Pearse and McDonagh - Sligo Poets

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             Sligo Nationalist
                 1 July 1916


The poetry of the dead insurgent leader – Thomas McDonagh – is being read with great interest. We give this week his short poem on James Clarence Mangan written a short time before his death –

Poor splendid Poet of the burning eyes
And withered hair and godly pallid brow,
Low-voiced and shrinking and apart wert thou,
And little men thy dreaming could despise.
How vain, how vain the laughter of the wise !
Before thy Folly's throne their children bow –
For lo ! the deathless spirit triumphs now,
And mortal wrongs and envious Time defies.
And all their prate of frailty : thou didst stand
The barren virtue of their lives above,
And above lures of fame – though to thy hand
All strings of music throbbed, thy single love
Was, in high trust, to hymn thy Gaelic land
And passionate proud woes of Roisin
And passionate proud woes of Roisin Dubh.


            Sligo Nationalist
               8 July 1916

         Pearse’s Last Poem.


The following poem was written at the request of his mother, by the late Mr P. H. Pearse, with the title to “A Mother Speaks,” the night before he died.

“Dear Mary, who didst see thy first-born Son
Go forth to die amidst the scorn of men,
Receive my first-born son into thy arms
Who also hath gone forth to die for men,
And keep him by thee till I come to him.
Dear Mary, I have shared thy sorrow
And soon shall share thy joy.

(Signed) P. H. Pearse
Kilmainham Prison
2nd May 1916.

These two poems, by executed leaders of the 1916 Rising, were included in the Sligo Nationalist two months weeks after the end of the rebellion. They imply no editorial support for the political aims of the poets but do illustrate the beginnings of a change of attitude to the rebellion.

The Sligo Nationalist remained a strong supporter of John Redmond and the Irish Party and was very critical of the Rising. In an editorial on 6 May headlined SINN FEIN REBELLION! ITS DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCES: it spoke of the dead of 1916 as "deluded victims of Germany's heartlessness and u
nscrupulousness and of their own fanatic folly".

McDonagh's version of the Mangan poem carries a clear political message which would have been very relevant in the post-Rising Ireland. Its image of Mangan as the foolish poet in the service of Ireland, Roisin Dubh, is clearly meant to be seen as a reference to McDonagh himself and to the other poets of the rebellion. This poem appeared prominently on the front page of the newspaper.

Pearse's poem was printed on the same page as an article on another of the executed 1916 leaders, James Connolly, by Seamus MacGowan and it is tempting to see the inclusion of both poems as due to MacGowan's influence. He was a early follower of Sinn Féin and became very prominent in 1917 when Sinn Féin openly organized in Sligo.

Seamus MacGowan had two poems included in the Sligo Champion at the end of 1913 which praised heroes of physical force Irish nationalism. The intervening years, with the apparent achievement of Home Rule by Redmond and the outbreak of and initial enthusiasm for the war, would not have been favourable to his opinions and he had nothing else published in local newspapers.

               Sligo Nationalist
                8 January 1916

                     New Year

The Little Black Rose shall be red at last;
What made it black but the March wind dry,
And the tear of the widow that fell on it fast ?
It shall redden the hills when June is nigh!


If my suggestion that Seamus MacGowan was behind the publication of the above poems then surely he was responsible for the inclusion of the verse on the left in the first issue of the Sligo Nationalist in January 1916.

This is the first stanza of The Little Black Rose by Irish poet, Aubrey de Vere
(1814-1902), written in 1861. Little Black Rose is the English translation of Róisín Dubh, prominent in the McDonagh/Mangan poem above, and a common symbol for Ireland.

Its message was a simple one, that the shedding of blood was necessary for the achievement of freedom for Ireland.

Its inclusion here is startling but it was presumably included as a filler at the bottom of a column by MacGowan, well aware of its significance which was however unnoticed by the editor.

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