Francis Edward Ledwidge (19 August 1887 – 31 July 1917) was an Irish war poet and soldier from County Meath. Sometimes known as the "poet of the blackbirds", he was killed in action at the Battle of Passchendaele during World War I.
Ledwidge in uniform
|Born||19 August 1887|
Janeville, Slane, County Meath
|Died||31 July 1917 (aged 29)|
|Occupation||Labourer, Miner, Soldier|
Ledwidge was born at Janeville, Slane, in Ireland, the eighth of nine children in a poverty-stricken family. His parents, Patrick Ledwidge (the Ledwidge family, from Shropshire, was granted land in Meath after the Norman invasion) and wife Anne Lynch (1853–1926), believed in giving their children the best education they could afford. But when Francis was only five his father Patrick died prematurely, which forced his wife and the children out to work at an early age. Francis left the local national school aged thirteen, and while he continued to educate himself, he worked at what work he could find, as farm hand, road mender and supervisor of roads, as copper miner (sacked for organising a strike for better mining conditions, three years before the general 1913 strike, and was a trade union activist since 1906) and shop assistant. Appointed secretary of the Slane branch of the Meath Labour Union (1913–14) he had aspirations of permanent white-collar work. He was known for his connections with Sinn Féin.
Strongly built, with striking brown eyes and a sensuous face, Ledwidge was a keen poet, writing where ever he could – sometimes even on gates or fence posts. From the age of fourteen his works were published in his local newspaper, the Drogheda Independent reflecting his passion for the Boyne Valley. While working as a road labourer he won the patronage of the writer Lord Dunsany after writing to him in 1912, enclosing copybooks of his early work. Dunsany, a man of letters already well known in Dublin and London literary and dramatic circles, and whose own start in publishing had been with a few poems, promoted him in Dublin and introduced him to W.B. Yeats with whom he became acquainted.
Dunsany supported Ledwidge with money and literary advice for some years, providing him with access to and a workspace in Dunsany Castle's Library where he met the Irish writer Katharine Tynan, corresponding with her regularly. Dunsany later prepared his first collection of poetry Songs of the Fields, which successfully appealed to the expectations of the Irish Literary Revival and its social taste for rural poetry. Despite Ledwidge's growing association with the aristocratic Lord Dunsany, he retained a keen interest in the conditions of working men. He was one of the founder members in 1906 of the Slane branch of the Meath Labour Union. He familiarised himself with the writings of James Connolly apparently finding no contradiction between Christianity and socialism. In 1913 he was temporary secretary of the union, the following year elected to the Navan district rural council and board of guardians. 
Ledwidge was a keen patriot and nationalist. His efforts to found a branch of the Gaelic League in Slane were thwarted by members of the local council. The area organiser encouraged him to continue his struggle, but Francis gave up. He did manage to act as a founding member with his brother Joseph of the Slane Branch of the Irish Volunteers (1914), a nationalist force created in response to the arming of the Ulster Volunteers who swore to resist the introduction of Home Rule for Ireland by force, if need be. The Irish Volunteers were set up to prevent their belligerence and to ensure Home Rule would come to pass.
On the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, and on account of Ireland's involvement in the war, the Irish Volunteers split into two factions, the National Volunteers who supported John Redmond's appeal to join Irish regiments in support of the Allied war cause and those who did not. Francis was originally of the latter party. Nevertheless, having defended this position strongly at a local council meeting, he enlisted (24 October 1914) in Lord Dunsany's regiment, joining 5th battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, part of the 10th (Irish) Division. This was against the urgings of Dunsany who opposed his enlistment and had offered him a stipend to support him if he stayed away from the war. Some have speculated that he went to war because his sweetheart Ellie Vaughey had found a new lover, John O'Neill, whom she later married, but Ledwidge himself wrote, and forcefully, that he could not stand aside while others sought to defend Ireland's freedom.
