Sunday 11 December 2016

Poetry: Æ the forgotten man of letters

Ulick O'Connor

Published 25/10/2015 | 02:30

In tribute: Ulick O'Connor unveils a plaque in 1968 at a house where Russell lived on Rathgar Avenue. With him is Patrick J Lannan.
In tribute: Ulick O'Connor unveils a plaque in 1968 at a house where Russell lived on Rathgar Avenue. With him is Patrick J Lannan.

George Russell (Æ) the 80th anniversary of whose death occurs this year is a forgotten man if ever there was one.

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He was the founder (along with Sir Horace Plunkett) of the Co-Operative movement which freed the Irish small farmer from the greed of the gombeen man.

President Franklin Roosevelt used him as his advisor on his New Deal and Henry Wallace, the Secretary of State, believed that Russell could contribute to the revolutionary New Deal which America undertook in the 1930s.

He was also one of the important poets of the Irish Literary Renaissance.

Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India, once said that whenever he was feeling ill from the tropical heat he used to cure himself by reading Russell's poems.

Alongside Yeats, Joyce, Padraic Colum and James Stephens, Russell's poems can be read in the Oxford Book of English Verse.

He was also a remarkable painter and recently one of his works sold for over €10,000. His end was unspeakably sad, however.

After freedom came in 1922, he settled into the New State with gusto.

But the twenties and the evolution of a New Ireland, which he had been an important figure in creating, disappointed him and was eventually responsible for him moving to London.

He was unhappy however, and had died of loneliness as much as anything else.

There is a fine statue of him in Merrion Square. Go in and have a look and bring this poem with you. Perhaps you might recite it.

George Russell would have liked that.

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