J O'Dowd - Sligo Poets

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1915 > Sligo Poetry 1915 > Sligo Champion

These are a most interesting group of four poems written by the Irish Parliamentary Party MP for South Sligo, John O'Dowd. The first two published are poems in praise of the Irish involvement in the Great War; the other two are reminders of O'Dowd's own involvement in the nationalist politics of Sligo since his return from America in the 1880s.

The later poems, with their references to O'Dowd's imprisonment, may have been written because of increased anti-recruiting sentiment in later 1915.

His verses on the Irish VC, Mike O'Leary, are a tour-de-force with wonderful use of rhythm and some glorious rhymes - Leary/fear ye/cheer ye.

Major Michael John O'Leary VC (1890–1961) was awarded the Victoria Cross for single-handedly charging and destroying two German barricades defended by machine gun positions near the French village of Cuinchy, in an operation on the Western Front in February 1915.

J.F. Cunningham, the Sligo Champion’s Parliamentary Correspondent had devoted most of his London Notes column of 27 February to O'Leary's VC award and said: “A deed such as O’Leary’s should live on in song. May I suggest to the local poets to immortalise the event in a ballad? If Mr. O’Dowd M.P. would take the matter up, in his own inimitable style, he alone could convert it into imperishable verse that would go for ages drumming down the echoes of time.”

Cunningham and O'Dowd were well-known to each other from Westminister, and they both had Bunninadden connections.

When Mike O'Leary VC visited Sligo as part of a recruiting tour in November 1915 O'Dowd did not attend any of the meetings but the chorus of his Mike O'Leary was sung at the Town Hall meeting.

Captain William (Willie) Redmond (1861–1917) was an an Irish Parliamentary Party MP and the brother of the party leader, John Redmond. With the outbreak of World War I John Redmond called on Irish Volunteers to enlist in Kitchener's New Army in the hope that this would strengthen the cause of Home Rule, suspended for the duration of the war. This caused a split in the Volunteer movement and Willie Redmond was one of the first to volunteer for army service. He was killed in June 1917 during the attack on the Messines Ridge.

The poem dedicated to Redmond is a straightforward recruiting poem, an appeal to the men of Ireland to join the army and fight "the proud tyrant who threatens the world".

One is tempted to think that having nailed his colours to the mast, O'Dowd was anxious to remind the readers of his impeccable nationalist creditions. The other two poems are prison poems, written during the early 1880s during the land agitation led by the Irish Party.

The poem Eighty Two was written in 1882 when the centenary of Grattan's Parliament of 1782 was being celebrated. In 1782, as a result of agitation by the Irish Volunteers, Irish parliamentary independence was conceded. The parliament was called Grattan's Parliament after the leader Henry Grattan. This resulted in two decades of parliamentary independence which ended with the Act of Union in 1800.

Eighty Two was originally published under the signature of 'A Sligo Suspect'. in the Sligo Champion on 14 January 1882. It had been written by O'Dowd in jail on New Year's Day. O'Dowd may have had it republished in 1915 to stress the parallel between Home Rule, on the statute book but postponed, and Grattan's Parliament.

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          Sligo Champion 10 April 1915
                   MIKE O’LEARY.

               By John O’Dowd, M.P.

You have heard of Scott and Peary,
And the men of Tipperary,
And heroes too of every rank and station;
But here’s your health O’Leary,
May the angels bless and cheer ye,
You’re the idol and the darling of the nation!

Then slainthe, Mike O’Leary,
Faith the Huns have cause to fear ye,
You’re acclaimed by men of every rank and station,
From old Cork to Londonderry,
And from Sligo town to Kerry,
As the foremost boy in all the Irish nation!

Where the cannons boomed the loudest
There he stood the bravest, proudest,
Then he charged the trench and charged the men who manned it;
He heeded not such trifles
As revolvers, swords, or rifles,
But he slew six of the foemen single-handed.

Then slainthe, Mike O’Leary,
Faith the Huns have cause to fear ye,
You’re acclaimed by men of every rank and station,
From old Cork to Londonderry,
And from Sligo town to Kerry,
As the foremost boy in all the Irish nation!

Over piles of dead and dying,
Sword and shrapnel shell defying,
Well he fought, all dread of death and danger scornin’;
Of his name in fame and glory
Shall be ’shrined in song and story,
He’s a credit to the country he was born in!

Then slainthe, Mike O’Leary,
Faith the Huns have cause to fear ye,
You’re acclaimed by men of every rank and station,
From old Cork to Londonderry,
And from Sligo town to Kerry,
As the foremost boy in all the Irish nation!

Well when this war is over,
Faith, my boy, you’ll live in clover,
With medals bright upon your bosom shining;
And when you reach your sireland,
Half the colleens in old Ireland
Laurel wreaths around your brow will be entwining.

