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Poet Francis Ledwidge killed fighting in Flanders
Francis Ledwidge, the poet from Slane, Co. Meath, who was killed in action on 31 July 1917 Photo: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. USA

Poet Francis Ledwidge killed fighting in Flanders

Passchendaele, 9 August 1917 - Tributes have been paid to the ‘Meath peasant poet’ Lance Corporal Francis Ledwidge who was killed in action while serving with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in Flanders. He was 29 years old.

Captain Lord Dunsany, who introduced Ledwidge’s work to the public, remarked that ‘this rare poet’ had been born of peasant stock, lived nearly all his life in Slane, and had he lived ‘this lover of all seasons in which the blackbird sings would have surpassed even Burns’.

Dunsany remarked that he received the last – and, he considered, ‘the best’ – of Ledwidge’s poems on the very day of his death – 31 July. 

RTÉ's Nationwide broadcast a feature episode on the life and legacy of Francis Ledwidge

Francis Ledwidge’s first book was entitled Songs of the Fields, and throughout the war – whether in Salonika, Gallipoli, Egypt, France or Belgium – he continued to write whenever he found the time. Some of these poems have been collected in the book Songs of Peace.

Ledwidge is the not the first Irish poet to be killed in the war: Tom Kettle, the nationalist MP, university lecturer and poet was previously lost in battle.

The Freeman’s Journal has editorialised:

‘Like every other nation, we are paying our price in the best minds of the new generation, and though Ledwidge, like Tom Kettle, fell under a different flag from Pearse, MacDonagh and Plunkett, the death of one and all leave Ireland immeasurably the poorer. It was significant that one of the poems in Ledwidge’s last volume should have been a tribute to the memory of MacDonagh… The Irish poets who have fallen in this war are a living example of the truth of John Stuart Mill’s remark that, however bitterly parties may be opposed, very little divides the best men on each side.’

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]


Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.