Entertainment Books

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Poetry... Lady Dufferin: the ballad of Dublin town

Lady Dufferin
Lady Dufferin

Ulick O'Connor

Does the name Lady Dufferin mean anything to you? Well if it doesn't, it should. In the 1830s they were singing her ballads all over Dublin. Songs like 'Lament of the Irish Emigrant' ('I'm sittin on the stile Mary') and 'Sweet Kilkenny Town'.

She had mastered the native ballad style and her songs had a natural ring. Along with Lady Wilde, Oscar's mother, she fuelled the demand for an expression of the national spirit that had come alive under Daniel O'Connell's antics at the English parliament. She was the granddaughter of Richard Brindsley Sheridan, who was Oscar Wilde's only rival as the best writer of mannered comedy in the English language. Sheridan was born in Dorset Street where there is a plaque to his memory.

The ballad I like best of Lady Dufferin's is 'O Bay of Dublin'. It was also a favourite of Kathleen Behan, Brendan's mother, who used to sing it with a look of ecstasy, eyes closed and, if I was with her, holding my hand. The ballad contains some skilful rhymes for Dublin like "troublin" and "bubblin".

O Bay of Dublin

O Bay of Dublin! My heart you're troublin'

Your beauty haunts me like a fevered dream,

Like frozen fountains that the sun sets bubblin',

My heart's blood warms when I but hear your name.

And never till this life pulse ceases,

My earliest thoughts you'll cease to be;

O there's no one here knows how fair that place is,

And no one cares how dear it is to me.

Sweet Wicklow mountains! The sunlight sleeping

On your green banks is a picture rare;

You crowd around me like young girls peeping,

And puzzling me to say which is most fair;

As though you'd see your own sweet faces,

Reflected in that smooth and silver sea,

O! my blessing on those lovely places,

Though no one cares how dear they are to me.

Lady Dufferin


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