The life and work of poet Francis Ledwidge, who was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele at Ypres in Flanders, on 31 July 1917.
Born in Slane, County Meath in 1887, Ledwidge’s father died when he was four years old, and the family’s financial situation changed drastically. His mother had to work to support the family while Francis himself left school at the age of 13 to work and contribute to the family.
Always interested in learning, he read widely in his spare time while he worked at a variety of jobs in County Meath over the years – as a houseboy in Slane Castle, groom, and farm labourer. He also worked on the roads and in Beauparc copper mines.
Francis Ledwidge wrote poetry from an early age and had poems published in the local newspaper, but it was his friendship with Lord Dunsany which propelled him to a wider audience. Dunsany became his patron and friend and was responsible for getting his first collection of poetry published, ‘Songs Of The Fields’, in 1915.
Ledwidge is first and foremost a nature poet. The fields and streams of Meath were his inspiration and never left him. The poetry he wrote while on active service does not mention the horrors of war, but reflects the idyllic Meath countryside where he spent his childhood,
The primrose and the daffodil
Surprise the valleys, and wild thyme
Is sweet on every little hill,
When lambs come down at folding time.
Dunsany, himself a writer, also introduced Ledwidge to other poets and writers of the time, including George Russell, WB Yeats, Katherine Tynan, James Stephens and Thomas McDonagh, with whom he became friends.
Ireland was changing, and so was the rest of the world. Francis Ledwidge was a nationalist, and a member of the Slane branch of the Irish Volunteers. Despite this, he joined the British Army at the outbreak of World War I, serving in Gallipoli and Macedonia with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Deeply affected by the events of the 1916 Rising, he wrote what many consider is his finest poem, ‘Lament For Thomas MacDonagh’ after his friend's execution for his part in the Easter Rising.
Along with five comrades, he was killed by a stray shell during the Battle of Passchendaele at Ypres in Flanders, on 31 July 1917. He was 29 years old.
‘Scope: Behind The Closed Eye, Francis Ledwidge’ was broadcast on 18 January 1973. The presenter is Brian Cleeve.
The RTÉ current affairs series 'Scope' was broadcast in 1972 and 1973.