The following poem was written by John F. McGrath, who was born on 14 July 1822 in Limerick and passed away in Brookhaven, Mississippi on the 11th January 1902. John McGrath had arrived in New York on 15 July 1851. In 1879 while living in New York with his wife Ellen Flood, he put pen to paper to recalls times of old, such as the Siege of Limerick, when the Williamite Army famously crossed the Shannon where Athlunkard Bridge stands today.
Far over the tumbling billows
Of the broad Atlantic sea
The thoughts of my heart oft wander
To the friends who are dear to me;
And I visit well-known places,
The scenes by boyhood knew,
Where the Shannon by Limerick city
Rolls down all his waves of blue.
I mark how the lordy current,
As it sweeps in its grand career,
Gives back like a might mirror
Till the eyes of my fancy rest on
That bend in the river’s course
Where the Bridge of Athlunkard
As a rider does his horse.
The memory bounding backward
Through the, long vale of years,
Recalleth a sombre vision
Of banners and blood-red spears-
All red with the blood of out kindred –
And enter Limerick town
Over Athlunkard’s arches
And pillars of granite brown.
And I anxiously ask – Shall ever
Athlunkard’s Bridge again
Re-echo the measured tramping
Of some fierce marauder’s men;
Of Hessian or maybe Hindoos
Let loose on our trampled land
To plunder and slay out people,
As did once “Fierce Billy’s Band”?
And a voice within me answers :
“See that palace upon the ridge
That rises in graceful beauty
Close by Athlunkard Bridge?
There dwells in that lordy palace
One fitted like king to reign,
And to watch o’er his faithful people
As a chief o’er his broad domain.
“And as long as that noble prelate
In his hand the crozier wields,
No ill can befall his people,
No marauders waste their fields.
Athlunkard Bridge may have echoed
The foreign foes’ tramp of old,
But whilst Butler guards the approaches
‘The pass can ne’er be sold.’ “
As again upon Fancy’s pinion
I fly from Athlunkard Bridge,
From its old historic approaches
And the palace upon the ridge,
There rises within my bosom
This sentiment fond and true –
“Would each pass in our brave old
Were sentinelled safe as you!”
– John F McGrath,
New York, February 1879.
(Respectfully inscribed to the Most Rev. George Butler, D.D., Bishop of Limerick)