A recent enquiry from New Zealand as to the author of a poem “ My home town in Kildare” required some research which failed to answer the authorship question but nevertheless threw up other material, the results of which now forms the basis for this article. But firstly the poem, the first stanza of which read
“Tonight I am sadly thinking, I don't have much more time
For I am almost eighty and my health is in decline
I think of a place that's far away, old friends and neighbours there
I wonder if they remember me, in my home town in Kildare.”
The initial enquiry was made on behalf of a native of Castledermot, now living in New Zealand and naturally enough my thoughts turned to two men from around that area, each of whom published a book of poetry. “Many Moods in Many Metres” by Thomas Greene of Maganey was published postumously in Dublin in 1902. He had died the previous year aged 58 years. However, references in the Kildare poem to “the forty hours procession” and to “benediction after Mass” were unlikely to be the work of a member of the Church of Ireland so Thomas Greene was ruled out. For much the same reason, George Henry Graham, a native of Castledermot was also disregarded. He was a Methodist whose book of poetry “Lest we Forget” was printed by R.T. White of Fleet Street, Dublin, when I cannot say, but sometime after 1894.
George Graham was an interesting man whose ancestors were in charge of the Post Office in Castledermot for upwards of a 100 years or so before finally losing that position after George's father committed suicide in February 1857. George Henry who was born in the year of Catholic Emancipation 1829, for a long time harboured a desire to emigrate to Australia but following his father's death, he thought hard of leaving his mother. He had two sisters, Elizabeth who married Samuel Cope of Castledermot and Sarah who married Richard Giltrap of Elverstown. His mother, Mary Ann died in 1859 but even then, George for some reason or other postponed his plans to emigrate. We know that he married Ann Marie Brown of Plunketstown and the following lines in his poem“That Old Churchyard” indicate that when in November 1866 George and his wife set sail for New Zealand on the ship “Himalaya” , they left behind in the churchyard in Castledermot the remains of their three young children.
“Within that Church, those vows were made.
Which sweetly during life
With Anna's lot bound up my own
And made us man and wife,
Our children, three short gleams of bliss
Shed on our hearts, on high
Their spirits fled, their little forms
Within that churchyard lie”
George and Anna Graham reached New Zealand in February 1867 and they settled in Waimate which is about ten kilometres inland and almost halfway between Christ Church, Dunedain and Queenstown. Nowadays, Waimate is a small town with a population of about 2,700 served by approximately 50 shops but when the Graham's arrived they were amongst the first settlers in the area. George Graham carried on farming and three years later he was appointed Clerk of the Magistrates Court. He had been involved in Court work while in Ireland, exactly in what capacity I have not found out. He appears to have undertaken many different roles while in New Zealand and apart from farming and working as a Court Clerk, he also worked as a Newspaper Reporter and was appointed a Justice of the Peace. However, it is in his role as an advocate of the Temperance Movement that he is best remembered in present day New Zealand.
He is commonly regarded as the father of Temperance work in Waimate where he took a leading role in the first Temperance meeting held in the town at Christmas 1868. His lifelong involvement in the Temperance Movement was an interesting and very commendable change from his young days in Castledermot where, like most young men of his time, he took drink. But even before he embarked on the “Himalaya” George Henry Graham was committed to the Temperance Movement and indeed spent a lot of his time while on board the ship travelling to New Zealand encouraging fellow passengers to sign Temperance pledges. As a Methodist lay preacher and a temperance reform advocate, Graham was an accomplished public speaker and a regular contributor in print for the cause of temperance principles.
His wife, Anna Marie died in 1873 leaving him with a son George and a daughter Ann Marie, both of whom were born in New Zealand. The young Ann Marie died aged 21 years while George (Junior) achieved fame as one of a team of three men who were the first to reach the summit of Mount Cook in New Zealand.
George Henry was Mayor of Waimate in 1891 and 1892 and in 1894 he returned for his first and only visit to Ireland. That visit was the subject of a poem which he titled “Once more I have seen thee” in which he wrote of the joy and sadness on reliving scenes from the past
“Once more have I seen thee, old Ireland
And wandered along thy dear shore
My glad feet have trod
The rich verdant sod
Of thy hills, plains and valleys once more.
Graham returned to New Zealand where he was elected Mayor of Waimate for the third time in 1894. In addition to this role, he at various times acted as Secretary of the Public Library Committee and indeed he was the first secretary of that committee when appointed in 1882. He was also secretary to the High School Board of Governors from its inception in 1883 until his death and for 25 years was Treasurer of the local Masonic Lodge.
George Henry Graham died on 25th February 1911 at the age of 82 years. On the day of his death, flags were flown at half mast and business premises in Waimate closed for the funeral. At that funeral, the Masonic Lodge attended in full, regalia and the Masonic Service was performed. He was survived by his second wife Louisa and his son George. His obituary in the New Zealand press noted that“his liberalism was always of the sound, progressive, humanitarian kind. His Irish brogue knew how to flatter whilst it preached and the not displeased subject of his shafts would remain smiling though rebuked. He was a man liked by Catholics and Protestants alike”.
His brother William Graham who remained in Castledermot died in December 1891 unmarried aged 71 years. However, the links between the Grahams and the Cope's which were first forged with the marriage of George's sister Elizabeth to Samuel Cope in the 1860's were renewed when Jeanette Graham, grand-daughter of George Henry Graham, herself a New Zealander married Samuel Cope of Knocknagee, Castledermot in 1934. Sadly within three years of their marrige, 41 year old Samuel Cope died. His widow later returned to live in New Zealand.
Castledermot born, Samuel Henry Graham is today remembered in the New Zealand town of Waimate where Graham Street in the centre of the town is named after him.