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Francis Ledwidge
Poet & Soldier
Francis Ledwidge was of humble background. His parents had nine children and they lived in a small cottage at Janeville near Slane, Co. Meath.
His father died young and Mrs. Ledwidge had to go to work in the fields to provide for her family. At one time the family were on the point of being evicted. The sheriff's men were only prevented in carrying out the order when the doctor attending the eldest son Patrick, who was suffering from tuberculosis, would not allow him to he shifted.
In the event Patrick died. The family were so poor that the Navan Board of Guardians had to pay for the coffin.
His death was to have a profound effect on his younger brother Francis.
When Francis grew up he became involved with the Meath Labour Union and in 1913, was appointed secretary. He used his position to champion the cause of the peasant workers. Up to that point, Ledwidge had worked as a farm labourer, as a road worker and even in the copper mine at Beaupare. It was at Beaupare in 1910, three years before the general strike and lock out, that Ledwidge tried to organise a strike for better conditions. Unfortunately, not one of the 100 strong workforce would stand by him and he was sacked for being a trouble maker.
All things Irish appealed to Ledwidge; legends, folklore, music, sport, and he tried to set up a local branch of the Gaelic League. Many of his friends were prominent members of Sinn Fein; including Thomas Mac Donagh and Seamas O'Kelly. In 1914, he became leader of the Slane branch of the Volunteers. In June of that year he went to Manchester to rally support for the movement.
Ledwidge was not a popular figure in his native Meath. Although he loved the landscape he longed to get away from the people whom he felt did not appreciate his talents. In an area dominated by people who had loyalties to Britain he was always viewed with suspicion due to his association with the trade union and in particular his links with Sinn Fein. His poetry, at that time was full of spelling and grammatical errors and those who asked to see it did so only for the purpose of laughing at it.
Lord Dunsany
To the surprise of everyone, Ledwidge struck up a friendship with local land owner Lord Dunsany. The latter, himself a writer of high standing (who lived to see his plays running simultaneously in Dublin, London, Paris, New York and Moscow) put all prejudices aside for the sake of literature, recognising the potential that the young poet possessed.
Ledwidge was invited to the castle and had full use of the library. Dunsany, also paid Ledwidge a gratuity to enable him to concentrate on his writing.
It was an extraordinary friendship. Soon, with his Lordship's influence the work of Ledwidge was well established in Ireland and in Britain.
When the war broke out and the Redmond proposal was being discussed, Ledwidge voted against the proposal at three separate meetings in Meath. The one time advocate of Home Rule now no longer trusted England to deliver on the issue.
'Home Rule is as far off now as ever', he told a packed hall and was answered with a thunder of taunts and jeers. It was impossible for him to remain in Slane after this. He had been branded a coward, a pro-Geman, a traitor, and a Sinn Feiner.
The Volunteers he had helped to train were all headed for the war front. In the end he resolved to support neither side of the Irish dimension and enlisted for his own reasons; Ledwidge cycled to Dublin and joined The Royal lnn~ing Fusiliers at Richmond Barracks in Inchicore. These were 70 per cent Irish in their composition and as such were as close as he could get to an all Irish brigade. Once inside the barracks, however, he had a dramatic change of attitude when he found how easily he formed friendships with the young British lads and the Redmondites.
Ledwidge proved to he a good soldier and soon earned a lance corporals stripe. It is clear from his correspondence with friends that he liked the army. Perhaps he saw it as a means of enhancing his social standing in the eyes of his neighbours back home.
He had his first experience of war at Gallipoli and then Serbia, where he was involved in a 90 mile retreat to Salonica with full pack in blizzard conditions.
It was in the course of this march that he collapsed and was taken to hospital. He was shifted from hospital to hospital, five in all before being transported back to Manchester.
On the 31st July 1917, a month before his 30th birthday, he was killed by a stray shell, some say a misdirected British artillery round, while constructing a path of duck boards to facilitate the movement of troops through muddy terrain.
He is buried at Artillery Wood Cemetery, east of the village of Boesinghe near Ypres.


He shall not hear the bittern cry
In the wild sky, where he is lain,
Nor voices of the sweeter birds
Above the wailing of the rain.

Nor shall he know when loud March blows Thro' slanting snows her fanfare shrill, Blowing to flame the golden cup
Of many an upset daffodil.

But when the Dark Cow leaves the moor, And pastures poor with greedy weeds, Perhaps he'll hear her low at morn
Lifting her horn in pleasant meads.

On learning of the 1916 Rising and the executions of the leaders, Ledwidge wrote his famous poem Thomas Mac Donagh. In the following months he devoted much of his poetry to the men of 1916. His return to Richmond Barracks was traumatic.
The place was now an internment camp with hundreds behind a wire fence awaiting deportation. At this stage he tried to quit the army on medical grounds. However, his request was denied as there was a need for every available man for what was known as the 'Big Push' on the French and Belgium lines. Ledwidge was posted to France and then Belgium.























































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