To Be or Not to Be: 3rd Feb. 1945


To Be or Not to Be: Text Version

February 3, 1945


'Tread where we may on Irish ground,

From Antrim's coast to wild Cape Cleare,

Without some rain, rath or mound,

To tell of times that were.'

Once again the question of Sarsfield's rock has come into the news. At a recent meeting of the Limerick Vocational Education Committee the matter was raised, and it was decided to refer the whole business to a meeting of the County Council. So some day in the near future the councillors of Limerick County will meet in august session to debate with many a rhetorical flourish, whether Sarsfield's Rock, is to be blasted away to mend the roads that so badly need repairing, or whether it will remain, with all its associations with and its memories of the hero of Ballyneety. When the elected representatives meet to discuss the question the silent statue of Patrick Sarsfield that stands in the niche of fame in the Council Chamber will look on and listen. Let us hope he will not be disappointed.


The times are changing, people have lost much of the respect they had for relics of the past. Signs of the change are not wanting in many things: We have seen the fine old songs of the countryside fade out before the latest inane rantings so poetically described as 'hot numbers'. We have seen Rinnce Fada and Fairy Reel, Barn Dance and Quadrille, yield to Hokey-Pokey and Jitterbug. The change is noticeable even in the sadly neglected state of so many of our rural graveyards. The beds of clay that hold those of our kith and kin, who are gone are strewn with stones, and overgrown with weeds and nettles; God's Acre is a picture of cold neglect. If we are so careless where the resting places of our dead are concerned it is hard to expect that we'd have respect for ancient monuments. But it was not always so. Time was when such old remains were cared for. Other people still care for their monuments. On the continent they are guarded with an almost religious respect.


The ruin-studded landscape is an open history book. There on yonder hill is a frowning pile, a grey old Norman keep, built after the invasion by a de Lacy or a Fitzgerald to hold his plundered lands against the dispossessed Irish. Centuries rolled by it and its occupants became 'more Irish than the Irish themselves'. The wrongs and injustices committed by their ancestors were forgotten, and they made common cause with the people. It was now their turn to be driven out. See that great gap in the northern wall. That was made by one of Cromwell's when he passed this way, devastating the land like a wild wave of destruction. And so the descendant of the first Norman freebooter took wing with the Wild Geese, and left his lordly hall to loneliness forever.

See by the river the roofless abbey. Dominican, or Cistercian, or Friar, chanted Te Deums there for three hundred years. But the changing arms of Elizabeth's soldiery broke in upon the holy peace of the monks. Their roof tree was torn down, their place of worship was desecrated, they themselves were dispersed and outlawed, and the house of prayer became a grassy solitude.

Those three huge slabs of stone you see below you, with one poised precariously on the other two, that is a cromlech where two thousand years ago a Druid performed his forgotten rites, honouring the God he did not know.

There in the trees, now crumbling to decay, is the once proud Manor House, built with a hated adventurer's gold. He was the 'bodach' about whom the Gaelic poets wrote their bitterest verse. For years long this local tyrant was a law unto himself. But with time his tribe vanished off the face of the earth, and the despised native came into his own again. Freebooters, Planters, Settlers, Discoverers, and all the other infamous land-sharks of the Saxon plunderbund, they came and robbed their share, flourished for a while and faded; only the Gael weathered the storms of the centuries and held on to the land that was his God-given right.

Thoughts like these flock into the mind when we read of the threat to Sarsfield's Rock. Thoughts of pity and feelings of sadness that such old places cannot be saved from destruction. We have read of the damage to St. Ita's Dairy and Ormsby's Court. Are we to keep on adding to the list? In any other land of free men such storied places would be jealously guarded and shown with a just pride to the visitor. They are the honourable scars that a gallantly-battling nation received in her fight for existence; they tell the tale of Gael's refusal to be conquered; they are a reminder of the past and an example for the future.


When Brian na Banban visited Carrigaholt Castle and saw the marks of vandalism on it he wrote the following little verse and pasted it on the ancient doorway:

'In the grey old ruins of our native land,

There are memories fair and proud,

They tell of the patriot's glorious fate,

They tell of the martyr's shroud,

Go! Guard them well from careless hands,

As you'd from the winter's blast,

They were left to the children of Patrick's race,

To tell of the glorious past.'

If these noble lines were put on every old monument in the land they might awaken a spirit of respect for the lichened walls that bridge the yawning gulf of the centuries. They might even save Sarsfield's Rock from destruction.

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