The Irish in Gallipoli

A memorial to honour Irishmen who fought in the British Army during WWI is to be unveiled Thursday at the National War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge.

The Ledwidge plaque will feature Francis Ledwidge’s poem “The Irish in Gallipoli” and will remember the estimated 50,000 Irish soldiers who died in the Great War.

Like many of his countrymen, Ledwidge volunteered even though he was a nationalist: “I joined the British Army because she stood between Ireland and an enemy common to our civilisation and I would not have her say that she defended us while we did nothing.”

He returned to Ireland during 1916 to recover from an injury and left disillusioned following the execution of the leaders of the Easter Rebellion. In May 1916 he became depressed: “if someone were to tell me now that the Germans were coming in over our back wall, I wouldn’t lift a finger to stop them. They could come!”

He returned to the front and died in Flanders in 1917.

‘The Irish in Gallipoli’

Where Aegean cliffs with bristling menace front
The Threatening splendour of that isley sea
Lighted by Troy’s last shadow, where the first
Hero kept watch and the last Mystery
Shook with dark thunder. Hark! The battle brunt!
A nation speaks, old Silences are burst.

‘Tis not for lust of glory, no new throne
This thunder and this lightning of our power
Wakens up frantic echoes, not for these
Our Cross with England’s mingle, to be blown
At Mammon’s threshold. We but war when war
Serves Liberty and Keeps a world at peace.

Who said that such an emprise could be vain?
Were they not one with Christ, who fought and died?
Let Ireland weep: but not for sorrow, weep
That by her sons a land is sanctified
For Christ arisen, and angels once again
Come back, like exile birds, and watch their sleep.

France, 24 February 1917.

He also wrote a poem about his comrade Thomas MacDonagh, who was executed by the British for his part in the 1916 Rising.

Thomas MacDonagh

He shall not hear the bittern cry
In the wild sky, where he is lain,
Nor voices of the sweeter birds
Above the wailing of the rain.

Nor shall he know when loud March blows
Thro’ slanting snows her fanfare shrill,
Blowing to flame the golden cup
Of many an upset daffodil.

But when the Dark Cow leaves the moor,
And pastures poor with greedy weeds,
Perhaps he’ll hear her low at morn
Lifting her horn in pleasant meads.

Not forgetting Seamus Heaney’s poem: In Memoriam Francis Ledwidge

The bronze soldier hitches a bronze cape
That crumples stiffly in imagined wind
No matter how the real winds buff and sweep
His sudden hunkering run, forever craned

Over Flanders. Helmet and haversack,
The gun’s firm slope from butt to bayonet,
The loyal, fallen names on the embossed plaque —
It all meant little to the worried pet

I was in nineteen forty-six or seven,
Gripping my Aunt Mary by the hand
Along the Portstewart prom, then round the crescent
To thread the Castle Walk out to the strand.

The pilot from Coleraine sailed to the coal-boat.
Courting couples rose out of the scooped dunes.
A farmer stripped to his studs and shiny waistcoat
Rolled the trousers down on his timid shins.

At night when coloured bulbs strung out the sea-front
Country voices rose from a cliff-top shelter
With news of a great litter – “we’ll pet the runt!” –
And barbed wire that had torn a friesian’s elder.

Francis Ledwidge, you courted at the seaside
Beyond Drogheda one Sunday afternoon.
Literary, sweet-talking, countrified,
You pedalled out the leafy road from Slane

Where you belonged, among the dolorous
And lovely: the May altar of wild flowers,
Easter water sprinkled in outhouses,
Mass-rocks and hill-top raths and raftered byres.

I think of you in your Tommy’s uniform,
A haunted Catholic face, pallid and brave,
Ghosting the trenches with a bloom of hawthorn
Or silence cored from a Boyne passage-grave.

It’s summer, nineteen-fifteen. I see the girl
My aunt was then, herding on the long acre.
Behind a low bush in the Dardanelles
You suck stones to make your dry mouth water.

It’s nineteen-seventeen. She still herds cows,
But a big strafe puts the candles out in Ypres:
‘My soul is by the Boyne, cutting new meadows…
My country wears her confirmation dress.’

‘To be called a British soldier while my country
has no place among nations…’ You were rent
By shrapnel six weeks later. ‘I am sorry
That party politics should divide our tents.’

In you, our dead enigma, all the strains
Criss-cross in useless equilibrium
And as the wind tunes through this vigilant bronze
I hear again the sure confusing drum

You followed from Boyne water tot he Balkans
But miss the twilit note your flute should sound.
You were not keyed or pitched like these true-blue ones
Though all of you consort now underground.

  • Davros

    George, he was a wonderful poet. As ever, poets go in and out of favour and he’s due a revival. There was a new book issued last year –

    A new volume, The Best of Francis Ledwidge , edited by Liam O’Meara with an introduction by Ulick O’Connor, was launched in Liberty Hall, Dublin last Monday by Des Geraghty. It is published by the Inchicore Ledwidge Society (Riposte Books, €15) and is a judicious selection of the poet’s best work.

    The full quote as given by Lord Dunsany :
    “I joined the British Army because she stood between Ireland and an enemy of civilisation and I would not have her say that she defended us while we did nothing but pass resolutions”.

    The Call to Ireland
    by Francis Ledwidge

    We have fought so much for the nation
    In the tents we helped to divide;
    Shall the cause of our common fathers
    On our earthstones lie denied?
    For the price of a field we have wrangled
    While the weather rusted the plow,
    ‘ twas yours and ’twas mine and ’tis ours yet
    And it’s time to be fencing it now.

