John Gillan 1 - Sligo Poets

Go to content

Main menu:

1914 > Sligo Poetry 1914 > Sligo Nationalist

John Gillan Poems 1 - The Sligo Nationalist 1914

John Gillan continued his regular accounts of life in Sligo town in verse for for the first half of 1914. None are included after June but there are very few poems published in the newspaper during the second half of 1914. This was due to the amount of war news which was being printed and to shortage of paper.

In his rough and ready style he charts the founding and development of the Irish Volunteers in the town. The Sligo town corps was formed at a public meeting on Sunday 1 February 1914 and
The first drill was held on Sunday 15 February at 3 o'clock at the Buttermarket. Gillan, in his poem on the occasion, gives the commander's name as "Sergeant-Major 'Bertie' Mullany", the Sligo Champion says "H. Mullaney, late of the Irish Guards". P.J. McHale, the treasurer of the Sligo Volunteers, was a prominent member of the G.A.A. in Sligo and a member of the Gaelic Club from which Sinn Féin later developed in the town. The Mayor, John Jinks, was the driving force behind the Volunteers.

The regular mentions of Edward Carson and his Ulster Volunteers shows the importance of the activities of that body in the founding of the Irish Volunteers. Gillan repeats what was a common sneer about the Ulstermen, their lack of weapons, when he mentions their wooden guns. The Larne gun-running, which took place on 24 and 25 April 1914, changed that perception and in his May poem Gillan make a much briefer reference to the Ulster Volunteers.

One of the great delights of Gillan's poems is the numerous references to local characters, as for instance his list of instructors and sergeants of the Volunteers in the May poem.

The only Scott family in Sligo town in the 1911 Census lived in Barrack Street. The father, James aged 48 in 1911, was a native of Antrim, a general labourer. His wife was from Leitrim and their six children were all Sligo-born.

The Rowan mentioned was undoubtedly John Rowan who, in the 1911 Census, was living in Bridge Street. He was an army pensioner, Dublin-born and his wife Annie was Cork-born. They were married 25 years and had ten children of whom six were living in 1911. The children had been born in Aldershot, Malta, Roscommon and Sligo in that order. They kept a boarding house and had seven boarders on the night of the 1911 census.

Likewise there is the delightful aside in the February poem about “me boul’ man ‘Kruger!" who marched beside Gillan at drill and was to be married the following day, possibly Saturday 21 February 1914, to a girl not yet seventeen. If we are to believe Gillan, and he may just be poking fun of someone, the man himself was almost seventy. I have no idea who Private John "Kruger" was but got his nickname from Paul Kruger President of the South African Republic (Transvaal) who international fame during the Boer War (1899–1902).

Author Page

            Sligo Nationalist 24 January 1914
                     The Sligo Volunteers
                          (By John Gillan)

There’s going to be in our town a great Volunteer Brigade!—
Stalwart young Sligomen, join—don’t be afraid;
For your help may be required, before many years.
So come to the front, this very month, and join the Volunteers.

A fine corps will be started, according to what I hear,
And if a regiment isn’t in Sligo got, well ’twould be very queer.
Give down your names—Mick, Pat and James—fear not the enemy’s sneers,
And, I am sure, we will have here, a fine body of Volunteers.

The Home Rule Bill shall soon be passed, no doubt about next May,
Be ready then to take your stand on the Home Rule Day;
Because, wanted your aid may be , you know, from what one hears.
Now, brave boys, of this Connaught town take on the Volunteers.

Carson’s “wooden army,” well they are “clever men”;
They have no ammunition yet, but when will they get it?—When?
They’ve threatened to march from Belfast. If they do there will be tears.
For the time will be rough, and they’ll get enough from our Irish Volunteers.

A meeting will be held next week, and those who are stout and tall
Should go to hear the leaders speak in our grand Town Hall.
There you’ll be instructed —“be sure to “cock your ears”
To what will be said, and don’t be in dread, to go in the Volunteers.

“Quick march!” “Eyes front!” “Turn right about!” to you will be said;
Have your knife, fork, spoon, and razor, and be clean from foot to head.
“Right about wheel,” then draw your steel, and give three ringing cheers,
While you walk straight, beside your mate, like brave Sligo Volunteers.

With our worthy Mayor as President, Mr. Farrell as V.C.,
And the Treasurer Mr. P. J. McHale, no better Irishman there could be,
They’ll look after everything and won’t be frightened at any jeers;
For the work well they’ll do, and they will be true, to the Irish Volunteers.

