I HEARD the Poor Old Woman say:
“At break of day the fowler came,
And took my blackbirds from their songs
Who loved me well thro’ shame and blame.
No more from lovely distances
Their songs shall bless me mile by mile,
Nor to white Ashbourne call me down
To wear my crown another while.
With bended flowers the angels mark
For the skylark the places they lie,
From there its little family
Shall dip their wings first in the sky.
And when the first surprise of flight
Sweet songs excite, from the far dawn
Shall there come blackbirds loud with love,
Sweet echoes of the singers gone.
But in the lonely hush of eve
Weeping I grieve the silent bills.”
I heard the Poor Old Woman say
In Derry of the little hills.
Francis Ledwidge enlisted on the 24 of October 1914 in his patron Lord Dunsany’s regiment. Joining the 5th battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, part of the 10th Irish Division. Ledwidge wrote adamantly that he could not stand aside while others fought to defend Ireland’s freedom. Despite a stipend Dunsany offered him to stay away from the Great War, Ledwidge was at the front by 1915.
By 1916, he was in Manchester recovering from an injury when he received news of the 1916 Rising and resulting executions. The tidings dismayed him so much, that he was court martialled and demoted for overstaying his leave and appearing drunk in uniform.
When he visited Dublin in May of 1916 and saw the ruins of O’Connell Street, he lamented, “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.”
Yet it was after this visit that he most clearly expresses solidarity with the aspirations of the architects of the Rising in his poem O’Connell Street when he writes “For mine are all the dead men’s dreams.”
Lament for the Poets of 1916 le Francis Ledwidge
Liostáil Francis Ledwidge san arm an 24 Deireadh Fómhair 1914 i reisimint a phátrúin, an Tiarna Dunsany. Chuaigh sé isteach sa 5ú cathlán d’Fhiúsailéirí Ríoga Inis Ceithleann, cuid den 10ú Rannán Éireannach. Scríobh Ledwidge go diongbháilte nach bhféadfadh sé seasamh ar leataobh agus daoine eile i mbun troda do shaoirse na hÉireann, agus mar sin, in ainneoin do Dunsany tuarastal a thairiscint dó mura nglacfadh sé páirt sa Chogadh Mór, bhí Ledwidge i dtosach catha faoi 1915.
Faoi 1916, bhí sé i Manchain ag teacht ar ais chuige féin tar éis gortú nuair a chuala sé faoi Éirí Amach 1916 agus faoi na fir a cuireadh chun báis ina dhiaidh. Chuir an scéala isteach air an oiread sin gur tugadh os comhair cúirt airm é agus tugadh ísliú céime dó as fanacht ar saoire rófhada agus a bheith ar meisce ina éide.
Nuair a thug sé cuairt ar Bhaile Átha Cliath i mí na Bealtaine 1916 agus chonaic fothracha Shráid Uí Chonaill, chaoin sé, “dá ndearfaí liom anois go raibh na Gearmánaigh ag teacht isteach thar ár gcúlbhalla, ní dhéanfainn dada ar bith beo chun stop a chur leo. Thiocfaidís.”
Ach is i ndiaidh na cuairte sin is soiléire a dhlúthpháirtíocht le huaillmhianta ailtirí an Éirí Amach ina dhán O’Connell Street nuair a scríobhann sé “For mine are all the dead men’s dreams.”