On this day in 1846, the Poet of the Fenians was born in County Westmeath, Ireland. John Keegan Casey was born at the tail end of An Gorta Mor – Ireland’s Great Hunger – so he knew desperation, injustice, and poverty at a very early age. The plight of everyone around him shaped him and ultimately motivated him to use his gift for poetry and song to inspire people to rise up against the English. His voice was heard far and wide and he wrote The Rising of the Moon, one of Ireland’s most popular and enduring “rebel” tunes at the tender age of fifteen.
John Keegan Casey’s words soon spread to all corners of Ireland thanks to The Nation, Ireland’s most popular Nationalist publication. They inspired defiance and rebellion everywhere they were heard. Though he used a nom-de-plume (Leo) while writing for The Nation, his identity was becoming well known anyway. It was further revealed when he chose to publish a book of his collected works, many of which had previously appeared in the publication. Not content to stop with his words, John moved to Dublin shortly after his book was published to put himself squarely in the Fenian movement. He was a prolific Nationalist speaker and a central organizer in Dublin before the Fenian Uprising of 1867.
That uprising failed and John Keegan Casey soon found himself sitting in the notorious Mountjoy prison. The English authorities imprisoned him without trial and clearly hoped that if he was locked away the power of his words would fade. They did not, but John did. He was malnourished and dispirited and his weakened body would trouble him for the rest of his life. He was confined for eight months and one of the conditions of his release was that he would leave Ireland, living in quiet exile in Australia. He opted for living in disguise in Dublin instead. The authorities may have broken his body, but they definitely didn’t break his mind.
Sadly, John Keegan Casey’s failing health meant that he only had a few years left in him. It is thought that he never fully recovered from his stint in Mountjoy and a fall from a cab did him in. He passed away at the young age of twenty-four. Thousands and thousands of mourners turned out to honor the Fenian poet in Dublin and his memorial stone in Glasnevin Cemetery is still visited regularly. It is adorned with nearly every Irish symbol you can imagine, including a wolfhound to symbolize John’s undying loyalty to Ireland. His songs continue to be sung across the island (and the rest of the world) to this day. His life was tragically short, but his words are still going strong over 150 years later.
The remarkably short life of John Keegan Casey was full of lyrical rebellion and inspiring, seditious poetry. His pen was at least as dangerous as the sword, if not more so and it made him a warrior and a target at a remarkably young age. His best known work is “The Rising of the Moon“, which he reportedly penned at the tender age of just fifteen and it is still in heavy rotation to this day.
Humans are animals. It’s not something we like to admit, but it is true. Our animalistic instincts come out when we are hurting and angry, when we need to protect ourselves or our loved ones, or when we are desperate and afraid. Over time we learn to control them, not letting that dark side rear its ugly head just because our toy was taken away at the playground and if we’re lucky that animal fades into the background of our minds, never needing to come out.
When James Martin Pacelli McGuinness was growing up in Derry a lot was wrong in his world. The boy who would come to be known as Martin was partially named after a pope in a society that was violently sectarian and discriminatory against Catholic communities like his. He saw things most of us thankfully never will. War raged in the streets as he grew up. He witnessed friends being mowed down by soldiers without consequence. He saw authorities break the law over and over without punishment. That animal inside him grew and raged, like many others in the region and Martin found his way into the Irish Republican Army at a relatively young age. He stayed for a heavily disputed amount of time. Let’s just call it many years.
On May 4th, 1916, the executions of the leaders of the Easter Rising continued. Joseph Mary Plunkett, William (Willie) Pearse, Edward (Ned) Daly, and Michael O’Hanrahan were shot in the yard at Kilmainham Gaol in the early hours of the morning.
On May 3rd, 1916, Grace Gifford walked into a jewelry store in Dublin. Her eyes were red and she had obviously been crying. She bought her own ring and left with it in hand. Grace was on her way to Kilmainham Gaol to marry Joseph Plunkett, the love of her life. She knew that her family didn’t approve and that she’d be a widow just a few hours after the wedding but she chose to marry him anyway. The executions of the leaders of the Easter Rising had begun that same day. Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke, and Thomas MacDonagh were executed for their roles in the Easter Rising and her beloved would soon join them.
On this day in 1939, poet and patriot William Butler Yeats said farewell to the world from the south of France. Yeats spent many of his winters in France and in Italy due to life-long health issues but he always left his heart in Ireland, even after death. He told his wife George to bury him quietly in the hills above Monaco but “to dig me up and plant me in Sligo” a year later when he thought everyone would have forgotten about him. That idea is laughable given that he is still revered and remembered today.
It’s so very close to being finished and I just can’t keep it to myself anymore. I hope you’ll forgive the teasing since it is not available yet, but by December 1st, it will be.
It’s written. It exists. It’s a collection of short histories, and mini-biographies – many that started as blog posts here. In fact, there are only a few that I’ve held back for the book only, but in this form the entries are expanded, edited, and written slightly differently. It’s taken forever and I’m super excited about it – or I would be if I could just stop editing. But now there’s a single, real-life, (albeit marked up) copy in the world and the rest are so very close.
Now you know the title. And my real name for that matter. Hopefully some of you will love this book – and will be OK with me promoting you in it too. I can’t believe it. Coming so very, very soon!
Since it is Easter Monday and National Poetry month here in the US, today belongs to Padraig Pearse and his heartbreaking poem, The Mother.
The Mother I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge My two strong sons that I have seen go out To break their strength and die, they and a few, In bloody protest for a glorious thing, They shall be spoken of among their people, The generations shall remember them, And call them blessed; But I will speak their names to my own heart In the long nights; The little names that were familiar once Round my dead hearth. Lord, thou art hard on mothers: We suffer in their coming and their going; And tho I grudge them not, I weary, weary Of the long sorrow-And yet I have my joy: My sons were faithful, and they fought.