Photo above; Thomas Kinsella with The Inchicore Ledwidge Society at the Hilton Hotel
Photo to the right Poets Kathy Donovan, Philip Casey, Michael O'Flanagan and Pat Boran
Michael O’Flanagan is the editor of the poetry broadsheet Riposte, which was launched in 1996 and which now has members in Ireland, England, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, America, Canada, Korea and Malta.
A member of the Inchicore Writers’ Group, Syllables, he is a former editor of The Inchicore Times and secretary of The Francis Ledwidge Society.
He has published three collections of his poetry, Immutability, published in 1991 and Peep into the Abyss published in 1993 and Positive Fruit published in 1999. He has broadcast his poetry on several local radio stations in the Dublin area and much of his work has also been included in the Syllables anthologies.
You can learn more about Riposte by going to http://gofree.indigo.ie/~riposte/
Michael O'Flanagan email@example.com
There are numerous other poets in Inchicore including Liam'Meara who set-up the Syllables Writers' Group in the 1980's. Liam's own collection "Burned All My Witches" was a best seller. He also published several anthologies on behalf of the Syllables Group.
Other Inchicore poets who have published collections include Phyllis McGuirk " Marble Cherubs" and Maire Moynihan " A sense of Place"
The three great poets associated with the area are Thomas Kinsella, Francis Ledwidge and Michael Hartnett whose 10th anniversary occurs this year. Michael Hartnett made Inchicore famous in the world of poetry with his "Inchicore Haiku"
Thomas Kinsella was born in Inchicore on 4th of May 1928. The eldest son of John Kinsella and Agnes Casserly he grew up at Phoenix street in “The Ranch” He got his early education at the Model School, where he was taught through the medium of Irish. He later attended secondary school at O'Connells Schools on the north side of Dublin. He subsequently entered University College Dublin on a scholarship to study science. On leaving college he successfully entered the Irish Civil Service where he remained until 1965. He lived for a period in Baggot Street where he befriended the composer Sean O Riada and the publisher Liam Miller. Kinsella began his career as a poet by publishing poetry in the UCD literary magazine the National Student, and in Poetry Ireland. His work, which was influenced by the modernist tradition, is amongst the most complex and intellectually demanding Irish poetry of the twentieth century. Thomas Kinsella married Eleanor Walsh in 1955. His first collection, “Poems” was published in 1956 by Liam Miller's Dolmen Press and this was followed by “Another September” in 1958 and by “Moralities” in 1960. Kinsella won many awards for his poetry including the Guinness Poetry Award in 1958 and the Denis Devlin Memorial Award in 1967. His early poetry was greatly influenced by WH Auden, however after he spent some time in America he was more and more influenced the poetry of Ezra Pound, Carlos Williams and Robert Lowell. He explored the power of his creative imagination in an effort to understand the nature of human relationships. However Kinsella also began to draw on his deep knowledge of the Irish language and proceeded to translate old Irish literature into the English language. In 1963 Kinsella went to Harvard to study Old Irish in preparation for his most famous work, his translation of the epic narrative The Tain. This was published by the Dolmen Press in 1969. It was subsequently published in a second edition by Oxford University Press in 1970 together with complimentary drawings by Louis le Brocquy. In 1965 Kinsella became writer in residence at the Southern University of Illinois. In 1970 he moved to Temple University in Philadelphia as a professor of English. A member of the Irish Academy of Letters from 1965, he was awarded three Guggenheim fellowships in 1968, 1971 and 1978. Kinsella continued to spend as much time as possible in Ireland. In 1972 he founded his own press, the Peppercanister Press, called after the common name given by Dubliners to Saint Stephen's Church in Mount Street which he could see from the window of his home in Percy Place. His first Peppercanister production was Butcher's Dozen, a satirical response to the Widgery Tribunal into the events of Bloody Sunday. This poem drew on the aisling or Irish dream tradition. Other publications in this series were A Selected Life 1972 and Vertical Man in 1973 and The Good Fight in 1973. Thomas Kinsella continues to live in his beloved county Wicklow. His full catalogue todate is Poems (Dublin, The Dolmen Press, 1956); Another September (Dolmen, 1958); "Poems & Translations" (New York: Atheneum, 1961); Downstream (Dolmen, 1962); "The Clergyman" [Anonymously pbd.] (Dublin: St Sepulchre's Press, 1965); "Tear" (Cambridge, MA: Pym-Randall Press, 1969); Nightwalker and Other Poems (Dolmen, Oxford, New York, Oxford University Press, 1968; New York, Knopf, 1969); "Ely Place" (Dublin: Tara Telephone Publications/ St Sepulchre's Press, 1972); Butcher's Dozen (Dublin, Peppercanister, 1972); The Good Fight (Peppercanister 1973); Notes from the Dead and Other Poems (Knopf, 1973); Fifteen Dead (Dolmen, Peppercanister, 1979); One and Other Poems (Dolmen, Oxford University Press, 1979); Peppercanister Poems 1972-1978 (Dolmen 1979; Winston Salem NC, Wake Forest University Press, 1979); "One Fond Embrace" (Deerfield, MA: Deerfield Press, 1981); St Catherine's Clock (Oxford University Press, 1987); "Blood & Family" (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988); Poems From City Centre (Oxford University Press, 1990); Madonna and Other Poems (Peppercanister, 1991); Open Court (Peppercanister, 1991); The Pen Shop (Peppercanister, 1997); The Familiar (Peppercanister, 1999); Godhead (Peppercanister, 1999); Citizen of the World (Peppercanister, 2000); Littlebody (Peppercanister, 2000); Collected Poems 1956-2001 (Oxford University Press, 2001); Marginal Economy (Peppercanister, 2006); Collected Poems 1956-2001 (Wake Forest University Press, 2006). The Dual Tradition: An Essay on Poetry and Politics in Ireland (Carcanet, 1995); Readings in Poetry (Peppercanister, 2006). An Táin Bó Cuailgne, which he published as The Táin, with illustrations by Louis le Brocquy (Dolmen, 1969); An Duanaire - Poems of the Dispossessed, an anthology of Gaelic poems edited by Sean ó Tuama (Dolmen, 1981).
