herald

Monday 23 October 2017

Francis Ledwidge was a road ganger from County Meath who joined the British army in World War I despite the fact that he was a Gaelic speaker, an ardent member of Sinn Fein, and would write a magnificent poem on Thomas McDonagh, one of the executed leaders of 1916 rebellion.

Francis Ledwidge 1887-1917

Francis Ledwidge was a road ganger from County Meath who joined the British army in World War I despite the fact that he was a Gaelic speaker, an ardent member of Sinn Fein, and would write a magnificent poem on Thomas McDonagh, one of the executed leaders of 1916 rebellion.

Ledwidge gave his reasons for enlisting in the army at the time: "I joined the British army because England 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."

He was killed in the Battle of Ypres, 97 years ago this month, his beliefs shattered by the brutal conduct of the British government in dealing with the Rising of 1916.

Ledwidge was a really terrific poet. I would go so far as to say that his poem June is as good or even better in places than Keats' Ode to Autumn. Take for instance the last four lines of Ledwidge's June and compare them with the last four lines of Keats' Ode to Autumn. I think our Francis wins by a whisker don't you - or perhaps even more than a whisker?

Ledwidge's June Vs Keats' Ode to Autumn:

Ay! soon the swallows will be flying south, 
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

The wind wheel north to gather in the snow,

Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft.

Even the roses spilt on youth's red mouth

The redbreast whistles from garden-croft

Will soon blow down the road all roses go.

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

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