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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“Blast” at 100

“Blast” 1, 1914. Shelfmark: OLS X-2-126 no. 1

The avant garde journal Blast was first published on 2 July 1914, on the eve of the First World War. It marked the emergence of Vorticism, a modernist British art movement which paralleled other European art movements such as Futurism in Italy and Expressionism in Germany. Edited by Wyndham Lewis, who also wrote much of the text and provided illustrations as well, the two issues of this short-lived periodical encompassed the different areas of painting, design, sculpture, poetry, prose and drama, as well as reproducing the text of the Vorticist ‘Manifesto’ in its first issue. The second and last issue was entitled ‘War number’ and appeared on 15 July 1915. As exemplified by the bright, puce cover and bold typography of issue 1, Blast was experimental in both content and visual design and can be seen as a predecessor to later ventures in modernist print and visual culture. Apart from Lewis himself, contributors to Blast included the writers Ezra Pound, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, T.S. Eliot and Ford Madox Ford as well as illustrators such as Helen Saunders, Jacob Epstein, Frederick Etchells and C.R.W. Nevinson.

The Department of Early Printed Books and the School of English are marking the centenary of Blast with a small exhibition in the Long Room, coinciding with a one-day symposium, “BLAST at 100” which takes place in the Trinity Long Room Hub on 2 July. An online version of the exhibition is also available on the Library website.

"Blast" 2, 'War number', 1915. Shelfmark: OLS X-2-126 no. 2
“Blast” 2, ‘War number’, 1915. Shelfmark: OLS X-2-126 no. 2
The Italian Futurist journal "Lacerba", 15 July 1914. Shelfmark: PER 80-413
The Italian Futurist journal “Lacerba”, 15 July 1914. Shelfmark: PER 80-413
22.aa.8.17_0005
C.R.W. Nevinson: The roads of France (London, 1918?). Shelfmark: 22.aa.8 no. 17