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Poetry: Anglo-Irish IRB man with link to Secret Service


TW Rolleston

TW Rolleston

TW Rolleston

This year is the 95th anniversary of the death of TW Rolleston. Who he, you may ask? Well he came from 15th century Anglo-Irish stock, was at school at St Columba's College, Rathfarnham and went on to Trinity College Dublin. He was not only one of the best musicians among the students but also tops at rugby, cycling, acting and as befitting his class, a champion horse rider.

He went on after leaving college to become a key figure in the Irish Literary Renaissance along with Yeats and Lady Gregory.

When I was at school, a poem by Rolleston was on the syllabus. Its name was Clonmacnoise, and it was taken from the Irish. We all loved it because it enhanced our picture of our past. Yeats selected this poem for his Oxford Book of Modern Verse published in 1936.

It is generally recognised that the Irish Literary Society, which he founded in London, was a vital factor in the creation of the famous Irish Literary Renaissance. But his life is not without an element of mystery. He had been an early member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and yet, during the Great War, Rolleston was brought over to London to advise the British Secret Service because of his familiarity with the German language and culture. Rolleston could have been a vital figure in the negotiations with Britain in 1921 because of the dual role he seemed to have played. But alas, he died in 1920 at a time when the Black and Tans were footloose around Shannonbridge, where the mighty monuments of Clonmacnoise still stand.


In a quiet water'd land, a land of roses,

Stands Saint Kieran's city fair;

And the warriors of Erin in their famous generations

Slumber there.

There beneath the dewy hillside sleep the noblest

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Of the clan of Conn,

Each below his stone with name in branching Ogham

And the sacred knot thereon.

There they laid to rest the seven Kings of Tara,

There the sons of Cairbre sleep-

Battle-banners of the Gael that in Kieran's plain of crosses

Now their final hosting keep.

Many and many a son of Conn the Hundred-fighter

In the red earth lies at rest;

Many a blue eye of Clan Colman the turf covers,

Many a swan-white breast.

TW Rolleston 1857-1920

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