  • George

    Thanks for the full quote Davros and the Call to Ireland. I’m in Dublin on Thursday so I might see if I can pop along to Islandbridge.

  • Davros

    Call to Ireland was prophetic and still has relevence today.

    There’s quite a lot about him online, but as these have disappeared from when I downloaded them :

    Francis Ledwidge 1891 – 1917

    An Evening in England

    From its blue vase the rose of evening drops;
    Upon the streams its petals float away.
    The hills all blue with distance hide their tops
    In the dim silence falling on the grey.
    A little wind said “Hush!” and shook a spray
    Heavy with May’s white crop of opening bloom;
    A silent bat went dipping in the gloom.

    Night tells her rosary of stars full soon,
    They drop from out her dark hand to her knees.
    Upon a silhouette of woods, the moon
    Leans on one horn as if beseeching ease
    From all her changes which have stirred the seas.
    Across the ears of Toil, Rest throws her veil.
    I and a marsh bird only make a wail.

    Evening Clouds

    A little flock of clouds go down to rest
    In some blue corner off the moon’s highway,
    With shepherd-winds that shook them in the West
    To borrowed shapes of earth, in bright array,
    Perhaps to weave a rainbow’s gay festoons
    Around the lonesome isle which Brooke has made
    A little England full of lovely noons,
    Or dot it with his country’s mountain shade.

    Ah, little wanderers, when you reach that isle 1
    Tell him, with dripping dew, they have not failed,
    What he loved most; for late I roamed a while
    Thro’ English fields and down her rivers sailed;
    And they remember him with beauty caught
    From old desires of Oriental Spring
    Heard in his heart with singing overwrought;
    And still on Purley Common gooseboys sing.

  • Alan

    A fitting memorial. I must say that I had never heard of him. I mustlook up his work. My great, uncle died at Gallipoli – and I know nothing about it!

  • Davros

    Needless to say there was a woman involved, Ellie Vaughey.
    Ledwidge wrote many elegies to Ellie

  • George

    Where there’s a vulnerable male heart, there’s always a woman nearby Davros 🙂

    Caoin is the Irish to cry and is I assume the origin of keening in English.

    I think I’ll have to get that book you mention. He seems a most interesting character. The only Irish Volunteer against Redmond in Slane and then off he goes and signs up anyway.

  • maca

    “Caoin is the Irish to cry and is I assume the origin of keening in English”

    Correct George. Also, caoineadh – lament.

  • Davros

    George, There’s an excellent chapter on him in
    Anthem For Doomed Youth by Jon Stallworthy.

  • The Devil

    So 50,000 muppets died in the Great war… SO WHAT

    We should all be glad of that because poet or soldier, ditch-digger or doctor, if they fought for one tyrant against another tyrant they had nothing to contribute to any society but death.

    So I say FUCK EM ALL

  • mickhall

    Great stuff, If only life was as simple as the The Devil expressed. People fought for a host of reasons not least to put food on the table. My wife’s father and grandfather both fought in WW1, then at its end returned to fight for their countries independence, her Dad was 14 when he signed up, was he a muppet or just a boy trying to survive. Yes, that war was a bloody slaughter that should never have happened, that was down to the politicians. the vast majority of those who fought where doing their duty as they saw it.

    Gallipoli was another politicians cockup, it is very interesting to see this battle from the Turkish side. It is as famous in Turkey as here, as it was where the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustapa Kemal Aturturk earned his spurs by defeating the British. There is a sadness about troops, many of them from the British colonies, fighting to occupy another’s land, when within a few years many of those who survived would themselves be fighting for their own countries freedom.

  • James

    “Gallipoli was another politicians cockup”

    Gallipoli, Northern Ireland, Palestine. That kid Churchill had one hellova learning curve.

    Any chance of shortening Bush’s curve a tad?

    Only 1448 Bush days left.

  • Pat Mc Larnon


    you are supposed to glory in the honour of it all. You’ll be getting a kicking from Kevin Myers if you don’t watch out.

  • New Yorker

    Dear George,

    Thank you for this wonderful post. Francis Ledwidge has been a poet I read and reread, from time to time. He is a testament to poetry being in the genes of the Irish. This is the sort of post that makes Slugger indispensible reading to check every day.

  • Davros

    He is a testament to poetry being in the genes of the Irish.

    Oh for heavens sake !!!!

  • James

    Oh for heavens sake !!!!

    If that’s all it takes to gag a gargoyle, I’ll post as Ozxie Nelson from now on.

  • James

    Make that Ozzie. My other personality that wants to be Ozzie Osmond’s bat boy was momentarily on the tear.

  • unomonous

    rip those who diedin the war

  • fatty o’redhead

    Deleted A.U.

  • micahel

    Deleted A.U.

  • jolly o’stockinz

    Deleted A.U.

  • michael wyls

    Deleted A.U.

  • michael wilds

    Deleted A.U.

  • michael wild @ marist college kogarah sydney

    Deleted A.U.

  • jackass

    Deleted A.U.

  • Padraig

    Francis Ledwidge-farm labourer,copper miner, union organiser, strike leader, poet and soldier, A veteran of Gallopli, Vardar, Salonika and the Western Front (where he died on active service in 1917) ..all in 29 years…. and also left us his legacy of over 200 poems and many letters Im not sure if he was an Irish nationalist in the mould of Pearse etc , does it matter? What is important is his legacy , for me its also the depth of honesty and love of nature that is in his poetry .