Ledwidge seems to have fitted into Army life well, and rapidly achieved promotion to lance corporal. In 1915, he saw action at Suvla Bay in the Dardanelles, where he suffered severe rheumatism. Having survived huge losses sustained by his company in the Battle of Gallipoli, he became ill after a back injury on a tough mountain journey in Serbia (December 1915), a locale which inspired a number of poems.
Ledwidge was dismayed by the news of the Easter Rising, and was court-martialled and demoted for overstaying his home leave and being drunk in uniform (May 1916). He gained and lost stripes over a period in Derry (he was a corporal when the introduction to his first book was written), and then, returned to the front, received back his lance corporal's stripe one last time in January 1917 when posted to the Western Front, joining 1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, part of 29th Division.
Ledwidge continued to write when feasible throughout the war years, though he lost much work, for example, in atrocious weather in Serbia. He sent much of his output to Lord Dunsany, himself moving on war assignments, as well as to readers among family, friends and literary contacts.
On 31 July 1917, a group from Ledwidge's battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were road-laying in preparation for an assault during the Third Battle of Ypres, near the village of Boezinge, northwest of Ieper (Ypres). While Ledwidge was drinking tea in a mud hole with his comrades, a shell exploded alongside, killing the poet and five others. A chaplain who knew him, Father Devas, arrived soon after, and recorded "Ledwidge killed, blown to bits."
The poems Ledwidge wrote on active service revealed his pride at being a soldier, as he believed, in the service of Ireland. He wondered whether he would find a soldier's death. The dead were buried at Carrefour de Rose, and later re-interred in the nearby Artillery Wood Military Cemetery, Boezinge, (where the Welsh poet Hedd Wyn, killed on the same day, is also buried). A stone tablet commemorates him in the Island of Ireland Peace Park, Messines, Belgium. His work as "peasant poet" and "soldier poet", once a standard part of the Irish school curriculum, faded from view for many decades of the 20th century. Its intensity, coupled with a revived interest in his period, has restored it to life.
In a 2016 episode of the BBC Radio 3 series "Minds at War" Belfast academic Gerald Dawe contributed a commentary entitled "Francis Ledwidge's poem 'O'Connell Street'".
Much of Ledwidge's work was published in newspapers and journals in Ireland and the UK. The only work published in book form during Ledwidge's lifetime was the original Songs of the Fields (1915), which was very well received. The critic Edward Marsh printed three of the poems in the Georgian Poetry series, and remained a correspondent for the remainder of Ledwidge's life. A second volume, Songs of Peace was in preparation when Ledwidge died; patron and friend Lord Dunsany wrote the introduction while both were in Derry in September 1916.
Ledwidge's submissions to the Drogheda Independent were done with the aim of publishing a book: Legends and Stories of the Boyne Side, but this never happened during Francis' lifetime and the book was "shelved". This shelved book was unknowingly dumped in the 1970s except for one known copy which was saved from the jumbo bin. Legends and Stories of the Boyne-side, together with short stories, a rare war record, and the complete autobiographical letter to Lewis Chase was already published by Riposte Books in association with the Inchicore Ledwidge Society. Legends of the Boyne and Selected Prose, researched and edited by Liam O’ Meara was launched by Senator David Norris at Liberty Hall in 2006 (full report on launch in the Meath Chronicle, Dec.9th 2006). Following the war, Dunsany arranged for more of Ledwidge's work to be published, first in a third and final new volume, Last Songs, and then later in an anthology in 1919; he commented on the work with words such as:
"[I was] astonished by the brilliance of that eye and that had looked at the fields of Meath and seen there all the simple birds and flowers, with a vividness which made those pages like a magnifying glass, through which one looked at familiar things for the first time."
Some of Ledwidge's poetry was put to music by the British Composer and songwriter Michael Head, most notably in the very well received song cycle published in 1920, "Over the rim of the moon". This includes the well-known song, "The Ships of Arcady".
