Francis Ledwidge was a poet and soldier who was a native of Co Meath, Ireland. He is often referred to as the ‘Poet of the Blackbirds’. During World War I Ledwidge served in both the Balkans and Western Europe. He was killed by a German shell at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.
Francis Edward Ledwidge was born at Janeville near Slane Co Meath on August 19th 1887. When he was five years old his father died. At the age of 13 Francis left school to work in support of his family. He worked at various jobs including farm labourer, road worker, miner and shop assistant. During this time he was writing poetry and his first poems were published in the Drogheda Independent when he was fourteen years old.
Lord Dunsany became his patron and helped Ledwidge publish his first poetry collection, ‘Songs of the Fields’. He also introduced him to poets of the day including Katharine Tynan and W B Yeats. Following the outbreak of World War I, Ledwidge enlisted in the 5th battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He was at the time a supporter of the Gaelic League, a nationalist and founder of the local branch of the Irish Volunteers. Despite this and against the advice of Lord Dunsany he decided to enlist. He later said: ‘I joined the British army because England stood between Ireland and an enemy common to our civilisation, and I would not have had it said that she defended us while we did nothing at home but pass resolutions.’
Ledwidge first served in The Balkans. He landed at Gallipoli in July 1915 and in August took part in the joint allied attack on Suvla Bay. Following the failure of the attack his regiment was transferred to Serbia where Ledwidge damaged his back and was transferred to Hospital in Manchester, England. Whilst in hospital Ledwidge heard about the 1916 Easter Rising. He was dismayed to learn about the execution of Thomas MacDonagh whom he had known before the war. His poem, ‘Lament for Thomas MacDonagh’ is one his best known compositions.
Ledwidge was given leave to return home. He was badly affected by the events in Dublin of 1916 and was disillusioned with the war. Following his period of leave he failed to report on time for duty and was arrested for being drunk. He was demoted and sent to the western front in France. In the spring of 1917 Ledwidge was involved in the Battle of Arras. He was later sent to Belgium where he was killed while involved in preparation for the battle of Passchendaele near the Belgian city of Ypres.
Francis Ledwidge, poet and soldier, was killed in action at the Battle of Passchendaele during World War I in the year 1917 On This Day.
Francis Ledwidge Cottage, Slane by OpenPlaques on 2012-03-28 00:44:29
Francis Ledwidge, Island of Ireland Peace Park by R/DV/RS on 2008-10-13 14:32:11
Francis Ledwidge, Slane Bridge by OpenPlaques on 2012-04-06 15:51:08