Saturday 25 November 2017

Poet's words live on to ring out across world

Francis Ledwidge, the celebrated poet, died 100 years ago last week on the first day of the battle of Passchendaele. The writer and poet Dermot Bolger travelled to Flanders to pay tribute at a remembrance ceremony. This is an edited version of his speech

Author Dermot Bolger addresses the commemoration of Irish poet Francis Ledwidge.
Author Dermot Bolger addresses the commemoration of Irish poet Francis Ledwidge.

Dermot Bolger

In one sense, we are here to commemorate a tragedy from a century ago. The death of a lyric poet who lived by his labouring hands, cycling home from work as a farm hand or road labourer to write at a kitchen table, limbs weary but his mind enraptured by the possibilities of language.

Francis Ledwidge never saw his 30th birthday. He saw just one volume of his poems: it reached him while freezing on starvation rations in Serbia. A committed Irish nationalist, he never saw the independent Irish State he felt he was fighting for - represented here by the Irish ambassador to Belgium; by Mairead McGuinness, Vice President of the European Parliament and by the colour party of the Irish Army ex-servicemen holding aloft the tricolour and UN flag.

Yet I feel we are also celebrating how his words miraculously live on to ring out across this graveyard; across this Flemish countryside which resembled hell when he saw it; across Ireland and worldwide where his poems remain as fresh for readers as when scribbled in trenches on scraps of paper, often soaked in mud when posted home.

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