An Irish Girl Rebel And The American Poet Joyce Kilmer

I thought some readers of An Sionnach Fionn might be interested in this interview, originally published in The New York Times Magazine on Sunday, August 20th 1916, featuring an eyewitness account of the Easter Rising in Dublin by Moira Regan, a member of Cumann na mBan (CnamB), the Irish republican and feminist organisation. The young woman seems to have served as a messenger for the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, seated in the General Post Office or GPO, during the previous April and was apparently on familiar terms with many of the leading revolutionary figures of the period before her emigration to the United States. Unfortunately her identity remains a bit of a mystery, despite the description of her “County Wicklow” accent, and the role played by herself and her siblings in the HQ Garrison of the Army of the Irish Republic (that is, the Irish Republican Army). Her forename may have been partly an adopted nom de guerre, a play on the rather better known Maria or Máire though this remains speculation.

The article was one of a growing number of contemporary reports in the otherwise anglophile American press during the period of 1916-21 presenting the Irish revolutionaries in a sympathetic light and came from the pen of the US journalist Joyce Kilmer, who also conducted the interview. Ironically the New Jersey-born essayist, who soon organised several demonstrations in New York City in support of Ireland’s independence (notably a rally of writers in Central Park led by the Fermanagh poet Eleanor Rogers Cox), would later fight alongside the British imperial forces as a member of the historically Irish-American 165th Infantry Brigade of the US Army. Having refused an officer’s commission he remained a sergeant until he met his death at the age of thirty-one from a German sniper’s bullet in the Second Battle of the Marne, July 1918, gaining a posthumous Croix de Guerre honour from France. Today he is best remembered, if at all, for his simple poem, “Trees“.

Some of the women revolutionaries of the Cumann na mBan (CnamB) and Irish Citizen Army (ICA), technically both part of the Army of the Irish Republic or Irish Republican Army following the establishment of the Provisional Government, who had served during the Easter Rising of 1916.

I thought I’d end this short introduction with two poems and an image, the former from Joyce Kilmer in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. The New Yorker’s passionate advocacy undoubtedly did much to persuade many of the young, liberal and left-wing intelligentsia in the United States to ally with the Irish republican cause against the interests of the British Empire in the early years of the revolution in Ireland. If Kilmer had been born in Dublin his life might well have taken on some of the immortality granted to the afterlives of Pearse and Plunkett rather than being bequeathed a forgotten end in the shell-torn fields of Seringes-et-Nesles.

Easter Week
(In memory of Joseph Mary Plunkett)

(“Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”)
—William Butler Yeats.

“Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”
Then, Yeats, what gave that Easter dawn
A hue so radiantly brave?

There was a rain of blood that day,
Red rain in gay blue April weather.
It blessed the earth till it gave birth
To valour thick as blooms of heather.

Romantic Ireland never dies!
O’Leary lies in fertile ground,
And songs and spears throughout the years
Rise up where patriot graves are found.

Immortal patriots newly dead
And ye that bled in bygone years,
What banners rise before your eyes?
What is the tune that greets your ears?

The young Republic’s banners smile
For many a mile where troops convene.
O’Connell street is loudly sweet
With strains of Wearing of the Green.

The soil of Ireland throbs and glows
With life that knows the hour is here
To strike again like Irishmen
For that which Irishmen hold dear.

Lord Edward leaves his resting place
And Sarsfield’s face is glad and fierce.
See Emmet leap from troubled sleep
To grasp the hand of Padraic Pearse!

There is no rope can strangle song
And not for long death takes his toll.
No prison bars can dim the stars
Nor quicklime eat the living soul.

Romantic Ireland is not old.
For years untold her youth shall shine.
Her heart is fed on Heavenly bread,
The blood of martyrs is her wine.”

Apology

For blows on the fort of evil
That never shows a breach,
For terrible life-long races
To a goal no foot can reach,
For reckless leaps into darkness
With hands outstretched to a star,
There is jubilation in Heaven
Where the great dead poets are.

There is joy over disappointment
And delight in hopes that were vain.
Each poet is glad there was no cure
To stop his lonely pain.
For nothing keeps a poet
In his high singing mood
Like unappeasable hunger
For unattainable food.

So fools are glad of the folly
That made them weep and sing,
And Keats is thankful for Fanny Brawne
And Drummond for his king.
They know that on flinty sorrow
And failure and desire
The steel of their souls was hammered
To bring forth the lyric fire.

Lord Byron and Shelley and Plunkett,
McDonough and Hunt and Pearse
See now why their hatred of tyrants
Was so insistently fierce.
Is Freedom only a Will-o’-the-wisp
To cheat a poet’s eye?
Be it phantom or fact, it’s a noble cause
In which to sing and to die!

So not for the Rainbow taken
And the magical White Bird snared
The poets sing grateful carols
In the place to which they have fared;
But for their lifetime’s passion,
The quest that was fruitless and long,
They chorus their loud thanksgiving
To the thorn-crowned Master of Song.”

The wonderful interior art below comes from the book, “Singing Fires of Erin“, by Eleanor Rogers Cox, with a couple of illustrations by the Belfast artist John P. Campbell (Seaghán Mac Cathmhaoil), published in New York City, 1916. It contains some over-lyrical and romantic English language poetry typical of the Celtic Renaissance, however the design by Campbell is lovely. The Irish-born, US-resident Cox is yet another forgotten name of the Irish revolution. You can read or download the full compendium at the Internet Archive.

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7 comments

    1. Thanks. I couldn’t believe that the guy who wrote the “Trees” poem I learned in school as a kid was linked to Ireland, the Rising or that he met such a tragic early death.

  1. I’ve only just figured out how to view the text at a readable size, so I can’t comment yet.

    I see RTE are putting out “A five-part serial drama about the birth of modern Ireland” set at the time of the 1916 rising. I’d be interested to know if you think it would be worth watching, and how accurate, unbiased etc. you think it is.

    1. Sorry. I think a few people are having problems with the Cloudup embed. I know it deosn’t work on smartphones. However it’s such a handy way of adding PDFs and documents, and recommended for WordPress, that I wanted to try it, and preferable to Scribd, etc. I’ve included links to the PDF original in the text if you want to click on them.

      Do you think it works as a good addition to a post or not? Perhaps I should stick with the old dumb-link way of doing things?

  2. Why was it not called Sackville St. Kilmer calls it o Connell street, but it was renamed after 1924 or so, do you know why? Thanks.

    1. I think the name was first changed in the 1890s by the nationalist-controlled city council, from Sackville Street to O’Connell Street, but the new title did not gain formal recognition until the 1920s due to local/unionist opposition. That Kilmer was aware of the controversy and the alternative name shows his intimate knowledge of the Irish scene, even the more low-key stuff.

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