(The poetry which appear in our columns each week, under the name John Gillan is written by Mr. John Gillan of this office. — Ed S.N.)

            Sligo Nationalist 9 May 1914
                       Sligo Volunteers
                        (By John Gillan).

Men in crowds on Sunday went along through Harmony Hill,
To form up in the Markethouse, for their weekly drill,
Great indeed was this sight—as good as could be seen—
Whilst they marched away (four men deep) to the old Fair Green.

The commander then, by signals, taught the troops to run,
Which was, no doubt, for some of us anything but fun,
To see them quickly “double” they showed they’d have no fears
To “tackle” any enemy—our Sligo Volunteers.

If Ulster’s “warriors” in sight should come of our men on Sunday last
“Out of their breeches” they’d surely jump and “to their heels” take fast;
They’d make for mountains, glens and caves, and few would be their cheers
For with powder and shot, they’d be made hop, by the Sligo Volunteers.

In fancy I see Carson’s “squad” scale each “hedge” and wall,
Whilst the Sligo soldiers them follow close with shot and shell and ball.
Well if they start from Ulster and come around this way
They soon shall know, that in Sligo, they’ll get gunpowder “tay!”

To Rosses Point the troops shall march at 3 on Sunday next,
And every man in the ranks should be on this day that’s fixed.
There you’ll be trained by signals with the Sergeant-major’s hands,
To skirmish and manoeuvre on the beautiful Green-lands.

Whilst instructors we have got like Lynch, Foley, Shiels, and Kelly,
Sergeants Scott and Rowan, Mulvey and Pat Melly,
We need not fear if the enemy’s tramp should at any time reach our ears,
And we won’t be shy, to fight till we die, like Irish Volunteers.

Sligo Nationalist 21 February 1914.
              Sligo Volunteers.
               Their First Drill.
               (By John Gillan).

Men to the Market House gathered,
Just as 3 o’clock struck,
On last Sunday evening,
And as Volunteers their places they took.

All were formed into order
Before they were put into drill
Such a sight! to see four fine companies
As they stood there with a heart and a will.

The instructors went through difficult drilling,
Which was witnessed by spectators many,
In charge of that excellent Sligoman—
Sergeant-Major “Bertie” Mullany.

The battalion were told “Right Turn,” “Left Turn,”
And “Eyes Front” which made them look straight;
Some were good, and some better.
No doubt, these fine fellows looked “complete.”

Now, No. 1 Company was excellent:
No. 2 was as good as could be,
And there couldn’t be anything better
Than the brave men who were in No. 3.

I couldn’t at all say too much
If I was to write lines by the score
In praise of the gallant heroes
That filled in Company 4.

After the men were instructed
The battalion went through some fine turns
In the Market Yard to see such an army
Wasn’t a usual occurrence.

The Mayor in a great oration
Said he was delighted and proud
To see such a fine muster of soldiers,
Who by no “gang” in the North could be “cowed.”

The commander than told the battalion
To meet on the next Sunday afternoon,
And Volunteers, in their same places
The drilling they again will resume.

The words Number Off” were given—
“One!”—“Two!”—“Three!”—“Four!”—then a laugh,
Because “meself,” never been in the Militia,
Shouted out “four-and-a-half!”

“Dismiss” next was the order,
And all left for their homes on the spot,
And as a salute—from some place convenient
There was let off a loud pistol shot!

So now, all those who are able
Shouldn’t have any objections or fears
To wend their way up to the Market House
To join our grand force of Volunteers.

Isn’t it funny, that a man from “Two” company
(Who was the next soldier to me),
Is to be married to a lovely young lady,
Although he is near seven-ty!

Let one and all on tomorrow morning
To the Cathedral at 10 a.m. flock
To witness Private John “Kruger”
Join in the bonds of wed-lock!

And to-morrow night in Lord Edward Street
We’ll make the tar barrel blaze,
And we’ll dance reels, jigs, waltzes, and hornpipes,
While the fiddle and melodeon plays.

You’re a “brick!” “me boul’ man ‘Kruger!’”
No braver soldier than you ne’er was yet seen—
To wed such a fine “sthripe” of a woman,
Whose age is not yet seven-teen!

I wish you all sorts of happiness,
good luck, prosperity and cheer,
And I hope before this day twelve months
You’ll be blessed with a young Volunteer!!!

Back to content | Back to main menu