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Rhyme and Reason

Francis Ledwidge


Hurrah for Dublin City Council. They have initiated a Decade of Commemoration in which national events between 1912 and 1922, which have been played down, will be properly acknowledged and honoured.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the first Great War. Up to 40,000 Irishmen were killed in that conflict. Two hundred thousand volunteered.

The Irish won more Victoria Crosses, proportionately, than any other country. Most of them believed they were fighting for their country's independence.

A Bill (later withdrawn) which gave Ireland self-government, had been passed in the House of Commons some weeks before war was declared.

Among those who volunteered was a young labourer from Slane called Francis Ledwidge. He was a nationalist who knew Pearse and Griffith but was convinced, when he set out in 1914 with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, that he was striking a blow for Ireland.

Francis Ledwidge was a truly wonderful poet and some of his later verse would be compared to that of Keats or Matthew Arnold.

Alas, in the latter half of the war, he was killed when a shell exploded near him as his regiment prepared to attack in the Battle of Ypres.

Ledwidge had no formal training as a poet. His was a natural talent which flowered as he came in contact with the world of poetry.

He seized on the internal rhyming system of the ancient Gaelic poets and made it his own.

Today is middle March. Francis Ledwidge writes about it in one of his best poems. The blackbird's music is marvellously captured in the first three lines of the second stanza.