Ledwidge was of humble background. His parents had nine children and they lived
in a small cottage at Janeville near Slane, Co. Meath.
Poet & Soldier
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
Lifting her horn in pleasant meads.
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.
Three Dubs] [Edward Arthur Brierley] [Tommy
[James Doherty] [Jack Tansey]