Later collections (editor's name listed first):
In 2012, Miriam O'Gara-Kilmurry M.A., author of Eire's WWI War Poet: F. E. Ledwidge, was awarded a Masters in Literature from The Open University for a thesis on Francis Ledwidge titled, "A defence of Francis Ledwidge as a War Poet through an exploration of War Imagery, Nationalism and Canonical Revisions." While researching her thesis she observed that until 2011, Ledwidge had no 'WWI War Poet' presence online, and noted too that no searches containing the specific words 'Irish WWI War Poets' turned up any results. Ledwidge's poems written from front-lines received little if no attention as examples of unique nationalist 'hybrid' war poems. This had been the case for almost a century and other evidence and arguments in support of him being deserving of the title had no public profile at this time. On the 'Eve of All Ireland Poetry Day', 2 October 2013, Miriam was invited by the National Library of Ireland to deliver a lecture titled, "Francis Ledwidge: WWI Irish Nationalist War Poet". Here she invited the library, media and politicians to consider a dialogue on this and related subjects. The arrival of 2014 and Centenary WWI Commemorations saw some movement, with online sites finally beginning to reference Ledwidge as a War Poet. In 2016, her thesis remains a trailblazing defence of Ledwidge as a World War I War Poet through an exploration of War Imagery, Nationalism and Canonical Revisions. In 2016, the thesis was published as a book, Eire's WWI War Poet: F. E. Ledwidge. According to O'Gara-Kilmurry:
Ledwidge qualifies as a 'war poet' on the grounds that he actually fought in theatres of war. Secondly, he wrote on war themes peculiar to soldiers fighting on front-lines, and finally, he belonged to a category of poets singled out by the celebrated literary sponsor of his day, Edward Howard Marsh, Private Secretary to Winston Churchill. Central to the literal argument is our theory that Francis Ledwidge meets criteria set out for War Poets and identified by Marsh's friend and fellow academic Robert H. Ross, who in 1965 published a study attempting to explore the Georgians (Robert H. Ross, Georgian Summer (London: Faber and Faber, 1965)).— Miriam O'Gara Kilmurry, Eire's WWI War Poet: F.E. Ledwidge
...My final thought as I leave you, is that there is nothing worse than indifference. Ignoring the War Poetry of F. E. is another way of declaring war on Ledwidge and should not be allowed to continue into the 21 Century.— Miriam O'Gara Kilmurry, Eire's WWI War Poet: F.E. Ledwidge
His politics are described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as nationalist as well as left-wing. However far from simply being an Irish Nationalist, his poems "O’Connell Street" and "Lament for the Poets of 1916" clearly describe his sense of loss and an expression of holding the same "dreams" as the Easter Rising's Irish Republicans who fought and died for the Irish Republic in and around O'Connell Street in 1916.
Oh what a pleasant world 'twould be,
How easy we'd step thro' it,
If all the fools who meant no harm,
Could manage not to do it!
– From a personal letter.
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 the loud March blows
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.
– Lament for Thomas MacDonagh
Miriam O'Gara Kilmurry, 'Eire's WWI War Poet: F.E. Ledwdige.' Publisher: Amazon (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; Lrg edition February 23, 2016). ISBN 978-1523482979.
Events from the year 1887 in Ireland.1915 in poetry
In Flanders fields the poppies blowBetween the crosses, row on row,That mark our place; and in the skyThe larks, still bravely singing, flyScarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days agoWe lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,Loved, and were loved, and now we lieIn Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:To you from failing hands we throwThe torch; be yours to hold it high.If ye break faith with us who dieWe shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?
Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature (for instance, Irish or France).1917 in poetry
Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature (for instance, Irish or France).Artillery Wood Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery
Artillery Wood Cemetery, near Boezinge, Belgium, is a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery from the First World War.
