Francis Ledwidge was the eighth of nine children born to a poor family in Ireland. The premature death of the father meant that the children were sent out to work at an early age. Francis left the local school at the age of thirteen, continuing to educate himself whilst working as a labourer, miner and shop assistant. He was a trade union activist (in 1910 he was sacked for organising a strike for better mining conditions) and a patriot and nationalist.
Ledwidge was a keen poet and from the age of fourteen his works were published in the local Drogheda Independent newspaper. In 1912 he sent copies of his early work to the writer Lord Dunsany – a man of letters well known in Dublin and London. Dunsany became his patron, ensuring that he found a wider audience as his poems began to be published in the literary magazine ‘Saturday Review’.
Initially in opposition to involvement in the Allied war cause, and against the advice of his patron, Ledwidge eventually enlisted in Lord Dunsany’s regiment on 14 October 1914. Quickly promoted to lance corporal he saw action in the Dardanelles in 1915 and survived the huge losses sustained by his company in the Battle of Gallipoli. He became ill after a back injury in Serbia in December 1915 and was sent to Manchester to recuperate. His first book of poetry, Songs of the Fields, was published in 1915 and was well received. He was still in Manchester when he received news of the 1916 Easter Rising which greatly dismayed him. In May 1916 he was court-martialled and demoted for overstaying his leave and being drunk in uniform. Returning to the Front he was promoted back to lance corporal in January 1917. He was killed by a bomb on 31 July 1917, when road-laying in preparation for the Third Battle of Ypres. He is buried in the Artillery Wood Military Cemetery in Boezinge.
A second volume of his poetry, Songs of Peace, was in preparation when he was killed and Lord Dunsany arranged for a third volume, Last Songs, to be published after the war.
Ledwidge qualifies as a ‘war poet’ on the grounds that he actually fought in theatres of war. Secondly, he wrote on war themes peculiar to soldiers fighting on front-lines, and finally, he belonged to a category of poets singled out by the celebrated literary sponsor of his day, Edward Howard Marsh, Private Secretary to Winston Churchill. Central to the literal argument is our theory that Francis Ledwidge meets criteria set out for War Poets and identified by Marsh’s friend and fellow academic Robert H. Ross, who in 1965 published a study attempting to explore the Georgians (Robert H. Ross, Georgian Summer (London: Faber and Faber, 1965)). — Miriam O’Gara Kilmurry, Eire’s WWI War Poet: F.E. Ledwidge
Francis Ledwidge’s Poems:
- In a Cafe
- The Dead Kings
- Una Bawn
- After Court Martial
- To One Dead
- In the Mediterranean – Going to the War
- The Place
Complete Poems, with an introduction by Lord Dunsany (1919) at Internet Archive
Resources for Francis Ledwidge
Frances Ledwidge Museum http://www.francisledwidge.com/
Image of Francis Ledwidge (frontispiece) from ‘The Complete Poems of Francis Ledwidge’ (1919) – Wikimedia Commons