Michael Hartnett was born on September 18th, 1941 in a hospital in the small town of Croom, Co. Limerick. Although born to Denis and Bridie Harnett, an error on his birth certificate made him a Hartnett, which he never changed as it is closer to the Gaelic O'hAirtneide. He grew up in the town of Newcastle West, Co. Limerick, although he spent some of his younger years fostered out to his Grandmother, Bridget Halpin in the countryside outside of Newcastlewest. There he learned by listening, to speak and understand the Gaelic language. He had several siblings: a sister, Mary and brothers Billy, Dinny, Gerard and John as well as two other siblings who died at an early age. He was educated in the local primary school, and then in St. Ita's secondary school for boys where he argued with the English teacher as much as he could! He left Ireland the day after he finished his Leaving Cert to work as a tea boy on a building site in London. He was writing at that time and getting published in Newspapers and an article appeared about him entitled "The Teaboy of the Western World". Poet Paul Durcan spotted one of his poems in a newspaper and showed it to the Dublin literati, including Professor John Jordan, who was a poet and professor of English in UCD. He sponsored Michael to go to U.C.D. for a year and his Aunt Madge (a children's Nanny) paid his keep. During this time in Dublin Michael co-authored the literary magazine "ARENA" with James Liddy. He also worked on a version of the 'Tao Te Ching' while curator of Joyce's tower at Sandycove during this period. After this period he returned to London and met Rosemary Grantley on 16th May 1965, introduced by mutual friends and they were married on 4th April 1966. Anatomy of a Cliché, a book of love poetry dedicated to and about Rosemary was published in 1968 to critical acclaim. This was the beginning of his serious writing career. Michael’s daughter Lara, was born in 1968, they moved back to Ireland and settled in Marino, Dublin. Michael worked as a night telephonist at the Dublin telephone exchange on Exchequer Street. His son Niall was born 1971 and in 1974 the family moved back to his roots in the country so he could more seriously pursue his writing and more specifically his affinity with the Irish language. Also in 1974 he won both the Irish American Literature Award and the Arts Council Award that same year. He became a lecturer in creative writing at Thomond College in Limerick for a while. Then in 1975, he made the great and bold political statement that he was no longer going to write in English" to court the language of his people" with the publication of A Farewell to English. He received the Irish-American Cultural Institute Award in 1980, the Irish Arts Council Award for the best book in Irish in 1986. Around this time grew increasing fond of the drink. He regularly travelled the five miles from his home in Templeglantine to drink with his numerous friends in Newcastlewest. Over the next few years, his alcoholism and other troubles led to end of his marriage and he moved to Inchicore, Dublin in 1984. The publication of Inchicore Haiku' (1985) marked a return to English with a bang that dismayed some fans and critics but as he said himself, he needed a wider scope of expression than one language. Inchicore Haiku laid out in the Japanese style may be one his most intimate meditations reflecting on his estrangement from his family, friends and indeed nature itself in Limerick. He lived for several years at a number of addresses in Inchicore making many friends and drawing inspiration from the raw urban landscape. He wrote the following short poem dedicated to the children of St. Michael’s Estate “ Oh! My darlings Oh! My dears, I have lived for fifty years and my hair is a river of tears, Oh My darlings , Oh! My dears.” He was particulary inspired by “the Grotto” in St. Michael’s Church on Emmet road and he used it as a cover illustration for his beloved “Inchicore Haiku.” In an interview given to The Inchicore News in 1991 Michael Hartnett expressed the following views. “I write about people, people in trouble, people under pressure. The most difficult thing for a poet is to write a poem out of himself that , has no relation to any poem that has ever gone before. Teenagers and older teenagers scribble highly derivative verse with no technique and then they get the key to the door at 21 and stop…it's not done any more. To say that anyone can write poetry is democratic rubbish, no less than saying that anyone- can make a cabinet or play the piano. I can't think of any poet whose work has survived who wasn't a classicist, who didn't obey the rules. “Take it easy Beethoven, You're on your Fifth” was one of Michael’s favourite quotes on the subject of artists and the demon drink. Hartnett's views here are worth noting. "Because Beethoven died of cirrhosis of the liver can't negate the fact that the wrote nine superb symphonies and hundreds of other works. You can't say - `Jayzuz, yer man Michelangelo drank like a fish. If he wasn't so hard on the gargle he'd have painted more than one Sistene Chapel!". Scott Fitzgerald, Dylan Thomas, Behan, Hemingway - they did their work, their lives were complete circles. Drink killed them but it didn't kill their talent. The problem for any artist is that he has a certain amount of work to do. but when it's done he can't stop and that's - when drink become dangerous". "There is a dangerous pride at the root of speaking to future generations. It could happen that my work will survive, that it will benefit someone some day. But if that happens, it'll be by chance, an accident. I can tell the past but I've trouble with the future". Several other English works followed including A Necklace of Wrens (1987), Poems to Younger Women (1989) and The Killing of Dreams (1992). These critically acclaimed works contributed to his winning the Irish American Cultural Institute Award in 1988, and the American-Ireland Fund Literary Award in 1990. During this period he was voted a member of Aosdana, a government-sponsored group of Irish artists. Selected and New Poems (1994), which contains work spanning his entire career and has been recently reprinted both in Ireland and in the USA. In 1999, the documentary film on his life and work: Michael Hartnett: Necklace of Wrens, was widely shown on Irish television to critical acclaim and won several prizes. Also, during the late 1990's, his poetry was added to the Irish final secondary school exam, the Leaving Certificate. Irish Folk singer