« PredošláPokračovať »
imagination, but they are the works of a man of genius, and were recognised as such when they were published. As a dramatist, his 'Damon and Pythias' is celebrated; and as a song-writer, Soggarth Aroon' and the few others we quote will prove him to be not the least of the tribe.
JOHN KEEGAN was the son of a peasant in the Queen's County, and was born about 1809. What his method of teaching himself was, or what opportunities of learning he possessed beyond the local hedge-school, are to be conjectured; but he seems to have somehow acquired a considerable amount of knowledge, of a plain but serviceable character. He was, while yet a young man, a wellknown writer of ballads for the Nation newspaper, and a contributor of sketches and tales to an Irish journal called Dolman's Magazine; and these, with his songswhich are marked by pathetic simplicity, tenderness, and purity, and show a remarkable insight of the feelings and affections of his class—were written in the intervals of his peasant labours. He died in 1849, 'happy,' says Mr. Hayes, 'to die amongst the people whose privations he shared, and the hard realities of whose daily life he illustrated by his prose writings and songs. He was a poor man who wrote for bread-a "peasant poet."'
JOHN FRASER, sometimes called 'The poet of the workshop,' from the circumstance that he was a cabinetmaker, 'a steady and unassuming artisan,' but best known by his nom de plume of 'J de Jean'—was born in
Birr, now called Parsonstown, in the King's County, about the year 1809. Considering that throughout his life he worked at his trade diligently, that he was a martyr to ill-health, that he was in straitened circumstances, his writings are numerous, and manifest a power and culture which are remarkable. Had he been affluent, with time to cultivate his talents and tastes, he would have been one of the foremost of Irish verse-writers.
He is best at descriptive poetry, and shows a sympathetic appreciation of rural nature. The songs in which he celebrates the localities familiar to his childhood are marked by a quiet, but vivid beauty. His political verses are powerful and enthusiastic, but generous and tolerant, and his lines on the death of Thomas Davis are of a high order of excellence. He was held in affectionate esteem by his literary acquaintances, led a retired and blameless life-a noble and simple piety is apparent in his writings -and he died in 1849, in Dublin, at the age of forty. His poems were collected and published after his death.
'POOR WALSH! he has a family of young children, he seems broken in health and spirits; ruin has been on his tracks for years, and I think has him in the wind at last. There are more contented galley-slaves moiling at Spike than the schoolmaster. Perhaps the man really does envy me, and most assuredly I do not envy him.' These are the words written by John Mitchell in his Jail Journal, upon an interview he had, when a political. prisoner in Spike Island, with Edward Walsh, the author of many 'sweet songs and of some very musical translations from Irish ballads,' and the schoolmaster of the
juvenile convicts in penal servitude on Spike Island. 'A tall, gentlemanlike person, in black but rather overworn clothes,' with tears in his eyes on the occasion of this interview, Mitchell describes him. 'He stooped down and kissed my hands, and said I was the man in Ireland most to be envied.'
Soon after this episode Walsh was promoted to the schoolmastership of the Cork Workhouse, and after a short interval further promoted to where the inexorable ruin could not overtake him, and where he could rest, for ever released from the moiling worse than that of the convict galley-slave. The sickening drudgery at which death found him was the only means of livelihood given to a man who left two volumes of translations from Irish poetry, who was himself a not insignificant poet, was an accomplished scholar in the Irish language and literature, ' and a man of pure heart and sterling sentiment.'
Edward Walsh's father was a small farmer in the county Cork who had eloped with a girl much above him in social status. He relinquished farming owing to pecuniary straits and enlisted in the militia, and was quartered with his regiment in Londonderry in 1805, when his son was born. When the corps was disbanded the father returned to Cork, and here Edward was educated. His education must have been beyond the average of his class, for he received an appointment as a private tutor while still a young man. He subsequently kept a school in Millstreet, in the county Cork, whence in 1837 he removed to pursue the same occupation in Toureen, in county Waterford. He diligently and resolutely devoted himself to the study of his native language, and perfected the knowledge obtained from books by constant intercourse with the Irish-speaking
peasants. He translated the Irish songs and poems accessible to him, and began to publish them in various magazines while at Toureen. These were of such merit, so literal, idiomatic, and characteristic, and withal so melodious, that they attracted the attention, amongst others, of the present Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, and through his friendship and interest Walsh was appointed sub-editor of the Dublin Monitor. For some unassigned reason he resigned this post, which, from the advantages it offered-time for literary labour and opportunities for his special study-should have been of superlative value to him. He then published a collection of his own poems and his translations under the title of 'Jacobite Relics of Ireland;' and next he is engaged at the dreary and, to him, degrading task of instructing the juvenile convict criminals at Spike Island. Thence to the Cork Workhouse School, where on the 6th April, 1850, he died, aged forty-five. He was, we are told, 'A shy, sensitive creature,' and the man who wrote his songs spent the best part of his life teaching rogues and paupers their 'Reading made easy.' It is a biographical record of singular sadness and inappropriateness. No wonder he was 'broken in health and spirits,' and that 'ruin had him in the wind at last,' when Mitchell saw him in his wretched office at the convict depôt.
Mr. Hayes says of his writings: 'His contributions to Irish literature have been both considerable and creditable; there is a singular beauty and fascinating melody in his verse which cheers and charms the ear and heart. His translations preserve all the peculiarities of the old tongue, which he knew and spoke with graceful fluency.' The song, 'Mo Craoibhin Cno' ('My cluster of nuts,' 'My nut-brown maid'), is very well known, and in simplicity,
pure sentiment, and melody, will compare with any lovelyric in this collection.
It is no exageration to say that Lady Dufferin as a songwriter has not been surpassed by any Irish author, ancient or modern. She is a conspicuous example of the transmission of genius from generation to generation. In her family it has been hereditary. She not only inherited it, but transmitted it. Her son, the present Earl of Dufferin, is a worthy descendant of an illustrious ancestor. The authoress of the song 'I'm sitting on the stile, Mary,' was Helen Selina Blackwood, and though she was at her death the Countess of Gifford, she is best known as Lady Dufferin. She was the eldest daughter of Thomas Sheridan, who was son of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, a brief biography of whom has already appeared in these pages. She was born in 1807, and her earlier years were spent at Hampton Court Palace, where her mother resided after the death of Thomas Sheridan. She, in common with her two sisters, was a noted beauty, and she married on 6th July, 1825, the Honourable Price Blackwood, afterwards Lord Dufferin, an Irish nobleman, and her only son, born in 1826, is the present Earl of Dufferin, well-known in the diplomatic and literary world.
While still very young she, in conjunction with her sister Caroline, afterwards the Hon. Mrs. Norton, published 'The Dandies' Rout,' which was written and illustrated by the two girls.
Her husband died in 1841, and in 1862 Lady Dufferin married the Earl of Gifford, eldest son of the Marquis