection, and I
When I managed to raise myself I saw I was in a
dwelling of some kind, partially lighted by the
blaze of a turf fire. Several men were present, and
I distinctly saw the flash of firearms. There was at
once a confusion of voices, and I was pulled to my
feet by one of the men, who presented a horse-pistol
at my head.
“Shoot him! He is a Sassenach spy!” came in
a hoarse chorus from the men around the fire.
“No Sassenach am I,” I answered back, endeavouring
to shake myself free from the grip of
the man who held me.
“And who are you? And whence come you?”
he asked, fiercely.
“Frank O’Mahony,” I said, “the son of Shaun
O’Mahony, of the Glen.”
“Let me look at him,” cried an old woman, whom
I had not previously noticed, and she shook off the
grip of my captor and brought me towards the fire.
With a corner of her shawl she rubbed my face,
and then she caught me in her arms.
“Ah, then, ’tis Frank—Frank O’Mahony,” said
she. “Shure I nursed your mother, avourneen, on
my knee. But ’tis no wondher the boys didn’t
know you, for your own mother wouldn’t know you
with the wet clay of the mountain plastered over
your face, and ’tis you are welcome, Frank avourneen,
in daylight or in dark, and shure no true
Rapparee need close the doore again your father’s
When the old woman had done speaking, the man
who had seized me clasped my hand.
“Frank, my boy,” said he, “you’re welcome—welcome
as the flowers of May. Make room for him
there, comrades; don’t you see the boy is cowld and
And they made a place for me, and the old woman
brewed a steaming jug of poteen, and she said to the
others that I wasn’t to be asked a question until I
had taken some of her mountain medicine.
Hardly had I taken the medicine when I felt
pretty comfortable, and then when I got time to look
about me I saw I was in something like a cave of
large dimensions, half of which was in shadow owing
to the imperfect light.
About half-a-dozen men came in shortly after
my arrival, and then the whole force numbered thirty.
When all who had been expected had come, the
captain, who was the man who had seized me said—addressing
“Help and comfort we always got from your
father, Frank O’Mahony. Ah, and if the truth were
known, my boy, he spent many a night on the hills
with the Rapparees. May Heaven be his bed to-night.
You are over young yet, but still not too
young to strike a blow for Ireland. There isn’t a
man here who wouldn’t die for you if necessary.”
“I hope to strike a blow for Ireland,” I said, “but
word has come from my uncle, Colonel O’Mahony,
that he wishes me to go to France and join him.”
“God bless the Colonel, wherever he is,” said the
captain, “he’ll never miss the chance, but would to
God he was with us at home. The best—the best
and the bravest have gone away from us.”
“What are you saying, man,” said the old woman,
suddenly confronting him. “There’s not a colonel
nor a general in the whole French army a bit
boulder or braver than our own Rapparees.”
“We do our best, Moira asthoreen,” said the
captain, laying his hand on her shoulder, “but the
men who are gone away are winning fame for the
old land, God bless them all. For sure their
thoughts are always with poor Ireland, and every
blow they strike they strike for her, and their pride
in the hour of victory is because their own old land
hears of it.”
“Ay, and every blow the Rapparees strike, they
strike for her, too,” said Moira, “and ’tis no living
there would be no living at all at all for poor people
here at home if it weren’t for the boys, and—come
there now, Jem Mullooney, and give us a stave
about my bowld Rapparees. Yes, you can do it
when you like, and I bet Master Frank here never
I admitted I never had, and I cordially joined in
the chorus which followed, and endorsed Moira’s
Moira, apparently delighted to hear me backing
up her demand, said:
“Musha, good luck to the mist that brought you
here, Master Frank,” said she, “and sure that same
mist has often proved a great friend to the Rapparees.”
The men had seated themselves around the cave as
best they could, some on bunches of heather, some
on sods of turf, some on roots of trees roughly
shaped into a seat. The captain, a few others and
myself, were sitting close to the fire.
Jem Mullooney was nearly opposite me. The
firelight flashing in his direction, enabled me to
catch a full view of his face, and a fine face it was,
though a little too long. You knew at a glance you
could trust your life with him, but he looked like a
pleased boy when he was importuned to give us the
Clearing his throat with the least taste of Moira’s
medicine, he struck out in a rich voice, to a rattling
air, accompanying himself occasionally with dramatic
gestures, the following song:—
“Thirty troopers in the glen,
Thirty, stalwart fearless men;
All alert and cool and steady;
Sabres loose and carbines ready,
But who are moving through the trees?
Bang! Bang! they are the Rapparees!
Bang! Bang! they are the Rapparees!
“Twenty troopers in the glen——,
That volley emptied saddles ten?
Twenty troopers gain the hill——,
‘Halt,’ their captain cries ‘until
We breathe our horses.’ ‘If you please,
You’ll first ask leave of the Rapparees.’
‘You’ll first ask leave of the Rapparees.’
“The heather seems alive to-night;
Muskets flash a-left, a-right.
Troopers ten are scurrying fast
As clouds before the winter blast,
And empty ten more saddle trees.
’Tis you can shoot, my Rapparees.
‘’Tis you can shoot, my Rapparees.’”
The applause which followed the song had barely
ceased, when a low whistle was heard from outside.
“Open!” cried the captain of the Rapparees.
The barrier closing the entrance to the cave was
removed, and a man covered with perspiration, and
almost fainting for want of breath, rushed in.
“Two troops of infantry left Adamstown Barracks
three hours ago. Shaun-na-cappal was with
“Yes! They made for the red lanes, and ought
to be in the glen by this.”
Another low whistle was heard, when the door
was again opened, and a lad burst in.
