Ireland’s dead enigma: Francis Ledwidge

To coincide with the visit of the World War I Road Show to Trinity College on Saturday 12 July, there are new exhibits in the Berkeley Library foyer and the Ussher Orientation Space.

The Berkeley display case contains two holdings related to the war poet Francis Ledwidge. Born into a poor, rural family in Slane, Co. Meath, Ledwidge had to leave school at the end of the primary cycle to help earn money for his family – his father having died when he was five years old. From the age of thirteen he worked as a farm labourer and began to write poetry. His writing came to the attention of Lord Dunsany, who gave him great encouragement and wrote an introduction to each of his three volumes of poetry including Last songs which is now on display. Described as ‘our dead enigma’ by Seamus Heaney, Ledwidge held strong nationalist views with the events of the Easter Rising having affected him greatly. He fought with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and was killed at Flanders on 31st July 1917. In Two songs and Una Bawn, Ledwidge describes the way he felt when called to fight in the War.

The second exhibit shows the entry for Francis Ledwidge in Ireland’s memorial records 1914-1918. In July 1919, the Irish National War Memorial Trust was set up to establish a permanent memorial to the Irishmen killed in the First World War. A national fund-raising campaign generated donations of £42,000, of which about £5,000 was spent on collecting the records of those who had died and publishing their names in a monumental eight-volume work. The volumes were printed by Maunsell & Roberts in Dublin in a limited edition of one hundred copies, and the stained-glass artist Harry Clarke was commissioned to design decorative borders for each page, which are repeated throughout the volumes.

Ireland's memorial records
Ireland’s memorial records 1914-1918, Dublin: 1923

The World War I theme continues with a display of Irish fiction by Collection Management in the Orientation Space. Works on show by Sebastian Barry, Frank McGuinness and others, encompass the political climate of the time and the emotions of guilt and duty felt by the protagonist and their families. Equally illustrated by the authors are stories of friendships, love, lost ones and disjointed families against the backdrop of the continental and home divide.

 

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