The Wild Geese
The Wild Geese is a setting of the folk song Catalpa, and a reflection on the 1876 event most commonly known as the Catalpa Rescue.
During the mid 1860s, dozens of Irish Republicans were sent by the British to Western Australia, then still a penal colony. However, in 1869 J.B. O’Reilly (yes, he with the Leederville pub named after him) escaped and moved to America and joined ‘Clan na Gael’ – an organization that supported armed uprising in Ireland. At J.B. O’Reilly and colleagues’ suggestion, this organization hatched a plan to rescue a number of the imprisoned Fenians by sailing to Western Australia from the US in a whaler containing a legitimate cargo (so as not to arouse suspicion) and return to America with their far more valuable consignment.
The rescue began on the day of the Perth Regatta, when many of the garrison were otherwise occupied, and the prisoners’ presence in work parties outside the prison walls allowed easier escape. The prisoners travelled by horse and cart down to Rockingham, where the whaler Catalpa was anchored in wait. Storms and police boats both conspired to delay the prisoners’ escape, and only after the escapee’s ship raised a US flag and claimed that any attempt to seize them would be an act of war did the escape succeed. The term Wild Geese was adopted by the Fenians on their initial sea voyage to Fremantle, having originally been a name for Ex-pat Irish soldiers who had served in wars in Europe.
The music is dominated by an insistent moto perpetuo figure (often an alternating semitone pattern), which is contrasted with more restrained sections reminiscent of water or of memories of Ireland. The folk melody emerges slowly, from an initial highly-disguised hocketed statement to more bold assertions in the latter stages.