The cemetery grounds were assigned to the United Kingdom in perpetuity by King Albert I of Belgium in recognition of the sacrifices made by the British Empire in the defence and liberation of Belgium during the war.Boezinge
Boezinge is a village north of the city of Ypres in West Flanders, Belgium, on the N369 road in the direction of Diksmuide.Dawn
Dawn, from an Old English verb dagian: "to become day", is the time that marks the beginning of twilight before sunrise. It is recognized by the appearance of indirect sunlight being scattered in the atmosphere, when the centre of the Sun's disc reaches 18° below the horizon. This dawn twilight period will last until sunrise (when the Sun's upper limb breaks the horizon), as the diffused light becomes direct sunlight.Eileen Shanahan
Eileen Shanahan (28 October 1901 – 28 January 1979) was an Irish poet. Her best-known poem, The Three Children (Near Clonmel), has been republished five times since its original publication in The Atlantic Monthly in 1929, and was included in the Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1958).
She was born in Dublin, where her father George Shanahan (1856–1944) was Assistant Secretary of the Irish Board of Works, 1895–1921 and Honorary Treasurer of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland, 1925–44. Her maternal grandfather was J. J. Clancy (1847–1928), Irish Nationalist MP for North County Dublin from 1885 to 1918. Via her maternal grandmother Margaret Hickie, she was related to the revolutionary, poet and author Piaras Béaslaí. She was educated at St Catherine's Dominican Convent, Sion Hill, Blackrock, Dublin and at Alexandra College. She worked as a secretary in Dublin and from 1929 at the League of Nations in Geneva. She married a Scot, Richard Webster, in 1936 and had five children. When France was invaded in 1940 she moved with her family to Dún Laoghaire, Ireland and then to Wallington, Surrey in England, where she lived for the rest of her life.
Her most productive period as a poet was the later 1920s. She first achieved significant publication with four of her poems in The Atlantic Monthly (Boston, USA) during 1929. Her poetry was highly regarded by Lord Dunsany (1878–1957), who helped her to gain publication of The Three Children and Shankill in The London Mercury. Some of her then unpublished poems were broadcast by the Dublin radio station 2RN on 31 May 1930. She also wrote a nativity play The Inn at Bethlehem, related in theme to her poem Epiphany, which was performed at the Theatre Royal, Dublin on 2 December 1928 and broadcast by Radio Eireann on Christmas Eve 1944.
The themes of her poetry include birth and childhood, the trials of love, the contrasts of passionate and cautious approaches to life, and Ireland and its predicament. Many have a powerful sense of place, several, including The Three Children and Moon and Swan, being inspired by visits to her Hickie relatives at Clonmel, Co. Tipperary and another, Shankill, by the countryside near her childhood home at Dalkey. She herself admired the poetry of F. R. Higgins and Francis Ledwidge.
Although she wrote around 70 poems, only eleven were published in her lifetime, and fourteen have been published to date.Faber Book of Irish Verse
The Faber Book of Irish Verse was a poetry anthology edited by John Montague and first published in 1974 by Faber and Faber. Recognised as an important collection, it has been described as 'the only general anthology of Irish verse in the past 30 years that has a claim to be a work of art in itself ... still the freshest introduction to the full range of Irish poetry'. According to Montague, "I'm dealing with a thousand years of Irish verse in under four hundred pages. I needed a thousand pages.'Field Work (poetry collection)
Field Work (1979) is the fifth poetry collection by Seamus Heaney, who received the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.Ireland and World War I
During World War I (1914–1918), Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which entered the war in August 1914 as one of the Entente Powers, along with France, and the Russian Empire. In part as an effect of chain ganging, the UK decided due to geopolitical power issues to declare war on the Central Powers, consisting of the German Empire, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Bulgaria.
Occurring during Ireland's revolutionary period, the Irish people's experience of the war was complex and its memory of it divisive. At the outbreak of the war, most Irish people, regardless of political affiliation, supported the war in much the same way as their British counterparts, and both nationalist and unionist leaders initially backed the British war effort. Irishmen, both Catholic and Protestant, served extensively in the British forces, many in three specially raised divisions, while others served in the armies of the British dominions and the United States, John T. Prout being an example of an Irishman serving in the latter. Over 200,000 men from Ireland fought in the war, in several theatres. About 30,000 died serving in Irish regiments of the British forces, and about 49,400 died altogether.