Sean Tyrrell used his poem "The Ghost of Billy Mulvihill" as lyrics for a song on his album "The Orchard." His reputation had grown considerably, and Seamus Heaney wrote that he is "one of the truest, most tested and beloved voices in Irish poetry in our time." Alas, these events were to be his swan song. He attended the Listowel Writers Week in Kerry as he often had but went having not had a drink. This sudden withdrawal led to him experiencing a seizure in a bar and he was taken to a local hospital. He never fully recovered from that incident and had much trouble trying to write after that. The years of drinking, for a man so fragile, caught up with him and he died on October 13th, 1999 from Alcoholic Liver Syndrome. His collections include Anatomy of a Cliché (Dublin, Poetry Ireland Editions 4, The Dolmen Press, 1968); The Old Hag of Beare (a translation from the Irish, Dublin, New Writers Press, 1969); Selected Poems (New Writers Press, 1970); Tao (versions from the Chinese, Dublin, Supplement to Arena, 1963, New Writers Press, 1972); Gypsy Ballads, a version of the Romancero Gitano of Frederico Garcia Lorca (Dublin, The Goldsmith Press, 1973, with a portrait of the poet by Edward Maguire); A Farewell to English (The Gallery Press, Dublin, 1975, enlarged edition 1978); Prisoners (The Gallery Press/ Mass. Deerfield Booklets, 1977); Adharca Broic (The Gallery Press, 1978); An Phurgóid (Dublin, Coiscéim, 1983); Do Nuala: Foighne Chrainn (Coiscéim, 1984); Collected Poems, Volume I (Dublin, Raven Arts Press/ Manchester, The Carcanet Press, 1984); Inchichore Haiku (Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1985); Ó Bruadair, Selected Poems of Dáibhí Ó Bruadair (The Gallery Press, 1985);Collected Poems Volume II (Raven Arts Press, 1987/The Carcanet Press, 1987); A Necklace of Wrens , Poems in Irish and English (The Gallery Press,1987); Poems to Younger Women (The Gallery Press, 1988); Dánta Naomh Eoin na Croise (translation of the poems of St John of the Cross, Coiscéim, 1991); The Killing of Dreams (The Gallery Press, 1992); Haicéad (The Gallery Press, 1993); New and Selected Poems (The Gallery Press, 1995); Ó Rathaille The Poems of Aodhaghán Ó Rathaille (The Gallery Press, 1999); and Collected Poems (The Gallery Press, 2001). He translated the Selected Poems of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill (Raven Arts Press, 1986); co-wrote a play, An Lasair Choille, with Caitlín Maude (1961) and was co-editor, with James Liddy and Liam O'Connor, of Arena (1963-1965), and with Desmond Egan, of Choice (The Goldsmith Press, 1973). He was also poetry editor of The Irish Times for a period in the sixties. ( Source Kilmainham & Inchicore Local Dictionary of Biography)
Francis Ledwidge was born on the 19th. August 1887, in a cottage at Janeville, Slane, County Meath. He was the second youngest of nine children born to Patrick and Ann Ledwidge (nee Lynch). His father was living in Fennor at the time of his marriage but originally came from the Glan district in the parish of Johnstown, near Navan. The son of an evicted tenant farmer, he was accustomed to life on the land and thereafter spent most of his days as a migrant farm labourer. He also, practised for a time as a victualler in Navan. When he travelled, he was known as ‘the man who killed the pig and cured the bacon’. He died in 1892, when Francis was only four, so the latter never really knew him. Francis was fortunate to have had Thomas Madden for his teacher. Mr Madden has gained legendary status in Slane for his ability to impart knowledge, albeit often aided with the use of the rod A story recounts how Francis endeared himself to his teacher. The story, seldom given its source, comes from a fascinating autobiographical letter written by the poet just weeks before his death. Here is the poet’s own version of the incident: “About this time I was one day punished in school for crying and that punishment haunted the master like an evil dream for I was crying over Goldsmith’s ‘Deserted Village,’ which an advanced class had been reading aloud. It was in this same class that I wrote my first poem, in order to win for the school a half holiday. It was Shrove Tuesday and the usual custom of granting the half holiday had not been announced at play time, so when the master was at his lunch I crept quietly into the school and wrote on a slate a verse to remind him, leaving it on his desk where he must see it. I remember it yet: Our master is too old for sweet, Too old for children’s play Like Aesop’s dog, what he can’t eat No other people may. This alluded to the pancakes that are always made on Shrove Tuesday and are a great treat in rural Ireland. The silly verse accomplished its end. Years afterwards he often spoke to me of that verse and wished he had the slate to present to some one who liked the story and my poetry”. Under Madden’s charge, Francis flourished and showed further signs of creative talent even before he had left school. Not that he had much schooling. The records, which have fortunately survived to this day, show that Frank did not begin his education until January 1st. 1896, when he was eight years and five months old. He went straight into second class and completed a full year; he then spent a year in third class, a year in fourth and two years in fifth. His name was struck off the roll on 1st March 1902, at the age of fourteen. He later boasted, “I had no more to learn in National School at fourteen so I strapped up my books and laid them away with the cobwebs and the dust.” However, his abrupt removal from school before the end of term was due to a very different reason. During this time Francis’s elder brother Patrick, a commercial clerk, and the main provider for the family was battling against tuberculosis At one time the bailiff and police came with an eviction order for arrears in rent. They were only dissuaded by the local doctor who happened to be present and who would not allow his patient to be moved. Patrick eventually succumbed to the illness on 10th June 1901. The funeral expenses had to be met by the Navan Board of Guardians. The whole affair had a profound effect on Francis at an impressionable age. It would go a long way towards shaping his mind and outlook, particularly his attitude towards others lacking basic social needs. When Frank was nineteen he was able to apply for men’s jobs and secured work on the roads. It was around this time that the young Kathleen Ryan saw him. Many years later she recalled the impression he made on her: “When I first met him he was cleaning roads. With his spade he cut and removed weeds that were obnoxious to the refined sensibilities of the substantial burgesses. ....Physically at this time he was tall and proportionately built. His face was bronzed by exposure to weather, but with his arms resting on his spade and his eyes scanning the horizon, when some passer-by would pass trite comments on the weather, he really looked a splendid specimen of manhood. His eyes were the most arresting feature of his countenance. In colour they were deep, deep brown, and they attuned themselves to his every passing mood. ...He spoke in a low, measured tone, and his movements were leisurely, but in the Royal County these are characteristics common even to athletics. ..If your line of thought ran parallel with his own he was sure, with a blunt “Ay, ay,” to take up the thread himself and leave you the listener.” He left his job on the roads to take up more lucrative employment at a copper mine in the grounds of Dollardstown House, Beauparc. However, he soon found that he had to work in shifts, around the clock. Conditions were atrocious: there was flooding from the Boyne and a number of fatalities due to cave-ins. Conditions at the mine continued to deteriorate, and in 1910, Ledwidge was determined to put pressure on the management for vital demands including the installation of new pumps. He tried to get the men to agree to a stoppage in order to make the management listen. However, someone informed the foreman of Frank’s intentions and when he arrived at the gates the following morning the foreman paid him off and dismissed him. Not one of the one hundred strong work-force, arriving on the morning shift, would side with him. Frank was abandoned by his fellow workers. They were not interested in Ledwidge’s ideology; employment was scarce and the wages at the mine were good- 18 shillings compared to the average wage of six shillings. With time now on his hands, Ledwidge devoted himself to writing poetry. This was one of his most productive periods. In the months that followed, almost every issue of the Drogheda Independent carried a poem by Ledwidge. As this was the local paper, it helped to establish his name as a poet in the area. The Gaelic League was started in Dublin in 1893. By 1903, a branch had started in Navan, of which, Paddy Healy, Matty McGoona and Paddy Mullen were all involved. There were attempts at that time to extend it to Slane, but these failed. In 1910, Ledwidge sought to rekindle the flame. Francis Ledwidge was a founder member of the Meath Labour Union in 1906, when it was only the second of its kind in Meath. By 1914, the M.L.U. had 22 branches throughout the county. Notable by their absence were the areas Kells and Trim, which tells us of the rural nature of the Union and its main function as arbiter between agricultural labourers and farmers. Moreover, next to the United Irish League and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the M.L.U. was the third most prominent political organisation in the county. On 17th August 1912, Francis Ledwidge was elected to the management committee of the M.L.U. This was a non paid position. When the State Insurance Act became law, workers had benefits and so the Union decided to become insurance commissioners under the Act to look after applications on behalf of its members. It came at a time of growing unemployment and so was welcomed as a means of alleviating hardship. All members were entitled to benefits; it was a big step forward for workers. Before long it became obvious that a paid secretary would have to employed full time to cope with the mounting application forms. At a meeting of the M.L.U on 7th. September 1912, Francis Ledwidge, “that talented young Irishman” was appointed Secretary, according to the Drogheda Independent. A more detailed account appeared in the Meath Chronicle: ‘A meeting of the Committee of Management of the Meath Labour Union was held at the newly registered office. Market Square, Navan. Mr. M.O’Toole presided. Also present J Meleady, F.E. Ledwidge, J. Hearte, E. Aladwell, M Chester, H Smith, and J Blunt- General Secretary. The necessary forms for the payments of funds by the Society by the Commissioners were produced and signed by the three trustees. The necessary security has been given by the Society Mr. F.E. Ledwidge was appointed Secretary to the Society in connection with its functions as regards the Insurance Act, he is to take up duties on the 9th. inst. Mr. J. Blunt retains his position as General Secretary and Treasurer. ...The Secretary stated that membership of the Union has largely increased and is still increasing and that a great many women have joined the women’s’ section. ‘ This was Ledwidge’s first ‘white-collar’ job, and quite a change from road mending. He now had a comfortable office at Market Square in Navan. The only documentary evidence of his written work on behalf of the Union is contained in a notice which appeared in the Drogheda Independent on 12th. October 1912. For this reason and because it has never since appeared in print I set it out below in its entirety. However Ledwidge’s employment with the Meath Labour Union came to an end after only a year. Francis now concentrated on his writing, this time in poetic prose and contributed a lengthy series of historical articles to the Drogheda Independent entitled ‘Legends of the Boyne’. It was time to focus on his literary career and he had now found a sponsor. Late in the Summer of 1912 Lord Dunsany took an interest in the poet’s work and invited him to Dunsany castle. Ledwidge was allowed full use of the Library. In addition, his Lordship helped Francis to improve his English. The two became close companions, something which must have baffled most observers. Shortly after this, Lord Dunsany began sending some of the poet’s work to publishers in London with his own recommendation. ‘Behind the Closed Eye’ was accepted by the Saturday Review and they thereafter published about a dozen of the poet’s pieces. In 1913, his Lordship brought Francis to Dublin and introduced him informally to a number of friends. Dublin was a hive of excitement due to what was to become known as the ‘Golden Age’ renaissance in Irish literature. Ledwidge was introduced to Padraic Colum. Colum later remarked: “I met him with Seumas O’ Kelly, author of ‘The Weaver’s Grave.’ We went to the back of a coffee house for a chat... I well recall his big frieze overcoat that gave him the look of a young soldier- although he had not thought of entering the army at the time. He was a big-boned, ruddy-faced, handsome youth. Silly stories were current about his origin...there was a suggestion that he was hardly literate...that he had been a scavenger on the roads. Nothing of the sort. He struck me as the sort of boy who belonged to a good Irish farmer family. His education was in the National school, and for one who got through the second year of the sixth book, that was a good education as far as literature went. Stress was laid on a literary culture in many of the National Schools in those days, and an effort was made to give it.” By July 1914, Ledwidge had also been elected to the Navan Board of Guardians and Rural District Council. The only documentary record of his involvement is a rather boring letter about a blocked drain. Nevertheless, life must have seemed better for the poet at this juncture. But his good fortune was not to last. In the years before the First World War, the majority of Irish people were content with their British association and accepted the popular King as their Sovereign. It was only a small faction mainly comprised of the Gaelic League and Sinn Fein who were of different disposition. The Irish only wished for a limited form of self government. In these times one man dominated Irish politics, John Redmond; Redmond stood for Home Rule and that is what the people wanted. Even Padraic Pearse was a Home Ruler up until 1913, when his mind turned towards militarism, influenced by the arming of the Ulster Volunteers. Ledwidge stayed with the idea of Home Rule; although he resented John Redmond’s virtual take over of the Volunteers with the demand of 25 of his own nominees appointed to positions on the committee. Frank was a founding member of the Slane branch and had spent the Spring of that year marching and drilling with the men. But by October 1914, it was clear to Ledwidge, as it was clear to the I. R. B., that although Home Rule was at last put on the statute books, it could not become law until after the War, and even then its future was uncertain. The majority of people were still behind Redmond, and on the 26th. September, within a week of his famous speech at Woodenbridge, the people of Meath lit a huge Home Rule bonfire on the fair green in Slane that is said to have illuminated Navan. At a meeting of the local branch of the Volunteers to discuss Redmond’s call to the Front, Ledwidge and his brother, Joe, were two of only six to support the dissident Sinn Fein provisional committee and to vote against the Redmond proposal. In August 1914, the Great War began. John Redmond’s proposal that the Volunteers be used as a home guard to defend the coasts of Ireland, met with the approval of most people. In a letter to Lord Dunsany, dated 6th. August, Ledwidge told his friend how he had sprained his ankle while jumping in a sports event. He went on to say, “...I will probably be called to defend the coasts of Ireland from our common enemy. God send!” Ledwidge, enlisted with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers at Richmond Barracks in Inchicore in October 1914.. He said “I joined the British Army because she ( Britannia) stood between Ireland and an enemy common to our civilisation and I would not have it said that she defended us while we did nothing at home but pass resolutions” On the 24th. October 1914 Francis Ledwidge cycled to Richmond Barracks in Inchicore , where he enlisted in the Royal Inniskillings. From there he wrote to his friend Paddy Healy: ‘I was waiting a few days to see how I would like a soldier’s life before writing to you. I am having a royal fine time. I only parade one hour per day, the other six I spend in the quartermaster’s store as clerk, for which I receive extra pay and mess with clerks, in a place specially allotted to them. For breakfast we get tea, bread, butter, fish sometimes, or steak, always something; for dinner beef, vegetables, and afterwards rice. For tea, fish again and usually pine-apple. You can see I am not so badly off after all. I see Lord Dunsany every day, and in the evenings we meet in his quarters and discuss poetry, the thing that matters. Dunsany saw to it that I was not sent to Tralee, as he brought forward the fact of my being an Irish Volunteer and therefore had a certain amount of training. At the recreation rooms on Saturday night I am giving a reading from some of my embryo books.” Ledwidge proved himself a fine soldier, well accustomed as he was to arduous labouring conditions on the roads and in the fields, and his training with the Volunteers had prepared him well for military service. Within a short time he was awarded a Lance Corporal’s stripe. He was popular with the men, both the Redmondites and the British, and soon friendships were made. Francis Ledwidge was famous even in his own day for his infatuation with Ellie Vaughey about whom he wrote a number of love poems. However this relationship never endured. He, however developed a more significant relationship with one Lizzie Healy who lived and worked in Wilkinstown and with whom he communicated very prolifically. The Following is an extract from one of his many letters written to Lizzie Healy. D.Company 5th. Inniskilling Fusiliers, Richmond Barracks, Dublin 6th. Jan. 1915 “Dear Lizzie, I hope you are back in Wilkinstown again. Since I was home I am watching the days to pass when I could write to you as I promised. I did not like to write to you while you were in Slane: you know why.. . believe me, however unworthy I may be I think of you often, even in my busiest moments. I am so far away from you I find courage to tell you that I love you very dearly. I could have told this a year ago, but when the tattle about the violets came I saw how futile my words would be to you, but there was no consolation in such a thought and I went on loving you like one bound to the mast going forward to his destiny. Even if you fall out with me for telling you this, send me your photograph. I am longing to have it and who knows in what strange places it will be a comfort to me. I had my photograph taken and will send it on to you. when I get it... .Don’t be angry with me for what I say to you. I can’t help it. Wont you write at once and let me know everything. I am dying to hear from you.” Ledwidge exchanged many letters with Lizzie while stationed in Inchicore and he wrote to her shortly before he was killed at Ypres in July 1917. On April 9th, 1915 Ledwidge wrote to his publisher Herbert Jenkins: “We are now on tip-toe