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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

6 - Irish literature and the Great War

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Summary

In 1979, ten years after the modern Irish ‘troubles’ broke out, Seamus Heaney included in his volume Field Work a poem entitled ‘In Memoriam Francis Ledwidge’. In so doing he was invoking an iconic figure, almost the only Irish poet who might be included among the soldier poets who died in the First World War and who made that conflict seem in cultural memory, a poet's war. In his poem Heaney ponders how it can seem an enigma in the late twentieth century, in the midst of a conflict between loyalism and Irish republicanism, that a nationalist Irishman should have been among the British soldiery who perished in the Great War, among whom, we remember, were such renowned war poets as Julian Grenfell, Isaac Rosenberg and Wilfred Owen. Heaney designates Ledwidge ‘our dead enigma’ and recalls his County Meath origins, the tender Georgian pastoralism of his verses, and quotes from a letter written by Ledwidge shortly before his death in action in France at the Battle of Passchendale, on 31 July 1917. In that letter the poet, serving in the King's uniform in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, had regretted that ‘party politics should ever divide our tents’ and hoped for a time when a new Ireland would ‘arise from her ashes in the ruins of Dublin, like the Phoenix, with one purpose, one aim and one ambition.

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