“The sojers are in the glen, captain, and the
clouds are going and the moon is coming.”
“Well, my lads,” said the captain, “our retreat
is discovered. They think they will catch us here
like rats in a trap. Perhaps we can set one for
them. Bar the entrance. Pile up everything;
make it as firm as you can.”
The men set to work with a will, and their task
was soon completed. The captain, having surveyed
“That will do, men. They won’t burst in that in
a hurry. We have a means of escape, which I have
hitherto kept to myself. Get a few picks and
loosen the hearth stone. That will do. Lift it up
now, boys, and leave it in the centre of the floor.”
The men did as they were bidden, and when the
stone had been set down, the captain, catching up
one of the flaming brands, held it over the opening
discovered by the removal of the hearth stone. It
was large enough to allow a man to go down
“Nine or ten steps,” said the captain, “lead to a
narrow passage, through which by stooping a man
can make his way. It is not more than fifty yards
long. The outlet is blocked by a bank of earth;
but just there the passage is wide and high enough
to allow two men to stand abreast and erect.
A hole can easily be cut or dug through this
“You, O’Donovan,” he said, turning sharply to
one of the Rapparees, “will know, once you are
outside, where you are—close to the stream that
runs down to the glen. Take a dozen men with
you, turn to the left, and five minutes will bring
you to the heathery height above the left of the
track leading to this cave. And you, Mullooney,”
said the captain to the singer of “The Rapparees,”
“take a score of men with you, and make for the
right. You’ll have a bit of climbing at first, but in
ten minutes you should be able to get down to the
right bank of the track. Be all of you as wary as
foxes, and let not a sound escape from any of you,
even if you see the enemy coming right up to the
door of the cave, and none of you are to fire a shot
until you see a flaming brand flung out by us who
will remain here to defend the cave against assault,
but when you see the lighted brand, blaze away!
If they waver, down on them like thunderbolts.
When you beat them off, you will find us here, if
not, we shall be at the sally gap two hours from
this. Now go!”
“Would you like to go or stay, Frank?” said the
captain, turning to me.
“I should like to go,” I replied.
“All right, my lad. Look to him, O’Donnell, and
take this Frank,” said he, handing me a musket, “it
has never missed fire.”
The two bodies of men descended in single file.
The air of the passage was remarkably pure, and we
made our way without difficulty. Then there was a
halt of a few minutes while the foremost men were
forcing a passage. One by one we passed out,
and found ourselves knee-deep in the heather. A
brawling stream ran down a few feet below us.
O’Donovan and his men crept along by the stream.
We, with O’Donnell at our head, clambered up
through the heather, and in about ten minutes we
were lying snugly concealed within fifteen yards of
the rock in which was the cave entrance.
We were lying at right angles to it, and about
twelve feet above the open space in front of the rock.
It was from this very height I had fallen an hour
before. Opposite us the ground was about the same
elevation as ours, and in the cover of the heather
which crowned it, O’Donovan and his men were to
The moon was shining, and for about twenty
yards we had a full view of the pathway leading to
the cave. At that distance it took a sharp turn. I had
barely time to make these observations, when we saw
the moonlight glint on the level arms of the advancing
troops. In a few seconds they were against
the face of the rock. With the soldiers was a tall,
wiry-looking man, dressed in a long frieze coat that
went to his heels.
“Where is the entrance?” cried the captain of
the troops. “I can find none.”
“There,” came the answer in a hoarse whisper.
“There, behind those furze bushes.”
“Come, my lads,” said the captain, “clear away
The soldiers began to work. Our fingers were
impatient. The desire to fire grew upon me, when
suddenly from the cave came a flash, a report, and
the tall man in the frieze coat fell without a moan.
Another shot and another and two soldiers were
“Quick, my lads, quick! Bring a canister, and
we’ll blow the door in or out.”
The soldiers advanced with the canister, and were
about to set it down at the cave’s mouth. Only then
was hurled out the red brand, the signal for firing.
We poured a volley into their midst, O’Donovan’s
men firing at the same time, while single firing was
kept up from the cave.
The troops were staggered; their captain was shot
dead. They paused for a moment; then, as they
turned to run, a second volley laid low more than
half their number.
“Down on them!” cried O’Donnell.
We hurled ourselves down into the path. O’Donovan’s
men as eager, but with a view to cutting off
all hope of retreat, had rushed down on the other
side so as to meet them retreating. Caught between
the two forces, the soldiers clubbed their muskets
and fought desperately. Not more than four or five
escaped. Desisting from the pursuit, we returned
to the cave.
Our captain and the men with him had, in the
meantime, removed the barrier and were standing
outside. We were all curious to see the opening
through which the captain fired, and through which
he threw the lighted brand. No one except himself
had known of it. It was a fissure in the rock which
had been closed up with clay and moss, and which
the captain, when we left the cave, dug out with a
In the meantime some of our men were examining
the fallen enemy, and found five that were wounded
only. These were borne into the cave and placed
under the charge of the old woman, the captain
saying that a large body of troops were sure
to come out next day who would take them away.
There was one object that attracted universal attention—the
corpse of Shaun-na-cappal. He had
fallen on his back; a bullet had pierced his throat;
from the round hole the blood was still flowing. His
mouth grinned horribly, and we felt it a relief
when a dark cloud covered the moon, which had
been shining down on the upturned face and open
eyes. The captain having given his orders, and
having arranged for the next meeting with his followers
they dispersed, and he, having given some
instructions to Moira with regard to the wounded,
set out, taking me along with him. We found
shelter that night in a little shebeen about two miles
away from the cave.
And that is the story of my first night with the