To the Editor of the Virginia Free Press. Harpers Ferry, 19th March, 1833.
DEAR SIR: — Before I enter upon an account of the celebration of St. Patrick’s day at Harpers-Ferry, the most romantic spot in Virginia, permit me to hail, with all the genuine warmth of a devoted son of Ireland, the present comparatively happy situation of my dear, my distant home. I see now, after a lapse of a few years, since I have torn myself from her embraces, that wide and awful chasm of destruction, party spirit and oppression, which, not long ago, so horribly yawned and so frightfully threatened destruction, now happily almost closed up since the illustrious and patriotic O’Connell and his unflinching and unbending adherents threw into it, like the young, chivalrous and magnanimous Roman all their eloquence, their strength, and what was best of all, their unanimous voice, which, like the sword of the uncompromising warrior, thrown into the scale when his countrymen would fain rather yield than come to the bayonet, has determined Irishmen in their resolution and fired them, man and man, to shake off, in toto, their yoke, and demand an equal participation in their rights and liberties. I see now, sir, but one stumbling block to Ireland’s complete peace and happiness— and that is the tithe system, that most hideous fiend of discord & injustice which still haunts the hearts and the dwellings of the suffering and the wronged, and scowls away from the land all harmony and prosperity. But who is he that thinks this piece of injustice and cruelty will not also be soon wiped away? Yes, Sir? So sure as O’Connell and his brother repealers have been returned to the British Parliament, so sure will this measure be carried; for men who were gigantic enough to wring from haughty and tyrannical England Ireland’s glorious emancipation, will surely not fail to carry in triumph the question, when agitated, to the overthrow and the consternation of their enemies.
It would seem, sir, that the same unanimity, the same ardent, noble spirit, which so strikingly pervade Ireland, for upholding the honor and dignity of the country, warms and animates every adopted son of Columbia. With us here, there is, if possible, a greater and more indescribable attachment for St. Patrick’s Anniversary. And why? Because, whilst it brings to our recollection the goodness and the mercy of our beneficent God, who raised us up to us so holy an Apostle, who was the savior of our Island, and the kind harbinger of every good, it carries along with it the fondest, the dearest recollections, and the most gratifying remembrance of relations and friends, and past-gone scenes so firmly knit and entwined around every exile’s heart. Actuated by the noblest, the truest, and the most virtuous intentions, the respectable body of Irishmen attached to the public works of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, determined, for the seventh time in America, to celebrate St. Patrick’s day with all the honor and lustre so deservedly due to so great an apostle. The great mover and principal leader in this great and immense undertaking was Mr. William Walsh, who has, much to his credit and patriotism, been the successful and happy conductor of this, as well as the other celebrations of the illustrious anniversary. That any other could be found who would be more zealous, more devoted, more capable to the arduous task, is much to be doubted; for he has given the most incontestable proofs of the most unexampled disinterestedness and generosity in all his conduct and ardent devotedness to the high rank to which he was deservedly raised by the unanimous vote of his countrymen, and by the voice of the highly respectable and worthy pastor of this place. Pure in his wishes to carry on the celebration with all honor and respect, he spared no expense, no trouble to add by every means to the ornament, beauty, and good order of the occasion. Influenced by the patriotic zeal of a faithful son of St. Patrick, and an admirer of the sterling virtue, and generous to the last of his patron Saint, for the religion he boasts of, William Walsh has now, seven years followed up, and with credit celebrated, at much loss and inconvenience, this anniversary. Were the true motives unknown which fired him to the laudable and commenJable display of generous feeling on this day, an undiscerning public might view all his and his constituents’ exertions as an idle pomp and show, as useless as unmeaning. But when we come to inquire the reasons of this public manifestation of joy at this anniversary, we are gratified to learn that it is because Irishmen, full of their gratitude and respect to him who first planted the seeds of religion on their shores, choose to devote in the most becoming and respectful manner, that day, with all the order and decency they are able to command. And thus influenced, they met from many surrounding places and collected at the Maryland side of the bridge in one, mighty body, having with them the respectable Amateur Band of Harpers-Ferry.—
At the head of this immense company, dressed handsomely and appropriately, and mounted on horseback, was Mr. Walsh, attended by the much respected pastor of this village and some assistant clergymen.
