Monthly Archives: July 2014

“Caesar had perished from the world of men, had not his sword been rescued by his pen”

A few years back I met with Sean O’Rourke of RTE at an Alumni event. I found him good company. We exchanged several little anecdotes about our Alma Mater. I pressed Sean on his surname and its connection with Leitrim. We also discussed that other great political broadcaster Sean Duignan who had recently retired. Duignan incidentally has also attended UCG / NUIG. Mr. O’Rourke and I mused on how much changed Irish political Life was since Duignan had released his memoirs ‘One Spin on the Merry-Go-Round’ in 1995. If only we could have that conversation again now and see how much the wheel has turned again.

Sean Duignan

I began thinking of these two men recently when I was doing a spot of spring cleaning which involved putting some order on my collection of books. I came across Duignan’s memoirs again. The thought struck me about how important a role was played by both the O’Rourke and Duignan families in Leitrim history. Much is known of the O’Rourkes and considerably less about the Duignans, despite the latter been amongst the foremost historians of the day. If you wanted an epic family tree then the key in medieval Ireland was to hire a Duignan to fast track your way to dynastic significance.

They Duignan family originated in the kingdom of Annaly and Breifne in the area known as Conmaicne Maigh Rein (modern day County Longford and South Leitrim). The family themselves descended from Maine of Tethba (Teffia), a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages.

The Irish historian, Fr. Paul Walsh stated that “The celebrated Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh … informs us that the O Duigenans followed the profession of historiographers under the families of Clann Mhaiolruanaidh and Conmhaicne in Magh Rein, that is, with the Mac Dermotts and the MacDonoughs in the west, and with the O Farrells in the territory of Annaly.”

One of writers of the Annals of the Four Masters was a Franciscan Friar named Peregrine O’Duigenan from Castlefore, Fenagh, Co. Leitrim.

The Annals tell us that the earliest known reference of the surname was in 1296, when, “Maelpeter O’Duigennan, Archdeacon of Breifny, from Drumcliff to Kells, died.” The Annals further record that in 1323– “Gillapatrick O’Duigennan, Chief Historian of Conmaicne, and Lucas, his son, were slain by Conor, the son of Garvey Maguire.”

Branches of the family migrated into Connacht and particularly to Moylurg (Boyle / Keadue) in Co. Roscommon where they became Bardic Historians to the MacDermott family. Ferghall Muimhneach O’Duigenan, built the church of Kilronan in 1339 to which they became erenachs, or its lay proprietors. By this time a brother of Ferghals, named Philip na hInishe had already settled a branch of the family in Conmaice Rein (Fenagh, Co. Leitrim). Reference is made to Maghnus mac Melaghlin Ruadh O Duibggeannain, who died in 1452. This Maghnus of Castlefore was the chief compiler of the Book of Ballymote, which was commissioned by Tomaltach MacDonagh, Lord of Coran, around 1391.

The Four Masters include the following references to the family:-

  • 1339 – The church of Kilronan was erected by Farrell Muimhneach O’Duigenan.
  • 1340 – Philip O’Duigenan, Ollav i.e. Chief Poet of Conmaicne, died. The church of Kilronan was burned.
  • 1347 – The church of Kilronan was re-erected by Farrell O’Duigenan. Finola, daughter of Mac Fineen, and wife of Farrell O’Duigenan, died.
  • 1357 – Clement O’Duigenan, Vicar of Kilronan, died. He was called Sagart-na-Sinnach (i.e., Priest of the Foxes). Muimhneach O’Duigennan, Ollav of Conmaicne and Clann-Mulrony, Lower and Upper, died.
  • 1360 – Naevag O’Duigennan died.
  • 1362 – Cu-Connacht O Duigeannain, Vicar of Cill Ronain rested in Christ.
  • 1381 – Lasairiona, daughter of Ferghal O Duigeannain, wife of O Mithin (Meehan), of Bealach ui Mithin, died.
  • 1398 – David O Duigeannain, Coarb of the Virgin St. Lasair, chief chronicler of MacDiarmuda (MacDermott) and his great favourite, a hospitaller for all comers of Eirinn in general, a reverend attendant of a nobleman, and one that never refused anyone for anything he had until his death, died in his house and was interred in the Church of Cill Ronan.
  • 1578 -O’Duigennan of Kilronan (Dolbh, son of Duffy), Ollav of Tirerrill, a learned historian, who kept a thronged house of general hospitality; a cheerful, eloquent, and affable man, died; and his son, Mulmurry, took his place.”

