Francis Ledwidge has ‘peculiarly contemporary relevance’ in Ireland

Trinity academic calls for greater understanding of poet killed in first World War

Remembered by Seamus Heaney as 'our dead enigma' in his poem 'In memoriam Francis Ledwidge'. The 31st of July marks the centenary of death of WWI poet Francis Ledwidge. Video: Enda O'Dowd

 

The poet and soldier Francis Ledwidge has been described as a “critically important figure in the debates about cultural identity in Ireland”.

Speaking on the eve of the centenary of his death in the first World War, Trinity College Dublin (TCD) professor of English Gerald Dawe suggested that understanding Ledwidge is to understand the “complex reality of Ireland” at the time of his death in 1917.

He said Ledwidge had a “peculiarly contemporary relevance” as both a man and a poet. Prof Dawe said there needed to be extensive scholarly investment in bringing together the Ledwidge archive, currently scattered in many locations, into one place with a view to providing a “full and comprehensive critical study” of the man, his life and work.

Ledwidge had been in many ways “the national focus for this mature and necessary opening-up of our understanding of that past”, he said.

“The life story we have to date is as a representative life not just of a time, but also of a people. To understand Ledwidge is to understand the complex reality of Ireland, ” he said.

Prof Dawe addressed the annual Ledwidge Day at the National War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge, Dublin.

He said there had been a “steady and welcome re-imagining of our history to include the experience of Irish men and women during and after the first World War”.

Commemoration

Ledwidge was killed by a shell on July 31st, 1917 the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele while serving with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

He is buried in Artillery Road Cemetery outside Ypres, Belgium which will be the focus of a commemoration on Monday evening.

In Ypres on Sunday Britain’s prince William led official commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele.

He spoke at the Menin Gate monument ahead of Monday’s centenary of the start of the bloody first World War British assault.

Flanked by the Duchess of Cambridge and Philippe and Mathilde, the King and Queen of the Belgians, he said Britain and Belgium “stand together” to remember those killed during weeks of heavy fighting in the summer and autumn of 1917.

“Today, the Menin Gate records almost 54,000 names of the men who did not return home; the missing with no known grave.”

It is estimated that almost 100,000 British Empire soldiers were killed in the Flanders campaign of 1917 with almost 5,000 Irish or from Irish regiments.