The march of the whole band to the Church commenced precisely at 10 in the morning, walking to by two. Officers were appointed, worthy and respectable young gentlemen, who, neatly dressed and with drawn swords, observed the very best order, and gave the best examples of gentlemanly deportment and strict conduct during the whole proceedings. Their names I here beg leave to give you: Messrs. James Connell, James Dunavan, James Dunn, Patrick Hayes, Michael Collins, Michael Driscoll, James Rielly, Michael Murry, Martin Grace, Michael Broderick, Michael Ryan, John McBride, Jas. Molick, Michael Gallagher, William Collins, George Comerford, John Downy, Thomas Mulligan, Edward Gough, Charles Devitt.
All who joined in the procession were dressed with the most appropriate emblems, such as a neat green scarf thrown over the left shoulder and a white silk scarf over the right shoulder, a green band of ribbon round the hat, and a red silk sash round the waist. There were many beautiful and handsome banners and representations of St. Patrick and O’Connell, and a beautifully gilded Cross which closed the rear of the vast concourse. As they marched most orderly and becomingly to the Church, ‘St. Patrick’s Day,’ ‘Washington’s March,’ ‘Yankee Doodle,’ ‘Home, Sweet Home,’ ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ and other favorite tunes were admirably played. Arrived at the Catholic Chapel, High Mass was celebrated by the Rev. Mr. Gildea, assisted by the Rev. Messrs. McCaffrey and McClosky, Professors of Mount St. Mary’s College, Emmetsburg. At the conclusion of the Gospel, the Rev. Mr. Purcell, the distinguished and talented President of Emmetsburg College, delivered a most brilliant and edifying panegyric on the Saint of the day. His text was Let us praise men of renown and our fathers in their generation, rich men in mercy studying beautifulness, whose godly deeds have not failed— their posterity are a holy inheritance— their children for the sake remain their seed and their glory shall not be forgotten forever. Gratefulness to our pastors and patrons. 13 chap. Eph. to the Heb. The learned and eloquent preacher expatiated at some length upon the glory that Ireland was crowned with in maintaining, in spite of all persecutions, hardships, and trials, the holy faith as taught by her apostle. He showed Africa how o[?]e she bloomed and flourished with her sacred religion, having six hundred bishops and many councils held within her jurisdiction; and how after all, when anarchy and confusion and persecution came upon her, she lost all her brilliancy, all her stability of faith, and tottered and dwindled into barbarism and idolatry. England, too, that could once boast an illustrious Alfred, and was once famous for Catholicity, had died away into a mere echo, answering back: split and divided, and miserably disunited, every parish proclaims a different religion, and a new and a speedier and an easier way for making to heaven. In conclusion, he told his overflowing audience to believe him, it was a most pleasing duty, and an honor which he much prized, to preach to them on that day, and under these circumstances, so far from the home where so many of their friends were thinking of them. We, said the learned, emphatic preacher, are standing on the Old Dominion— in a State to which the name of Queen Elizabeth was given, with the hope, no doubt, that like an evil genius, it would watch its borders and frown away each nascent effort of civil and religious liberty. And for what, said he, do you stand upon it? To contribute, to a full proportion of your labor and good will, to promote the public good, to facilitate the internal communications of your adopted country— to give your sinews, your strength, your practical knowledge of mechanics, to the construction of the rail-way and the canal— to enrich and improve your adopted country, which furnishes you with a secure and a happy home, extending her arms to welcome, and dilating her heart to cherish you among her own children. You could not build your churches on the banks of the Shannon and the Liffey, the blackwater and the Lee, but you can rear them in beauty and freedom, with their lengthened spires shooting up to heaven as expressive of your own gratitude, on the Hudson and the Ohio, the Susquehannah and the Potomac. Thus will you, said he, in his own strong and expressive language, doubly prove yourselves worth of citizenship and the affection you enjoy. Thus will your god approve you and make you one day fellow-citizens of the Saints in that country above, where all are divinely one happy family under a common father.
