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Monday, 8th August 2022

New edition of Ledwidge poems launched at Slane Castle

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Ledwidge Day Committee members pictured at the launch of a new edition of poems by the poet Francis Ledwidge. Back row: Collette Mc Donnell, William Carolan. Middle: Eileen Hogan, Irene Carolan, , Paul Murphy.  Front: Terry Wogan, Rosemsry Yore Cllr Wayne Harding, Colin Yore and Jimmy Comiskey. Photo: Seamus Farrelly. 

By Paul Murphy

A new edition of poems by the war poet Francis Ledwidge, the first to be published in his native county of Meath, was launched at Slane Castle on Sunday.

The book, which contains so far unpublished works, is a collaboration between Gallery Press and the Francis Ledwidge Museum Committee and supported by Meath County Council Library Service.

A gathering of 130 people at Slane Castle was attended by the Cathaoirleach of the Laytown Bettystown District Cllr Wayne Harding, the Chairperson of the Francis Ledwidge Museum Committee Terry Wogan and committee members, the 21st Baron of Dunsany Randolph Plunkett, publisher Peter Fallon of Gallery Press and Dunsany archivist Peter Doyle.

Meath Chronicle Journalist and historian John Donohoe who addressed the gathering on the life of the poet said it was fitting that as we came to the end of the decade of commemoration that we looked back at the lives of two men – Ledwidge and the 18th Baron of Dunsany – who were involved in tumultuous events around a century ago, two unlikely bedfellows brought together not just by a love of words and writing but also by a love of nature , the outdoors, and appreciation of the flora and fauna of the countryside around them.

Ledwidge grew up and knew every leaf and stream of the Boyne Valley in Slane and surrounds while Dunsany’s ancestral home in the Shadow of the Hill of Tara was surrounded by woodlands and scenic landscapes, a castle where many of his associates in the literary world often came to spend time, from WB Yeats, to Lady Gregory, Oliver St John Gogarty to HG Wells and where, in a later era, Paddy Kavanagh brought Hilda Moriarty for a walk in the bluebell wood in an unsuccessful attempt to woo her with his “Bluebells for Love” and “Raglan Road”.

“While this all sounded very romantic, the period was a troubled one with a world war and a war of independence, causing people to take sides and it was a story with a great deal of contradictions and unlikely relationships, he said.

“Who was this lord of the manor who saw the potential and talent of the young county council road worker and trade unionist from Slane, on the other side of the Boyne Valley?” he asked.

The current Lord Dunsany, Randal Plunkett, the 21st Baron of Dunsany, pictured at the book launch with Laura Dillon, Catherine Dillon and baby Constance Plunkett. 

John Donohoe said that Edward John Morton Drax Plunkett was the son of Admiral Lord Dunsany, Edward Plunkett and Lady Dunsany who lived at her home near Shoreham in Kent. He was born at park Square near Regent’s Park, London and his father returned to Ireland on succeeding the title while his mother remained at Dunstall Priory, their home.

Ledwidge’s mentor was educated in England and in Dublin and later served in the British military. He was stationed in Gibraltar and it was there he developed his fascination for the Near East in the settings that he was to later use in his own writings. He also served in the Boer War in South Africa where he saw extensive combat and met Rudyard Kipling who became a lifelong friend.

After the war he had returned to Meath and the duties of his estate and married Lady Beatrice Villiers, daughter of the Earl of Jersey who became his most devoted reader, his sometime secretary and honest critic. “Despite being a prolific writer, with more than 55 published volumes and hundreds of plays, articles and introductions he hadn’t been an overnight success and perhaps his attention to Ledwidge was because when he was starting out, he had spent months waiting on replies to letters and work he had sent to British writers of the time”, Mr Donohoe said.

Ledwidge had written to Dunsany on the prompting of Slane native sculptor John Cassidy who said that a well-known writer would be the best one to advise him. Dunsany, a big game hunter, international chess player and renowned cricketer wasn’t at home when Ledwidge’s packet of poetry arrived  at the castle. However, it eventually came into his hands and was impressed, immediately writing back to Ledwidge, as Alice Curtayne (Ledwidge biographer) said “warmly greeting him as a true poet”.

When Dunsany arrived home in the Summer of 1912 he invited Ledwidge to Dunsany where he gave him the freedom of the castle to read or borrow books. In a letter to Dunsany some years later Ledwidge recalled how much he had been encouraged by those early sessions. “I often think on the beautiful afternoons we used to spend at Dunsany castle, I listening enraptured to your latest, or wonder whether a comma, or a semi-colon, was the proper stop at some of my lines which you were soon to see. The long ride home, with beautiful memories of your appreciation, reciting my latest all the miles with the pedals of my bicycle turned to the rhythm of the piece, delaying me often, for you know I love slow rhythm and short words”, Ledwidge wrote.

Terry Wogan said that this year marked the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Ledwidge museum and he paid tribute to all those who had tried to preserve the memory of the Slane poet. Vivienne Igor, one of the original founder members of the museum, was present at the Slane castle event. He paid tribute to Peter Fallon for his work on the publication of the book and also to Rosemary Yore, a member of the Ledwidge committee who had done great work in helping steer the project to fruition.

Cllr Harding paid tribute to all those who had kept Ledwidge’s name and his poetry alive over many decades. Commenting on the event Randolph Plunkett said “This is a great day for poetry.”

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