Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/A clerical captain


The Archbishop of Canterbury, if report speaks true, is an honorary member of a rifle corps, and we trust so admirable an example may be generally followed by the English clergy. But our present story is of a clerical commander who proved himself the most effective of effectives in the hour of trial.

In the year 1812, a visitor to the town of Rathangan might have been surprised on any Sunday morning by the spectacle of a fine body of yeomanry being reviewed before service by the clergyman of the parish. His astonishment would have been increased on his being informed that the reverend gentleman was the official captain of the corps, and drew his pay in that capacity. In 1798, the terrible year of the Irish rebellion, when the whole country was rife with treason, and no man could trust his fellow, amongst the various places in which the insurgents obtained a temporary success, the neighbourhood of Rathangan may be noted. The place was threatened with pillage. There were no regular troops who could be moved for its defence; the yeomanry were called out, but there was no one to command them. What was the reason of this mysterious defection of their leaders we have not been able to ascertain; but there are many causes by which it might be explained, even without supposing that there was an exhibition of the white feather. Many gentlemen of good family, besides the unfortunate Lord Edward FitzGerald, were involved in the rebellion, and it is possible that the sympathies of the officers may have been with those whom it was their duty to attack. Or, again, many who would have ridden boldly enough against a foreign foe, might have shrunk from fleshing their maiden swords in the bosoms of their countrymen.

But whatever may have been the reason, the fact remains. When the troop assembled, there was no one to lead them on. Doubtless there were some among the ranks who rejoiced in the absence of a commander, and who would soon have made it an excuse for dispersing.

But, fortunately, this alternative was not permitted them. Whilst the debate was still at its height the clergyman of the parish rode up, saying, like Richard the Second to the mob, after the death of Wat Tyler,—“I will be your leader.”

The man who has the courage and presence of mind to appeal boldly to the sympathies of a crowd, especially if they bear any semblance of discipline, seldom fails in carrying his point.

The proposal was received with a hearty cheer. “Sorra a place they would not follow his rivirince!”

Whether the pastor had any previous experience in giving point and edge, or whether his knowledge of military tactics was confined to his reminiscences of Cæsar and Xenophon, we cannot say. But he showed the way gloriously, was well supported by the “priest-led citizens,” routed the rebels, and saved the town.

When the danger was past and the rebellion had subsided, there was talk of appointing a new captain to the Rathangan troop. The yeomanry at once declared that they would never serve any other officer than the man who had already led them to victory. Those were times when gallantry was too valuable to be neglected, and enthusiasm in the right direction too uncommon to be snubbed. The government was pleased to receive favourably the suggestion of the Rathangan yeomanry. The gallant pastor was appointed captain—an office which he held until the day of his death.

Should occasion arise, we have no doubt that there are many clergymen, both in England and the Sister Isle, who would be quite ready to emulate the pastor of Rathangan, even though they do not come professedly within the pale of “muscular Christianity.”

H. V.