The sermon concluded, the remaining part of the mass was finished, and then the Rev. Mr. Gildea strongly exhorted all to due respect and honor of the day. He hoped that all would return in the same orderly and handsome manner in which they came; that all would be of one heart, determined not to cast any reflection upon the celebration by any indecorous, unbecoming conduct. The procession again recommenced, headed and guided by Mr. Walsh and his officers, marched through the town, stopped and played for some time before the houses of some of the principal inhabitants as a mark of respect, and gratitude for the active part which some of them had taken in forwarding the success of the happy anniversary. The gentlemen honored with this attention were General Rust, Capt. Hall, Mr. Wager, Dr. Stephenson, Mr. Fitzsimmons, and Mr. Byrnes. During the whole procession, to the honor of the amateur band, let it be told, that it never ceased to play, in the most exquisite and delightful manner, the favorite tunes most pleasing to the people. To the honor, also of the citizens of this place and its vicinity, let it be also said, that the most marked kindness and attention and respect were universally shown by all; and that I here, in the name of my countrymen, tender to them our most grateful thanks for their affectionate and polite and noble conduct to their adopted brothers. Our best thanks must also be presented to Mr. Wernwag, the Misses Fitzsimmons, Byrnes and Lindsay, for their kind and generous aid towards the celebration, which, without their friendly assistance, would have very much lessened the appearance and decency so much heightened by their support and co-operation. By 4 o’clock in the afternoon the celebration moved forward by Rev. Mr. Gildea, to the place from which it first started in the morning, where he again addressed and exhorted them. After which they separated, and all returned to their homes, peaceably and orderly, without one man seeking, secretly or publicly, to leave his companions to look for even the least nourishment. Happy am I to say it, and I think I will have all the people of Harpers-Ferry to join with me in the belief, that not one Irishman, who was connected with this anniversary, out of the vast and mighty multitude, was in the least, on Sunday last, intoxicated. O, how glorious! how honorable this is for my countrymen! It will show and plainly prove how slanderous and how false are the assertions of those who dare say that this day, instead of being devoted in a pious and becoming manner by Irishmen, is only spent in the tavern and the ale-house. But let this example convince all the genuine affection, attachment, and respect Irishmen have for their patron Saint. But are Irishmen only remarkable for their steady attachment to their religion and country? No– they are acknowledged the most warm-hearted and steady and devoted friends. Their friendship lasts as well in the thunder-blast as in the sunshine; and no adversity, no change can deprive you of the Irishman’s affection, when once he has declared you worthy of his esteem and regard.
Now let me ask if the generous and grateful hearts of Irishmen should not be warm in their eulogy and respect to a patron Saint who did so much for them? Surely the noble-minded American, who thinks no mete of praise too great to be lavished on a Washington, a Sumpter and a Marion, or any of the illustrious worthies of the revolution for their preservation of their country, would not think Irishmen too lavish of their respect and honor to one, who, whilst he saved their country from barbarism, rooted out the foundation of paganism, and planted in its stead the sacred banner of the Cross, which brought with it christianity, civilization and every blessing that has now so long blessed and enriched Ireland. But who can feel how much an Irishman is sensible of? He alone knows the gratitude he owes to his beloved benfactors. To whom does Ireland owe the title of Island of Saints? To whom does she owe that saving faith which has now stood the test of 18 centuries, through the cruellest persecutions and the worst of tyranny? To whom does she owe that learning of which she can do so justly boast? Certainly to her apostle and that priesthood which he so happily established, and which has forever shone conspicuous for its brilliancy of talent and intellectual acquirement. Let us cast back our eyes to the history of other days, and we shall see that Ireland, lovely, long suffering and much injured, ill-fated Ireland, can exhibit a catalogue of men famous and forever illustrious by there erudition and brilliant virtues. Let us remember that Irishmen established the first university in the world. Who, let me ask, established those of Paris, Pavia, and Oxford? Irishmen. In truth, who will deny that Ireland was once the emporium of learning, and the Athens of the world? Who will say that the princes of foreign nations did not, at one period, think it a high honor to have their sons schooled in Ireland’s literary halls.
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