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A Soldier's Death

Add another to the list, the long, long list, the list that stretches through time to the start of the race, the fighting race, the Irish race.

This is not a paean to war, to heroic figures in the Iliad of Homer, Anabasis of Herodotus, the History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydidies, or the mighty Caesar's De Bello Gallico.

It is not a deification of dead Irish soldiers lost in the nine centuries of intermittent warfare with the old enemy, the stubborn Saxon race, still clinging to a slice of the island that is Ireland.

Just last year we mourned the deaths of four Canadian soldiers killed by "friendly fire" in far away Afghanistan.

Last month, April 2003, another war in another far off country, Iraq, claimed the life of a soldier, an Irish soldier, a member of the Irish Guards Regiment, a unit of the British Army founded by Queen Victoria on April 1, 1900, in tribute to the bravery exhibited by Irishmen in the Boer War, conveniently overlooking the fact that an Irish brigade of volunteers, commanded by Major John MacBride, fought against the British on the side of the Boers.

Throughout the long history of war in Europe, Irish soldiers were often found in the ranks of opposing armies. In the United States, Irish soldiers fought in both the Union and Confederate armies.

Why single out one Irish casualty of a war fought, if fought be the correct word, in Iraq, while serving as a soldier in the Irish Guards? It is simply as a reminder that soldiering is a trade, and has been a trade from time immemorial. The childhood rhyme beginning:

"Tinker, tailor,
Soldier, sailor,"

bears witness to that fact.

And soldiering can be a dangerous trade.

Lance Corporal Ian Malone, aged 28, a Dubliner, was killed by sniper fire on Sunday, April 6, 2003, in the conflict to secure the city of Basra in Iraq.

Malone had been educated by the Irish Christian Brothers, and after leaving school was employed in packing plants and a warehouse . He hoped to become a soldier, but on grounds of age was rejected by the Irish Army. He then considered joining the French Foreign Legion. Eventually he joined the British Army.

A statement issued through the British Embassy in Dublin said: "He loved the army and lived for the excitement and challenges being a soldier brought.

He was proud to be an Irishman and proud to serve in the Irish Guards. His family take some comfort from knowing that he died doing the job he loved."

Malone was interviewed on Irish television while on leave in November 2002. Speaking about his chosen career he said: "At the end of the day, I'm just abroad doing a job.

"People go on saying Irish men died for our freedom. They did. They died to give men like me the freedom to choose what I want to do.

"I have sworn an oath of allegiance and I can't walk away from it. I will stick by it. Dishonouring that contract would be far more disloyal than joining the British army."

A statement issued by the British Minister of Defence said Malone "was serving with his regiment in Southern Iraq when he was killed in action on Sunday April 6 while on operations in Basra.

"Lance Corporal Malone joined the Irish Guards in 1997 and served in the United Kingdom, Poland, Oman, Canada, Kosovo and Germany. He was a valued member of the Regimental pipe band."

In an earlier age Joseph I. C. Clarke commemorated men like Malone in what became a popular recitation in concert halls and drawing rooms.

The Fighting Race

by Joseph I. C. Clarke

"Read out the names!" and Burke sat back,
And Kelly drooped his head,
While Shea -- they called him Scholar Jack --
Went down the list of the dead.
Officers, seamen, gunners, marines,
The crews of the gig and yawl,
The bearded man and the lad in his teens,
Carpenters, coal passers -- all.
Then, knocking the ashes from out his pipe,
Said Burke in an offhand way:
"We're all in that dead man's list, by Cripes!
Kelly and Burke and Shea."
"Well, here's to the Maine, and I'm sorry for Spain,"
Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

"Wherever there's Kellys there's trouble," said Burke.
"Wherever fighting's the game,
Or a spice of danger in grown man's work,"
Said Kelly, "you'll find my name."
"And do we fall short," said Burke, getting mad,
"When it's touch and go for life?"
Said Shea, "It's thirty-odd years, bedad,
Since I charged to drum and fife
Up Marye's Heights, and my old canteen
Stopped a rebel ball on its way.
There were blossoms of blood on our sprigs of green --
Kelly and Burke and Shea --
"And the dead didn't brag." "Well, here's to the flag!"
Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

"I wish 'twas in Ireland, for there's the place,"
Said Burke, "that we'd die by right,
In the cradle of our soldier race,
After one good stand-up fight.
My grandfather fell on Vinegar Hill,
And fighting was not his trade;
But his rusty pike's in the cabin still,
With Hessian blood on the blade."
"Aye, aye," said Kelly, "the pikes were great
When the word was 'clear the way!'
We were thick on the roll in ninety-eight --
Kelly and Burke and Shea."
"Well, here's to the pike and the sword and the like!"
Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

And Shea, the scholar, with rising joy,
Said, "We were at Ramillies.
We left our bones at Fontenoy
And up in the Pyrenees.
Before Dunkirk, on Linden's plain,
Cremona, Lille and Ghent,
We're all over Austria, France and Spain,
Wherever they pitched a tent.
We've died for England from Waterloo
To Egypt and Dargai;
And still there's enough for a corps or a crew,
Kelly and Burke and Shea."
"Well, here is to good honest fighting blood!"
Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

"Oh, the fighting races don't die out,
If they seldom die in bed,
For love is first in their hearts, no doubt,"
Said Burke; then Kelly said:
"When Michael, the Irish Archangel, stands,
The angel with the sword,
And the battle-dead from a hundred lands
Are ranged in one big horde,
Our line, that for Gabriel's trumpet waits,
Will stretch three deep that day,
From Jehoshaphat to the Golden Gates --
Kelly and Burke and Shea."
"Well, here's thank God for the race and the sod!"
Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

Add Malone to the list, and say a prayer for his soul.

According to a brief note in "The Iron Harp" Joseph Ignatius Constantine Clarke (1846-1925) was a journalist and playwright (title page copy refers to him as "Author of 'Robert Emmet, a Tragedy,' 'Malmorda,' 'Lady Godiva,' etc."), born in Ireland but seems to have spent most of his career in New York. His "The Fighting Race," (was) included in his collection, The Fighting Race and Other Poems and Ballads (New York: American News Co., 1911)…..A note at the end of the poem states the date of composition as March 16, 1898: about a month after the sinking of the Maine, and before the declaration of war with Spain (April 11). Several of the poems in the book's first section, "Songs of the Celt, "relate to the Spanish-American War (which apparently got Clarke's Irish fighting blood up); there are three more in which Kelly, Burke and Shea figure."

No sooner had this story been keyboarded came further news of Irish soldiers' participation during World War I, "the war to end all wars", in Iraq, then called Mesopotamia. A forgotten graveyard from that war, situated along the banks of the River Tigris, was disclosed to Lt.Colonel Tim Collins, Commanding Officer of the Royal Irish Regiment, following the end of the battle for Basra. Collins, incidentally, is the officer whose speech to his troops before that battle commenced has been widely disseminated and bids fair to rank alongside other historic pre-war orations.

Among the 5,000 names carved into eight grey panels of a granite memorial overlooking the cemetery at Amra, are members of the Connaught Rangers, the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars, and the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and a tribute to a further 925 unknown soldiers who also lost their lives.

The cemetery was abandoned by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission after the last Gulf War, but a local man preserved the monument.

"This is now a matter for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission but the Royal Irish will be conducting their Easter service here in memory of all those who fell the first time we came this way", said Collins.

Soldier Malone's remains were brought home to his native Dublin for burial, and a contingent of British soldiers, wearing civilian clothes, attended their removal to the Church of the Assumption in Ballyfermot.


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