26 September 2019

The missing anti-war
message in a poem
on a corner in Adare

‘Ye morning airs, how sweet at dawn’ … flowers in Adare on a September morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

While I was in Adare one morning earlier this week, I notice the poem ‘Oh, sweet Adare,’ by Gerald Griffin (1803-1840), the West Limerick novelist, poet and playwright, on the side of a pub wall.

Its position on a corner means it is not always noticeable, and this lengthy poem is not quoted fully [the missing verses are in square brackets]:

Oh, sweet Adare! Oh, lovely vale!
Oh, soft retreat of sylvan splendour.
Nor summer sun nor morning gale
E’er hailed a scene more softly tender
How shall I tell the thousand charms,
Within thy verdant bosom dwelling,
When lulled in Nature’s fostering arms,
Soft peace abides and joy excelling?

Ye morning airs, how sweet at dawn
The slumbering boughs your song awaken;
Or, linger o’er the silent lawn,
With odour of the harebell taken.
Thou rising sun, how richly gleams
Thy smile from far Knockfierna’s mountain
O’er waving woods and bounding streams,
And many a grove and glancing fountain.

Ye clouds of noon, how freshly there,
When summer heats the open meadows,
O’er parched hill and valley fair,
All coolly lie your veiling shadows.
Ye rolling shades and vapours gray,
Slow creeping o’er the golden heaven,
How soft ye seal the eye of day,
And wreathe the dusky brow of even.

[Where glides the Maigue as silver clear,
Among the elms so sweetly flowing,
There fragrant in the early year,
Wild roses on the banks are blowing,
There, wild ducks sport on rapid wing,
Beneath the alder’s leafy awning,
And sweetly there the small birds sing,
When daylight on the hill is dawning.]

In sweet Adare, the jocund spring
His notes of odorous joy is breathing,
The wild birds in the woodland sing
The wild flowers in the vale are breathing
There winds the Maigue, as silver clear,
Among the elms so sweetly flowing –
There fragrant in the early year,
Wild roses on the banks are blowing.

The wild duck seeks the sedgy bank,
Or dives beneath the glistening billow,
Where graceful droop and cluster dank
The osier bright and rustling willow;
The hawthorn scents the leafy dale,
In thicket lone the stag is belling,
And sweet along the echoing vale
The sound of vernal joy is swelling.

[Ah, sweet Adare; ah, lovely vale!
Ah, pleasant haunt of sylvan splendour;
Nor summer sun, nor moonlight pale
E’er saw a scene more softly tender.
There through the wild woods echoing arms
Triumphant notes of joy were swelling,
When, safe returned from war’s alarms,
Young Hyland reached his native dwelling.]

The window in an antique shop in Adare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Gerald Griffin was born in Limerick on 12 December 1803, one of three sons and four daughters of Patrick Griffin, a brewer. From the age of seven, he was raised at ‘Fairy Lawn,’ a cottage at Loughhill, between Askeaton and Foynes. He was educated in the classics in various schools from the age 11, taking a special interest in Virgil.

His family broke up when his parents moved to Pennsylvania in 1820, and Gerald, his brother Daniel and their two sisters moved to Pallaskenry, where their elder brother, Dr William Griffin.

In his teens, he edited the Limerick Advertiser, with the assistance of William Maginn and John Banim. He wrote a play, The Tragedy of Aguire, which was staged in 1842, two years after his death. Thomas Davis said it was one of the greatest historical dramas since Shakespeare. Griffin also contributed to the Literary Gazette and other publications.

When he returned to Limerick in 1827, he lived in Pallaskenry with his brother, and there he wrote his Tales of the Munster Festivals (1827) and The Collegians (1829). He was in Ennis, Co Clare, when Daniel O’Connell was elected MP in 1829, and this event that provides the conclusion of The Collegians, which is based on events in a trial in 1819 reported by Griffin, in which Daniel O’Connell acted as the defence, lawyer.

After the publication of The Collegians, Aubrey de Vere offered Griffin a room at Curragh Chase to write in peace, but he refused this. He continued to live in Pallaskenry, but travelled widely, visiting Taunton, Paris and Scotland. In 1838, he entered the Christian Brothers monastery in North Richmond Street, Dublin, as Brother Joseph, having burned his manuscripts, including Aguire. He moved to North Monastery, Co Tipperary, in 1839 and died there of fever on 12 June 1840.

Griffin’s ‘Eileen Aroon’ was much admired by Tennyson, and Both Dion Boucicault’s Colleen Bawn (1860) and Sir Julius Benedict’s The Lily of Killarney (1862) were based on his pay The Collegians.

The poem ‘Oh, sweet Adare!’ may read like popular doggerel today, but its subtle anti-war message is contained in the final verse, missing from the pub wall in Adare. This poem included in many anthologies in the 19th century, and later became a popular folk song.

Gerald Griffin’s poem on the corner of ‘Aunty Lena’s’ in Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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