LEDWIDGE MISUNDERSTOOD

 

MANUS O'RIORDAN,

Madam, - Two years after the murderous Battle of the Somme it was still a front being fought over. It was there that a first cousin of my maternal grandfather, John Sheehy of Clonakilty, was killed on February 15th, 1918. There was indeed much heartbreak and sorrow among his family, not least because he had died as British cannon-fodder.

I am reminded of such family history on reading Suzanne Lynch's account of the Anthem for Doomed Youth exhibition (November 25th). She rightly pays tribute to the beauty and poignancy of Francis Ledwidge's verse, but she misconstrues his oft-quoted statement about "an enemy common to our civilisation" as a famous defence of his decision to join the British Army.

In an autobiographical letter to Lewis Chase just eight weeks before his death on July 31st, 1917, Ledwidge used these words to describe the sentiments that had originally motivated him to enlist back in October 1914. But such an anti-German outlook no longer motivated him. Home on leave in May 1916 in the wake of the executions of Easter Rising leaders, including Pearse and McDonagh, whom he described as "two of my best friends, shot by England", Ledwidge told his brother Joe that "if I heard the Germans were coming in over our back wall, I wouldn't go out now to stop them. They could come!".

In his unpublished poem O'Connell Street Ledwidge protested that the Easter Rising should not be dismissed as a "noble failure" made in vain, but that it "hath a victory its own" to be "down the generations thrown". This conviction continued to inspire him to the very end. In the aforementioned letter to Lewis Chase he expressed his hope that "a new Ireland will arise from her ashes in Dublin, like the Phoenix, with one purpose, one aim, and one ambition. I tell you this in order that you may know what it is to me to be called a British soldier while my own country has no place among the nations but the place of Cinderella".

That indeed was the true depth of the tragedy of Ledwidge's own death. - Yours, etc.,

MANUS O'RIORDAN,

Finglas Road,

Glasnevin,

Dublin 11.