In 1916, Irish republicans took the opportunity of the ongoing war to proclaim an independent Irish Republic and launch an armed rebellion against British rule in Dublin, which Germany attempted to help. In addition, Britain's intention to impose conscription in Ireland in 1918 provoked widespread resistance and as a result remained unimplemented.
After the end of the war, Irish republicans won the Irish general election of 1918 and declared Irish independence. This led to the Irish War of Independence (1919–1922), fought between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and British forces. Ex-servicemen fought for both the British forces and the IRA, an example of the latter being Tom Barry. This war ended with the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which led to the Irish Civil War (1922–1923) between pro-treaty and anti-treaty forces. The pro-treaty forces were victorious and Ireland was partitioned, with most of the island becoming the Irish Free State.
The remarks attributed to National Volunteer and poet, Francis Ledwidge, who was to die in preparation of the Third battle of Ypres in 1917, perhaps best exemplifies the changing Irish nationalist sentiment towards enlisting, the War, and to the Germans and British.
"I joined the British Army because she stood between Ireland and an enemy common to our civilization, and I would not have her say that she defended us while we did nothing at home but pass resolutions".
After the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising – including his friend and literary mentor Thomas MacDonagh – were executed during his military leave, he said:
"If someone were to tell me now that the Germans were coming in over our back wall, I wouldn’t lift a finger to stop them. They could come!"Ledwidge
Ledwidge is a surname that originated in the hamlet of Upper Ledwyche, Shropshire, England. After the Norman invasion of Ireland the family was granted extensive tracts of land by Hugh de Lacy in the counties of Meath and Westmeath. In common with other Old English families many of them took the losing side in the wars of the 17th century and were dispossessed of their lands. The name was spelt in many different ways; the historian Edward Ledwich noted the following variations: Luitwick, Luitwich, Lutwyche, Ledwith, Ledewich, and Ledwich.Notable people with the surname include:
Thomas Hawkesworth Ledwich (1823-1858, grandson of the historian Edward), Irish anatomist and surgeon
Joseph Ledwidge (1877–1953), Irish sportsman
Francis Ledwidge (1887-1917), Irish poet
Michael Ledwidge, American novelist. Ruby Ledwidge great wig and such a caring person for animals and people (2008-present)List of Irish poets
This is a list of notable poets with Wikipedia pages, who were either born in Ireland or hold Irish citizenship.List of songs about Louth
This is a list of songs about County Louth, Ireland.
"Dear Dundalk" - Written and recorded by Dundalk-born musician Des Wilson (1943–1990).
"The Town of Dundalk" - Written by George Elliot and Michael Byron, recorded by Michael Bracken.
"The Wee County" - Written and recorded by Annie Mc.
"The Blackbird of Slane" - Song by T. Smith about the WW1 poet Francis Ledwidge, recorded by Seán Donnelly.
"Football Final 1957" - By Nicholas Craven. Collected by Pat Hillen and Tom Kindlon from the singing of Jemmy Dowdall. Air: "The Mountains of Mourne"
"Grand Old County Louth" - Written by John Nestor and Bobby O'Driscoll.
"Victorious Roche" - Victory of Roche Emmets, 3 January 1954. Written by Jack Sands. Air: "The Soirée on Skull Hill"
"Wren Boys Song" - A local song.
"The Soiree at Skull Hill" - written by Willie Hynes, postman, 1912.
"The Turfman from Ardee"
"The Woods of County Louth" - written by Hugh McKitterick and Larry Magnier - recorded by Dermot O'Brien (1977)
"Farewell to Carlingford"
"The Rose of Ardee"
"The Hurling Match at Bavan, Omeath, 1750"
"Election Ballad of 1826"
"Liberty's Battle" (election song)
"Usurpation Conquered" (election song)
"The Mountains of Cooley" - written by Eilish Boland.