ready to depart. Somehow I can never feel that I am going away to fight for a people. When men say, ’I will fight for my country,’ do they mean that they will do so for the laws which govern them, for the people whom they know, or for the fields and the rivers around their homes ? I have taken up arms for the fields and the rivers along the Boyne, for the birds, and the blue sky over them. Is that my duty? I love my King and would fight for him willingly, but thousands are already doing that, and nobody but myself has joined the Army to champion those little fields so well beloved of the seasons.” At the outbreak of war 50,000 Irishmen served in the British regular Army. Three divisions of volunteers were added at this time; the 36th. Protestant (Ulster Division), the Catholic 16th. (Irish) Division of Redmond, and the mixed (English and Irish), 10th. Division. The latter, which was Ledwidge’s Division, was the first to go. On 22nd. May, 1915 he wrote to Jenkins again: “I would not like the book (Songs of the Fields) spoiled by any reference to my having joined the army. I could not have stopped out of the army and called myself a man, and I would sooner be known as a man when the world’s trouble is over than as a poet...... that a man should buy it because I am in the army would be the greatest insult my muse could be given, as well as being a slight on the Great Cause of the little fields for which I am fighting.” He wanted to draw a distinction between Ledwidge the poet and Ledwidge the soldier. After a couple of months encampment at Basingstoke, in the rich countryside of Southern England, Ledwidge found himself on board the S.S. Novian on his way to the Dardanelles. During the voyage he passed the time writing a poem to his mother; the result was the haunting melody ‘Crocknaharna’. From Mitylene, the H.M.S Heroic brought the men the rest of their journey to Gallipoli. It is hardly necessary here to recount the details of one of Britain’s least successful campaigns. Winston Churchill’s plan went horribly wrong. The soldiers landing on the beaches at Sulva Bay were easy targets for the Turks nesting in the headlands above. As Ledwidge put it, “It was Hell! Hell!. No man thought he would ever return. Just fancy, out of D Company, 250 strong, only 76 returned.” The 5th. Royal Inniskillings were then shifted to Macedonia, but the fighting went on in Gallipoli until the casualties had reached epic figures. In all, 205,000 men were lost through combat or malaria before the expedition was called off. The S.S. Sarnia then took Ledwidge’s division to Mudros. Here, there was no fighting and the men could relax and recover their strength. However, after just two weeks in camp they were on the move again. The S.S Aeneas brought them to Salonika and from there they travelled by train fifty miles to the Greco-Serbian boarder. The blizzards of Serbia awaited Ledwidge next and the fierce fighting Bulgarians. It was on a mountain ridge near Lake Doiran that an advance copy of his book ‘Songs of the Fields’ reached him. He had a brief spell to inspect it as there was little engagement with the enemy due to a raging snow storm. However, as soon as the storm subsided the Bulgarians came upon them. Eventually, finding themselves outnumbered and beaten on the Vardar, the British and French divisions had no option but to retreat back to Salonika. It took the men six days to complete the journey. Ledwidge, having to march some ninety miles in damp clothes collapsed on the way and was taken to a hospital on arrival at Salonika. He described his experiences as follows: “The Bulgars came on like flies and though we mowed down line after line, they persisted with awful doggedness and finally gave us a bayonet charge which secured their victory; we only had 200 yards to escape by and we had to hold this until next evening and then dribble out as best we could.” He was moved to the Citadel Hospital in Cairo, suffering from what he described as ‘an attack of Barney Fitzsimons back.’ It turned out to be rheumatic fever, jaundice and inflammation of the gall bladder. From his Hospital bed he continued to correspond with his mentor and sent poems for his Lordship’s approval. These included ‘Wander Song,’ and ‘Love Song,’ two poems set in Arabia. From Cairo, he was transferred to various other hospitals, five in all, before being shifted back to the 2nd Western General Hospital, Manchester. This was the largest hospital in England, with twenty-two schools used as hospital units. It was to one these units, Lily Lane, County Primary School, that Ledwidge was sent. After he left Hospital he went to stay with his married sister, Mary Shanley. He was confident at this time that he would be discharged from the army. As he said in a letter to Bob Christie: “My liver started troubling me, and does still. I can’t sleep at night. Though I’m discharged from hospital I am far from well....I had a hard graft in Sulva and Serbia. I was on listening post every alternate night. The first night I shot a Turk who came spying and got a certain amount of fame and - more dangerous work- and a stripe. I will hardly fight any more.” It was while he was in Manchester that he first learnt of the rebellion that had taken place in Dublin. It is evident from another extract of the above letter to his friend, Christie, that up to this point he still wished to distance himself somewhat from the actions of the Sinn Fein led rebellion: “Yes, poor Ireland is always in trouble. Though I am no Sinn Feiner and you are a Carsonite, do our sympathies not go to Cathleen ni Houlihan ? Poor McDonagh and Pearse were two of my best friends, and now they are dead, shot by England. McDonagh had a beautiful mind,” This brooding on the death of McDonagh led to the production of Ledwidge’s finest poem, a lament to the executed patriot: Thomas McDonagh ‘He shall not hear the bittern cry In the wild sky, where he is lain, Nor voices of the sweeter birds Above the wailing of the rain. Nor shall he know when loud March blow Thro’ slanting snows her fanfare shrill, Blowing to flame the golden cup Of many an upset daffodil. But when the Dark Cow leaves the moor, And pastures poor with greedy weeds, Perhaps he’ll hear her low at morn Lifting her horn in pleasant meads.’ The English regarded the 1916 Rising as an act of treachery, enacted with the purpose of aiding the Germans by undermining British rule in Ireland. The Irish too, had difficulty trying to reason with it at a time when fellow Irishmen were serving in the war effort. The looting of shops by Dubliners immediately after the Rising further sullied the event as did the jeers of the crowd as the prisoners were led to the barracks. All Irish newspapers condemned it the following week and echoed the outrage expressed in British newspapers calling for those responsible to be dealt with. As the Glasgow Herald put it, ‘Now that the turtle is on its back it must be decapitated.’ The Catholic Church was also quick to denounce it; the Pope sent a telegram asking for details, and soon the bishops were speaking out against these ‘Evil minded men.’ It was Irish regiments who were used to put down the Rising. There were cheers in the House of Commons when this was made known in a telegram sent from Lord Wimbourne to Asquith. General Maxwell paid tribute to them in a notice published in all newspapers. Particular mention was made of the National Volunteers in Drogheda and the many local people who joined in. Ironically, Lord Dunsany, Ledwidge’s patron and friend was wounded in a clash with a group of rebels. Ledwidge arrived back, about the 10th. May 1916, to the devastated city of Dublin. It was then that the full impact of the Easter Rising struck him. His brief visit to O’Connell Street is commemorated in the poem of that name, written a year later in France: Because of the introduction of Martial Law, the most prominent figures associated with the Rising were subjected to Field General Courts Martial, under the Defence of the Realm Act. Although the leaders had already met their fate by the time Ledwidge returned to Richmond Barracks, other court martials were still in progress: the trial of Eoin Mac Neill, for instance began on 22nd. May, and Austin Stack’s trial began in June. In addition, Richmond Barracks was a clearing centre for all of those arrested after the Rising. Over 3,000 persons, almost twice the amount actually involved, were held there following Easter Week. Many were still there at this time awaiting transfer to prison camps in Britain, some, herded together behind an enclosure of barbed wire which occupied the main square. This was the scene that Ledwidge beheld on his return to the same barracks where he had trained a year previously. You can imagine his horror on seeing at first hand, the treatment of his fellow Irishmen. The Rising may have seemed a noble failure to Ledwidge, but that view was not shared by the Commanding Officer, a stranger, who curtly refused Frank a request for extra leave and having made an offensive reference to the Republican leaders, ordered him to continue at once to Derry. Apparently, this led to an altercation, in the course of which, Ledwidge, it is alleged, told the officer that he had fought on two battle-fronts, believing he was also fighting for Ireland’s freedom. This was hair-raising talk when you consider the treatment of James Connolly, Willie Pearse, and the execution without trial of Francis Sheedy Skeffington. In the event, all the officer did was to threaten to report him, but his behaviour probably contributed to his eventual court martial. In defiant mood, he compounded his problems by deliberately stalling on his way to Derry. He seemed to be inviting trouble. As a result he lost a stripe and with it, one supposes, any regard he had for the uniform he was wearing. After this, he drank more and contemplated deserting. However it was against his principals to join the ‘hill men’ (as deserters were called). Lord Dunsany, also, was at this time stationed at Ebrington Barracks in Derry and had a rented house there for his wife. When Ledwidge arrived he gave him a room so that he could rewrite many of the draft poems which he had carried around with him on active service, some written in pencil on light tissue paper, or on the backs of envelopes and Red Cross notepaper. To use his own phrase, a lot of it was ‘stained with Balkan water’. Other poems of course, he had lost altogether and these he tried to remember. This accounts for poems with such titles as ‘Serbia’ being written in Derry. The rewrite of ‘Thomas McDonagh‘ was followed by a stream of patriotic poems, including ‘Jeu d’Esprit’, ‘The Wedding Morning’, ‘Ireland’, ‘The Lament for Banba’, and ‘To Mrs. Joseph Mary Plunkett,’ a tribute to Grace Gifford. His Lordship revealed a certain degree of embarrassment when later speaking of these poems, referring to them apologetically as “The irresistible attraction that a lost cause has for almost any Irishman” However, privately he praised the younger man for the ‘McDonagh’ poem recognising its greatness. Dunsany of course, had known McDonagh as a poet, historian and editor, and had entertained him at Dunsany Castle. Ledwidge’s new poems found favour with the editor of The Sphere, a very fine British war magazine, whose literary columnist said that they reflected, “.... the undying resentment of three-fourths of Ireland with the bad statesmanship of England” Because of what became known as ‘The Big Push,’ men were in great demand on the French and Belgian lines and, according to Christie, there was no chance of a discharge for Ledwidge unless he acted on his (Christie’s) advice on how to deceive the medical examiner, and he would have none of that. He was passed fit for combat and prepared to depart again, this time for France. We have conflicting reports on his attitude to this. He told his brother, Joe, that his heart was now as hard a Dutch cabbage and that he hated the business of war. He didn’t like to talk about it, and he would never join again if he survived, not, he said, “ if the Germans were coming over the garden wall!” However , Herbert Jenkins later told The Sphere (25th. August 1917): “Ledwidge insisted on going to his third front. There was no necessity for him to
