Tuesday, August 13, 2013

War Poets and John O'Donnell Solicitor and Poet of Carlow

August is generally one of the quieter months around the town of Athy as most of us are returning to our work places after our Summer breaks and children begin the return to schools by the end of the month.  However August in 2014 we can expect a pleather of events both in Ireland and abroad commemoriating the centenary of the start of World War I or the Great War as it was known for so long.

There has been a great re-awaking of interest in Irish participation of the Great War over the last 20 years marked by a number of fine publications.  We can expect a number of new publications to be released over the next 12 months on the run up to the centenary.  Some of the dominant images or memories of the war are conjured up for us by the Great War poets such as -------- ------ and Wilfred Owen and their view of war has oftened coloured the public's perception and understanding of the war in the subsequent 100 years or thereabouts and there are also of course a number of very fine Irish poets who have contributed to this metology including Francis -------, T.M. Kettle and W.B Yates particularly with -------- poem Death of an Airman.  It led me to wonder whether or not Kildare had made any such contribution to the ------ of Irish War Poetry.  Alas to date I have been unable to identify any particular “---- poet from Kildare”  the only Kildare linked poet to the War is Winifred M. Letts.  Although English born she spent much of her life living in Kilberry with her husband W. H. F. -------------------- and she wrote extensively up to teh 1940's many works of fiction and some of her plays were staged in the Abbey.  She wrote particularly of rural Leinster and wrot two books of poetry entitled “Songs from Leinster” and “More Songs from Leinster”.  However during the War years she served as a nurse and a publication which first brought her to the public's attention was her book “Halloween and Poems of the War” published in 1916.  Much of her ------ was inspired by the scenes she encountered daily in a hospice in which she worked such as an extract from the following poem “Screens” (in a hospital).

“they put the screens around his bed; a crumbled heap I saw him lie,
white counterpain and rough dark head,
those screens – they showed that he would die

they put the screens about his bed; we might not play the gramophone,   
so we play the cards instead and left him dying there alone.

The covers on the screen are red,
the counter plains are white and clean; - he might have lived and loved and wed
but now he is done for at nineteen. 

She resided in Kilberry from 1926 until the death of her husband in 1943 where she returned to the UK before finally returning to Ireland in the late 1960's where she died in Dublin in 1972.

Our near neighbours in Carlow can claim to be the birthplace of a War poet.  John P. O'Donnell was born in Tullow on the 8th of December 1890, one of a set of twins to T.H. O'Donnell being the manager of the National Bank in Tullow.  In or about 1911 John Patrick and his brother, Thomas Henry emigrated to Australia.  They both worked as bank clerks in the Bank New South Wales and after the outbreak of War in 1914 both joined the Australian army serving in the 10th Battelion, third brigade, first devision of Australian Forces.  Their first experience of War was when they landed in ------------ on April, 25th 1915.  While the Carlow men were landing on the beaches of the Turkish Peninsula Athy men were dying on the Western Front.  Joe Byrne of Chapel Lane, a Sergeant in the ----------------- was killed in action in France on teh 26th of April while his brother Anthony a private in his regiment would also die in France two days later.  On that same day on Cape ------- again in ----------- the First Battelion of the Dublin ------------------- landed.  No men from Athy would die on the 25th of April but five days later in defending the beach head from a ferocious counterpart ??? by the Turks John Farrell, Christopher Hannon and Larry Kelly, all from Athy were killed.  The O'Donnell boys were fortunate in surviving the ---------------- landings and the subsequence was months in the trenchs thereafter. 

Patrick's brother Thomas Henry did not enlist until 1916 and served in a different battelion in the same regiment to his brother.  It is believed that they met briefly in Frank in 1916 but sadly Thomas  was to die at Westhoek on the 28th of September 1917.  While recoperating from war wounds in ----- hospital in Hampshire in the UK in 1918 O'Donnell wrote a poem in memory of his brother and the concluding lines recall their emigrant life in Australia in the hope that they would be reunited after Jack's death.

“do you recall way back on sunny shores,
the grand old gumtrees by McCarthy's creek; the kookoburas laughing in the trees,
and all the world asleep. 
Sometimes I think I hear your merry laugh,
as down the gully --------------- whose -------------,
and all around the wonderous tropic night and starry sky.
But when again the Spring in France shall break,
with scarlet poppy and wild sun flowers,
per chance some little sky larks note shall shake departing Winter's stillness in the bowers.
When the tempess of my life is over,
and night draws n----- - may I soak up the chance to sleep as peaceful,
when my spring shall break as those who fell for France”. 

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