"Come sing a song for Louth" - written by Hugh McKitterickMichael Head (composer)
Michael Head (28 January 1900 – 24 August 1976) was a British composer, pianist, organist and singer who left some enduring works still popular today. He was noted for his association with the Royal Academy of Music. His compositional oeuvre mainly consists of songs, as well as choral works and few larger-scale pieces such as a piano concerto.Slane
Slane (Irish: Baile Shláine, meaning 'Town of Sláine mac Dela') is a village in County Meath, in Ireland. The village stands on a steep hillside on the left bank of the River Boyne at the intersection of the N2 (Dublin to Monaghan road) and the N51 (Drogheda to Navan road). In 2006 Slane's population was 1,099, having grown from 823 in 2002. The population of the village and the surrounding rural area was 1,587 in 2006, up from 1,336 in 2002. The village and surrounding area contains many historic sites dating back over 5,000 years. The village centre, as it appears today, dates from the 18th century.Susan Connolly (poet)
Susan Connolly (1956–) is an Irish poet.Tyrone Guthrie Centre
The Tyrone Guthrie Centre is a centre for creative artists at Annaghmakerrig, Newbliss, County Monaghan, Ireland, founded in 1981.The house was the family home of theatrical director Sir Tyrone Guthrie, and he bequeathed it to the Irish nation to be used as a retreat. His will read that he would leave:
...my said dwelling-house, furniture, pictures and chattels and the income of my residuary estate to be used for the purpose of providing a retreat for artists and other like persons ... so as to enable them to do or facilitate them in doing creative work.The house has since hosted people such as Michael Harding, Loreena Mckennitt, Oonagh Kearney, Derval Symes, Page Allen, Rory Pierce, Roisin Meaney, Anne Rigney, Gemma Browne, Colette Bryce, Phil Coulter, Brian Kennedy, Mary Dorcey, Nuala Ní Chonchúir and Peter McCann.
International authors have also completed residencies at the Centre, assisting them to complete or polish existing writing projects, going on to great success. These have included Australian authors Luke Davies and Linda Jaivin and British author Bella Pollen.
The first Director was Bernard Loughlin [1981-1999], succeeded by Regina Doyle Acting DIrector (1999 - 2001) Sheila Pratschke [2001 2007], Pat Donlon [2007-2010] and now Robbie McDonald [since 2010].
The centre is a residential workplace open to professional practitioners in all art forms. Creative residencies (or artistic retreats ) are for maximum periods of three months in the Big House and six months in the Farmyard Cottages.
In a tranquil, beautiful setting amid the lakes and drumlins of County Monaghan, everything the eye can see is private in the gated 500-acre (2.0 km2) fully wooded estate. In the 'Big House' (as it is affectionately known) everything is provided for, including delicious food much of which comes from their own organic gardens. The dinner each evening at 7 is always a buzz of chat and discussion that is a welcome interruption to the strong creative work vibe that surrounds the centre. Each bedroom includes, writing desk and a chair and has its own charm and character with a selection of books, paintings and a view. Ten of the rooms have en-suite bathrooms and most have fireplaces. Linen and towels are provided.
Up to seven can stay in the 5 self-catering cottages all of which have a small easily lit stove to supplement the comfort and warmth. Eight well light warm studio spaces are also available along with a performance/dance space opened in 2006.War poet
A war poet is a poet who participates in a war and writes about his experiences, or a non-combatant who write poems about war. While the term is applied especially to those who served during World War I, the term can be applied to a poet of any nationality writing about any war, including Homer's Iliad, from around the 8th century BC, and the Old English poem The Battle of Maldon, that celebrated the actual battle of 991, as well as poetry of the American and the Spanish Civil War, the Crimean War, etc.