be sent to France, but he was eager to get in the firing line again” Should the latter be the case then the answer may lie in the following comment from another letter at this time, “ Death is as interesting to me as Life.” Always prone to bouts of melancholia, Ledwidge was at his nadir; his beloved Ellie (Vaughey) had died and the indications are that his other girlfriend had lost interest. That, together with his disillusion with the war, his sense of shame for the uniform he was wearing, all led to a torpor of despair. There was nothing he could do to reverse the events of 1916, nor was there anything he could do to help the patriots now. As far as the general consensus of opinion went, the Rising had been a tragic blunder. The ‘Terrible Beauty’ was still in her infancy. And if Home Rule was far off in 1914, it was surely dead and buried now. He had nothing left for which to live. In Arras, France, Ledwidge witnessed the chilling son-et lumiére of war. In one of a number of letters to Katherine Tynan he told her of the wonder of this experience: “We are usually but thirty yards from the enemy, and you can scarcely understand how bright the nights are made by his rockets. These are in continual ascent and descent from dusk to dawn, making a beautiful crescent from Switzerland to the sea. There are white lights, green, and red, and whiter, bursting into red and changing again, and blue bursting into purple drops and reds fading into green. It is like the end of a beautiful world. It is only horrible when you remember that every colour is a signal to waiting reinforcements of artillery and God help us if we are caught in the open, for then up go a thousand reds, and hundreds of rifles and machine-guns are emptied against us, and all amongst us shells of every calibre are thrown, shouting destruction and death.” Whenever there was a lull in the action, Ledwidge would find solace in his poetry. Some of his finest work was written at various locations in France. Rarely however, does it reflect conditions at the time of writing. Ledwidge’s unit was ordered north at the beginning of July. They marched over the Franco-Belgian border to the Ypres Salient, the set point for Sir Douglas Haig’s ‘Big Push’ forward. Conditions were atrocious: the trenches were filled with water and men sank in the mud, some of them drowning. Moreover, the area know as the Sas in Boezinge was in full view of the enemy. The Germans employed their newest weapons, shells filled with mustard gas. When not in the line, Ledwidge is said to have wandered in the woods around Proven and to have supped in a pub on the outskirts of Poperinge On 31st July the ‘Big Push’ began. That day 30,000 men were lost, killed or wounded. Ledwidge’s Division were not involved in this first attack. His Division were located at Pilkem, just behind the line and were being used as working groups to repair roads and build new tracks. Ledwidge and his working party were engaged in repairing the old railway line and road to Pilkem. They were situated at the site known as the Cross-roads of the Roses or as the French call it, Le Carrefour des Roses. Here, the railway line crossed the Poezel Road. Due to incessant rain, the men had taken a break and were having some hot tea to help revive their numbed limbs. As they were thus preoccupied, a shell exploded beside them. Ledwidge was identified only by his identity disc. The padre, Fr. Devas recorded in his diary, “Ledwidge killed- blown to bits.” Ledwidge was buried where he fell at Boezinge and later exhumed and reinterred at the nearby cemetery at Artillery Wood. The particulars of his grave are: Plot 2, Row B, Grave 5. This Cemetery is three miles north of Ypres and almost a mile east of the village of Boezinge. In July 1998, a memorial to the poet, designed and commissioned by the ‘In Flanders Fields’ Museum, was erected by the Flemings (inhabitants of Flanders) on the Carrefour des Roses site. The following is an extract of Lord Dunsaney’s tribute to the memory of Francis Ledwidge published in The Irish Times, in 1917: “If mere words may be an offering to the dead, I offer these in place of wreath or flowers to the memory of Francis Ledwidge. On July 31st. this rare poet, a lance-corporal with the Inniskilling Fusiliers, was killed in action by a shell. He was born in a peasant’s cottage in Slane, lived nearly all his life there, and has chrystallised his love for it in many verses that will far outlive the length of his own brief years. In 1912, he first brought me some of his poems, which astonished me by their freshness and their beauty, as they do to this day. Nobody seems to have cared for them among the few that had seen them around his native village, or perhaps they only read them to laugh at the faults which were to be found in those days; and so my admiration for his genius seems to have been the first encouragement that he had. How this can have been it is hard to understand, for here are lines that show, not promise merely, but the actual presence of genius, full gown, with its wings spread, written when he was only sixteen: ‘And wondrous, impudently sweet, Half of him passion, half conceit, The Blackbird calls adown the street. Like the piper of Hamelin.’ Has anything finer been said of the blackbird in all English literature ? From that time he began seriously to write poetry, or happily rather, merrily and easily, and soon his first book was finished. It was as though he had discovered some golden box, out of which, whenever he wished, he took a poem from the works of some unknown master that filled the box, for he brought me poems quicker than you would think he could write them, and finer than you would dream a peasant could make. He nearly always wrote of the fields and lanes of his own beloved Slane, and even when in Serbia or Salonika, Gallipoli, Egypt, France, or Belgium up to the end some happy inspiration guided homeward his dreams, so that even in those far lands, even at war, he wrote of his wild birds and wild roses, and equally wayward loves, as truly as when leaning out at evening to watch the chaffinches from the window he loved. Roses will bloom in lanes in Meath for thousands of years to come, and blackbirds will charm other hearts, and the Boyne will sweep to the sea, and others may love these things as Ledwidge loved them, but they were all so much pictured upon his heart, and he sang so gladly of them, that something is lost which those fields would have given up, and may never give again. All his poems he used to bring or send me, and the best of them aIl I received the day he died: it tells how his dead love came to him out of ‘fairy places,’ so that he knew his end was come: ‘On the edge of life I seemed to hover, For I knew my love had come at last That my joy was past and my gladness over.’ I never wished to handicap him by exaggerated praise, but now that no mistake of mine if mistake it be, can hurt him, I give my opinion that if Ledwidge had lived, this lover of all seasons in which the blackbird sings, would have surpassed even Burns, and Ireland would have lawfully claimed, as she may do even yet, the greatest of peasant singers.” (Source ; Francis Ledwidge a Biography of the Poet by Liam O’Meara Riposte Books Dublin)
Poets Katie Donovan, Philip Casey, Michael O'Flanagan & Pat Boran