Statue of Francis Ledwidge unveiled at Richmond Barracks
Martin McGuinness speaks at ceremony remembering poet who died in first World War
Irish poet and soldier Francis Ledwidge (1891 - 1917). Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Born in Slane, Co Meath, Ledwidge was a nationalist and a member of the Irish Volunteers but joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and was killed in battle in Ypres, Belgium in 1917.
In response to the executions of the leaders of the 1916 Rising he wrote his best known poem Lament for Thomas McDonagh of whom he was a close friend.
The event, organised by the Inchicore Ledwidge Society, took place in the soldier’s gymnasium where the leaders and soldiers of the rebellion were kept before being released or court martialed. Speakers focused on the country’s simultaneous involvement in the Rising and the first World War and on a reconciliation of both traditions in Ireland.
Mr McGuinness spoke of republican friends whose grandfathers had fought with the British Army in the Battle of the Somme and said there had been a “national amnesia about what happened during the first World War” and that it is “only right that we get over that”.
“It’s only right that we honour our poets and preserve their life and memory and lessons we can learn from their work.”
He recently travelled to Belgium to visit Ledwidge’s grave, something he described as “a very emotional occasion”.
Speaking at the event, Éadaoin Ní Chleirigh who headed up the €4m restoration of the barracks said that this marked another layer of complexity added to the story of Ledwidge.
“A Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister unveiling a statue of an Irish man who served in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers”.
The barracks is currently hosting a 1916 exhibition including stories of women of the Rising and a video exhibition of witness statements recounting the reaction of the leaders and the mood of the Volunteers while they were kept in the barracks.
Mr McGuinness said his interest in the poet was sparked by the fact that he was also stationed in Ebrington Barracks in Derry as well as by the Seamus Heaney poem “In memoriam Francis Ledwidge”, the original of which was given to the Ledwidge Cottage Museum in Slane.
The museum will host a Ledwidge day on August 14th and next year a group of 50 people will travel to visit the poet’s grave on the centenary of his death.