Then slainthe, Mike O’Leary,
Faith the Huns have cause to fear ye,
You’re acclaimed by men of every rank and station,
From old Cork to Londonderry,
And from Sligo town to Kerry,
As the foremost boy in all the Irish nation!

Sligo Champion 2 October 1915


The good old year has passed away,
The joybells usher in the new;
A proudly, hopefully, to-day
A nation welcomes in “Eighty-two.”

The victories inscribed upon
Our upraised banner while we view,
A cheer ascends for “Eighty-one,”
And three times three for Eighty-two.

Upon our laurels while we rest
The old year’s pledges to renew,
Hope rises high in every breast
As thought of glorious “Eighty-two.”

All hail new year, a century
Its open record holds to view,
One brilliant gilt-edged page we see,
Immortal, glorious, “Eighty-two.”

Its memories shine before us now,
They nerve our arms to dare and do,
To place a crown on Ireland’s brow
And win new fame for “Eighty-two.”

The glorious spirit that inspired
Our brave forefathers burns anew,
The hopes their patriot breasts that fired
Return again with “Eighty-two.”

With hope and joy and pride today
The old year’s victory we review,
And Ireland pauses from the fray
And proudly welcomes “Eighty-two.”

In strength and mind as brothers, one,
Let us the glorious strife pursue
And win the vict’ry—now half won,
Ere fall the shades of “Eighty-two.”

A glad centennial let it be—
The pride of generations new—
The glorious anniversary
Of Ireland’s freedom—“Eighty-two.”

Sligo Champion 4 September 1915
      Old Ireland’s Brave Boys

        BY JOHN O’DOWD, M.P.

(Dedicated to Capt. Wm. Redmond, M.P.)

All hail to our heroes, old Ireland’s brave boys,
Who’ve left their loved country, her sorrows and joys,
And gone to fair Flanders to gallantly fight
For God and their country, for freedom and right!

The bold Connaught Rangers and fam’d Fusiliers
Of Dublin and Munster, we greet with three cheers,
They’ve storm’d many trenches and fortified yards,
Supported in style by the gay Irish Guards.

Like a whirlwind sweeping the grim battle-field,
Their charge a tornado—their cry “Never yield” —
They scatter the enemy and fear not his shell,
And victory snatch from the red mouth of hell.

God rest our brave soldiers who’ve fall’n in the fight,
In the annals of glory their names glitter bright,
O, we grieve for their loss, but our grief can’t restore
The lives of the brave who’ll return no more!

But men by the thousands are crossing the main
Our dead to avenge and our flag to maintain,
For the fight must go on till the last German line
Be driven in disorder beyond the broad Rhine!

The Irish Brigade has its laurels to win,
But we know where ’twill be when the battles begin,
In the forefront of danger ’twill there find a place
Upholding its name and the fame of our race.

And here’s to the boys of the Irish Brigade!
And here’s to the man whatsoe’er be his trade
Who’ll shoulder his rifle ’neath banner unfurl’d
To smite the proud tyrant who threatens the world.

Sligo Champion 11 September 1915
     The Returned Exile.

  (Written in Sligo Prison.)
      By John O’Dowd, M.P.

The ivied ruin of Ballymote
Looks weird and lovely still,
And fair as ever proudly soars
Keash-Corran's stately hill;
The grim old towers of Emlafad
Seem gloomy as of yore,
And once again I stand beside
The winding Owenmore!

’Tis twenty years since last I trod
This dear beloved spot,
’Tis twenty years since last I gazed
Upon my native cot;
Ah me, how many and many a change
Since then has taken place,
The ruins of my own lov’d home
I cannot even trace!

It stood amid the ashes tall,
Right by the river here;
And round it stretched on every side
Green hedgerows far and near;
The double ditch by hedgerows crown'd,
Ran by yon hawthorn three,
It’s tracks along the loping hill
In vain I strive to see!

Unhappy Ireland—land of woe,
Ah what a fate is thine,
Thy children from their homesteads driven
To be replaced by kine;
Gone are the “double ditch,” the cot,
The fields and hedgerows green,
And only fatt’ning kine are seen
Where happy homes had been.

Vile “ruffians,” “village tyrants,” too, (*)
They call the spirit brave
In face of threatening dangers who
Stepped forth the land to save;
Who strove together side by side
To end the spoiler’s reign
And bring back peace and happiness
To the old land again!

’Tis eventide—the sinking sun
Goes down behind the hill,
One lingering ray he casts around
On castle ruin and rill—
Meet hour for me to seek the spot
Where my lov’d home did stand
And curse the devastations of
This fair and fertile land!

*The political prisoners of 1881-2
were described by the Chief Secretary of the day as “village tyrants” and “dissolute ruffians."—J.O’D

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