The Irish Colonel
by Eugene Craig
When Capitán Enrique Monastario approached the
tavern to open the door, he heard what sounded like a party going on
inside. As he opened the door, he was met with a blast of raucous noise.
The room was in an uproar. The officer stopped so suddenly in his tracks
that Sergeant García bumped him from behind.
"Your pardon, Capitán, I did not mean
to…." García’s voice trailed off, but, surprisingly, he heard no
rebuke. He, too, began to absorb the scene before him.
People were talking at the tops of their voices,
the barmaids literally flying from table to table with drinks. The bar was
filled with customers. And so early
in the afternoon, too, thought García. A small crowd of men was
gathered in a tight knot around a table, singing at the tops of their
voices, roaring with laughter at the verses being sung.
Monastario’s first reaction was "What is
going on here?!" He looked around the room, taking in the activities
of the patrons. He focused on the group of singing men and saw them
holding flasks of wine that they would raise in the air at appropriate
intervals. He heard the familiar strains of an old war song – one that
insulted the French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, and lauded the Spanish
Army. Monastario caught himself at a rare moment - enjoying a song that he
himself once knew – and sang – not too many years before. Interesting.
Most interesting. There was a subtle alteration in his attitude.
As he pushed his way though the crowd to find the
center of the whirlwind, he saw a man with blazing red hair and a mustache
seated in a chair. He was dressed in the green uniform of the Irish
Regiment that García had described and was holding a guitar in his hands.
He was literally roaring out the verses. Some of the men standing behind
him were laughing so hard that the tears streamed from their eyes.
Sergeant García found himself smiling broadly,
then laughing at the verses about Spanish fire burning the seats of the
pants of the French troops; of Spanish bayonets charging in wave after
wave; and "Boney" fleeing the battlefield like a chicken taking
flight at the charge of a fox. "Do you know this one, Capitán?"
García asked in a delighted tone. "We sang it when we were marching
on Paris." He began to sing the verse, but Monastario looked
displeased and gave him a warning look. García stopped, cleared his
throat, but kept smiling, especially when he saw all the wine bottles on
the table. The Irishman had been quick to make himself at home and to make
Monastario patiently waited until the song came to
an end. He raised his voice to catch the attention of the colonel, but
O’Leary shouted for more wine. He must have seen the captain and
sergeant enter the room, though, for he took two extra mugs off the
barmaid’s tray and slapped them down next to his, but he did not yet
make eye contact.
The stranger took note as a few of the men
nervously drew away at Monastario’s approach and cleared some space for
him. Their actions spoke volumes about the capitán, the colonel thought.
Then, the red-haired man looked up at the captain
and sergeant, gave them a sly look, and began a new song. Monastario
smiled tolerantly and listened to the verses that were not Spanish, but
Now, Spain it ‘tis a gallant land
Where wine and ale flow free
There’s lots of lovely women there
To dangle on your knee
And often in the taverns there
We’d make the rafters ring
When every soldier in the house
Would raise his glass
When the song was over at last, the man put the
guitar down. The customers applauded and cheered. The men around the
colonel’s table broke up and headed to the bar or to other tables.
Monastario was not known to be a congenial fellow, and they wanted to give
him plenty of space. Who knows what mischief he might be up to – and at
Monastario watched the man look up at him with an
amused _expression on his face. "Ah, now what do we have here?"
he asked the captain and peered at the sergeant behind him.
The captain bowed politely. "I am Capitán
Enrique Monastario Sánchez, comandante of the pueblo of Los Angeles.
Welcome, Colonel, to our humble town." He watched as the colonel
poured wine into the two empty mugs and set the bottle down. "It is
my duty to inform you that, as a new arrival, you must fill out…."
Monastario didn’t get any further when the
colonel interrupted him. "Monastario, Enrique Monastario Sánchez did
you say? Now, I know that name from somewhere, Captain." He held up a
hand. "No, don’t tell me! Monastario, Monastario…." He
muttered. The world seemed to fade for him. The captain stood looking
nonplussed a moment, when the colonel suddenly shouted, "I have it! I
never forget a name! You were at the battle of Valencia! What heroism
there was! The campaign from Cincovillas to Vitoria and the freeing of
Aragon. It was the summer of 1813!" By now the tavern had grown
silent and every eye was on the colonel.
O’Leary jumped up from his seat. He shoved a mug
of wine into Monastario’s hand and another into Garcia’s. García
beamed. Before Monastario could react, he continued his tirade.
"Gentlemen, Ladies! What heroism there was – and from the ranks of
the young officers and men – for Spain and the glory of Spain. A young
Lieutenant Monastario received honors for his valor in this campaign. Our
sovereign, His Highness Ferdinand VII, Heaven bless him, gave the awards
from his own hand. Here, here in the humble pueblo of Los Angeles, is the
very man that smote the sword of Bonaparte! Has he not spoken of this
The room was silent. Sergeant García spoke up.
"Were you really there, Comandante? You have never spoken of this
before." García was impressed just thinking about the King pinning a
medal on Monastario’s chest.
Monastario opened his mouth, but didn’t get a
word out beyond, "I…." before the colonel continued.
"Such modesty! Unheard of, Capitán. And here am I, a simple soldier
of Ireland, shooting off my mouth at where I served, when greater men than
I walk the streets of Los Angeles." He filled his own mug.
"I see some doubts, gentlemen, as I look
around the room. But do you not see the Cross of Valor and the Order of
the Holy Cross here? These are no common awards, but ones for excellence
of service, bravery under fire, fealty and undying loyalty to the cause of
Spain. Gentlemen! Raise your mugs and drink to the King and to those who
have defended the honor and sovereignty of Spain!"
Everyone, including Monastario and Garcia, lifted
his mug and drank to this inspiring toast. García was particularly
pleased at being the recipient of a full mug of wine at someone else’s
"Ah, anyone for a second glass?" asked
O’Leary after the three men had downed their mug of wine. He raised an
eyebrow at the captain and sergeant.
"Sí, Señor Colonel," began García,
but Monastario cut him off.
"You’ve had enough, García," he said
putting his mug down on the table. García looked chastened and wiped his
mouth with his sleeve.
Monastario put on his best front. He turned to
O’Leary. "Thank you for your kind compliments, my Colonel, but I
must ask you to allow me to perform my duties. I ask that you respect
The colonel smiled benevolently and bowed to the captain. "My apologies, Capitán Monastario. I would never want to impede you in the carrying out of your duties." There was a hint of irony in his voice. He tossed some coins down on the table. "Let us go, shall we?"