Maureen Kennelly, director of poetry Ireland has been looking back at what newspapers had to say about poets of the day back in 1914. She joined Myles to talk about her findings.
From this April, there will be a dedicated poetry section in the Century Ireland online newpaper. This will include poetry readings from 100 years ago by young people between the ages of 13 and 18.
Click here for Century Ireland
Click here for Poetry Ireland
Press coverage of poets during 1914
By Maureen Kennelly
On March 31st T. D. Sullivan died; the following day, April 1st,it’s in all the newspapers. As this extract from Wikipedia makes clear, he was a significant presence in the nineteenth and early twentieth century – ‘He was a member of the Home Rule League, supporting Charles Stewart Parnell in the 1880 general election, being "convinced that without self-government there could never be peace, prosperity or contentment in Ireland". He joined the Irish Parliamentary Party when it was established in 1882. When the party split in 1891 he became an Anti-Parnellite until the Nationalist factions were reunited in 1900.’ He wrote a sketch of his political experiences called Recollections of Troubled Times in Irish Politics, published in 1905, and was editor of a number of publications including The Nation.
Yeats had this to say of Sullivan’s contribution to music and poetry in Irish Literature ed. J. McCarthy (Washingon 1904): ‘The agrarian movement that followed produced little poetry, and of that little all is forgotten but a vehement poem by Fanny Parnell and a couple of songs by T. D. Sullivan, who is a good song-writer, though not, as the writer has read on an election placard, “one of the greatest poets who ever moved the heart of man.”’ While not the highest of praise, it shows that he was regarded for his contribution to the arts, especially for having written the Irish national hymn "God Save Ireland".
Upon his death, commentators in the Irish Independent, The Irish Times and the Freeman’s Journal note that Sullivan was a poet as well as a politician. On April 2nd there are numerous instances of people writing in to the Irish Independent to express their sadness at the news; there are even poems written in memory of him – a “Townsman’s tribute”. There is also the inclusion of a facsimile production of his verses.
On April 6th there is a review in the “Books and Booksmen” column (Irish Independent) of one of Katherine Tynan’s collections. The main significance of the article is to give a sense of what poetry was popular at the time.
On May 25th there is an article devoted to Edward Dowden who died on April 4th the previous year. The article notes his significance as a critic, but also that fact that he was a writer of poetry. The Yeats biography I’ve been reading gives a good idea of his influence as a poetry critic; in one of Yeats’s earliest attempts at establishing him own voice publicly, he chose to rail against Dowden in a review (October, 1886) of the poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson. Here is the excerpt included in the biography:
If Ireland has produced no great poet, it is not that her poetic impulse has run dry, but because her critics have failed her, for every community is a solidarity, all depending upon each, and each upon all … It is a question whether the most distinguished of our critics, Professor Dowden, would not only have more consulted the interests of his country, but more also, in the long run, his own dignity and reputation, which are dear to all Irishmen, if he had devoted some of those elaborate pages which he has spent on the much bewritten George Eliot, to a man like the subject of this article.
Despite this flagrant denouncement of Dowden’s well-known cosmopolitanism in favour of a more nationalist stance, Yeats and Dowden were apparently soon friends again.
The Exclusion of Ulster
On April 4th in Sinn Féin there is an interesting article entitled “The Exclusion of Ulster”. The first line gives a good indication as to just how central poetry was to the nationalist media at the time, stating that “the bards are up in arms”. Sinn Féin has a lot more content devoted to poetry than the Irish daily newspapers who seem to write more about upcoming plays and concerts. This article is concerned about poetry submitted to the paper denouncing the proposal to partition Ireland. The poem they include is by Philib O’Neill. The first line of poem reads “When Saxon foot first dared pollute our fair and verdant land”.
Also on April 4th is a review of Thomas MacDonagh’s latest poetry that criticises its apparent introversion in comparison with his early work: ‘It is a treasure house of his very own satisfaction, a mint whose currency may be valuable to him, but to him alone.’
On July 11th there is a review of Seamus O’Sullivan’s An Epilogue to the Praise of Angus and Other Poems. It’s worth noting as the review contextualises the collection in relation to Irish Literary Revival.
Bludgeons and Blarney
On May 30th in The Irish Worker there is a poem entitled “Bludgeons and Blarney”, submitted under the pseudonym, Batanio. The poem gives some evidence of the kind of doggerel that can be found in both The Irish Worker and Sinn Féin. Though I don’t have the lines with me to transcribe, the poem seemed like a good one to have read aloud. The language is phonetically rich and rollicking, poking fun the police for their dubious enforcement of the law.
The Gory Grenadiers – An Explanation
On June 6th there is an article entitled “The Gory Grenadiers – An Explanation”. “The Gory Grenadiers” was published in The Irish Worker on May 16th and this article, written by the same poet, defends the content of the poem, claiming that it is not an attack on the Irish Volunteers as some readers have suspected. It’s an interesting article because, like “The Exclusion of Ulster” article, it gives an idea of how involved poetry was in relation to the political and social climate at the time.