The Minstrel Boy

Something for the weekend.  The Minstrel Boy.  The patriotic Irish song was written by Thomas Moore in honor of his friends killed in the Irish rising of 1798.  The video above is from the incredibly good movie Rough Riders, with some of the Rough Riders singing the song before charging up Kettle Hill on July 1, 1898.

The song is sung just after the death of Captain Bucky O’Neill who, the son of Irish immigrants, had made The Minstrel Boy the song of his company.

Theodore Roosevelt describes the death of O’Neill:

“The most serious loss that I and the regiment could have suffered befell just before we charged. O’Neill was strolling up and down in front of his men, smoking his cigarette, for he was inveterately addicted to the habit. He had a theory that an officer ought never to take cover – a theory which was, of course, wrong, though in a volunteer organization the officers should certainly expose themselves very fully, simply for the effect on the men; our regimental toast on the transport running, ‘The officers; may the war last until each is killed, wounded, or promoted.’ As O’Neill moved to and fro, his men begged him to lie down, and one of the sergeants said, ‘Captain, a bullet is sure to hit you.’ O’Neill took his cigarette out of his mouth, and blowing out a cloud of smoke laughed and said, ‘Sergeant, the Spanish bullet isn’t made that will kill me.’ A little later he discussed for a moment with one of the regular officers the direction from which the Spanish fire was coming. As he turned on his heel a bullet struck him in the mouth and came out at the back of his head; so that even before he fell his wild and gallant soul had gone out into the darkness.”

Bucky O’Neill is portrayed in the film by Sam Elliot who gives his usual fine perormance.

The above version is sung by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros combined with a photo montage of some of our troops in Afghanistan.

Last but not least is Minstrel Boy sung by Colm Meaney in the poignant Star Trek The Next Generation episode The Wounded.

The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death you’ll find him;
His father’s sword he hath girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him;

“Land of Song!” cried the warrior bard,
“Tho’ all the world betrays thee,
One sword, at least, thy right shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!”

The Minstrel fell! But the foeman’s chain
Could not bring that proud soul under;
The harp he lov’d ne’er spoke again,
For he tore its chords asunder;

And said “No chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and brav’ry!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free
They shall never sound in slavery!


The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
Theodore Roosevelt

6 Responses to The Minstrel Boy

  1. T. Shaw says:

    Bless them all, bless them all, the long and the short and the tall.

    Our son served with 3/71 Cav, 3 BCT, 10th Mountain Div. all of 2009 in A-stan.

    We met him on a 10-below zero night, January 2010 at 3AM on Fort Drum.

    For some officers and NCO’s that was their third deployment.

    Greet them ever with grateful hearts.

  2. T. Shaw says:

    Addendum: Just answered the phone. A brave troop’s mother calling to tell us her son just redeployed (came home) from his second deployment in A-stan with the 101st. Joy. Thank God.

    They also serve who stay home and wait.

  3. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Few joys can compare T. Shaw to a son’s safe return from a combat zone!

  4. If you like “The Minstrel Boy”, then be sure to get a copy of the Clancy Brothers Irish Songs of Drinking and Rebellion.

    It’s actually a double-album that includes “Minstrel Boy”, but also such great songs like: “The Croppy Boy”, “The Rising of the Moon”, “Kevin Barry”, “The Parting Glass”, “Finnegan’s Wake”, and “Nell Flaherty’s Drake.”

    Great stuff, indeed.

  5. Don the Kiwi says:

    A woman who is with me on our RCIA committee, her son has just returned to Afghanistan for his second deployment.
    Our guys are not in the front line like yours – we are generally in Banian province, where the people are friendly, but the taliban raid from time to time.
    Actually, we have about 100 SAS over there too – but you would never know where they are – they operate independently of even our government knowledge – military only.

  6. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Nicholas, I have the Clancy Brothers Songs of Rebellion album. I didn’t know they had an album which combined the two favorite Irish pastimes!

    Don, SAS are always first class and very effective.

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