Peregrine O’Duigenan, one of the four masters was actually born Cu Coigriche mac Tuathal O Duibhgeannain circa 1590.He was ordained a Franciscan monk and changed his name to Peregrine O’Duignan. Nothing much is known about Peregrine until he became involved in the creating the Annals of the Four Masters) with Brother Michael O’Clery (Michael O Cleirigh), Peregrine O Cleirigh and Fearfeasa O Maoilchonaire, The four men based themselves in North Leitrim and South Donegal for approximately 8-9 years recording the history of Ireland for 3,800 years up to 1616 AD.

Sadly very little is known of Peregrine after 1636 although he is believed to have headed to the Continent. I’m quite sure that Peregrine would be proud to see Irish Political commentary has been so well attended to in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries by an O’Rourke and Duignan.

Leitrim’s Titanic Victim


Matthew Sadlier was born on the Lough Rynn Estate, Mohill, Co. Leitrim in 1892 where after school he took employment as a farm labourer. In 1912 he decided to emigrate and join some family members who had previously settled in Lakewood, New Jeresey, USA. Matthew purchased a 3rd Class ticket (Ticket No. 367655 , £7 14s 7d) and embarked from Queenstown, Co. Cork on Thursday the 11th April, 1912. The name of the ship was ‘Titanic’ the pride of the White Star Line enroute to new York on her maiden voyage. The rest  as the saying goes is History.

When the iceberg hit Matthew was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Matthew Sadlier died in the disaster. His body, if it was recovered, has never been idenitifed.

I came across this link which goes a little way to remembering the young lad.

Local media reports that a Committee has been set up with Mohill Foroige Group and other people interested in commemorating the short life, and tragic end of young Matthew Sadlier, on one of the most iconic ships ever built.

Sir Frederick Hamilton 1590-1647

I am really looking forward to reading Dominic Rooney’s well reviewed publication, ‘The Life and Times of Sir Frederick Hamilton 1590-1647’ as my holiday read. The subject was the founder of the town which bears his name, Manorhamilton, the cultural and commercial hub of North Leitrim.

Frederick Hamilton

The Introduction courtesy of Four Courts Press whets the appetite

“This is the story of Sir Frederick Hamilton, an ambitious and boastful 17th-century Scottish nobleman who secured a grant of land during the Leitrim Plantation in 1620. Unlike many other grantees, he and his English wife, Sidney, took up residence on their estate and enlarged it through purchase or mortgage from their British and Irish neighbours. The adventurous and enterprising Hamilton raised a regiment to fight for Gustavus Adolphus during the Thirty Years War in Germany, but later sought redress from the Swedish council of state for the ‘unlawful’ disbandment of this regiment. From then on, he concentrated on consolidating his situation in Leitrim, where his impregnable castle at Manorhamilton served him well during the turbulent years of the 1641 rebellion. Hamilton moved to Derry in 1643 in the hope of succeeding his father-in-law as governor of that city. He joined the covenanter movement and then sought military promotion from the covenanters’ allies – the English parliament. Having failed in his quest – despite all his bragging – he retired to Scotland to take command of a regiment in the Army of the Solemn League and Covenant. He was discharged in 1647 with little or no compensation and died a ruined man.”

Breifne Ua Ruairc



Extract from the Rev. M. Connellan,a wonderful historian which explains the origins of the O’Rourkes of Breifne:-

THE chiefs and clans of Brefney and the territories they possessed in the twelfth century, are, according to O’Dugan, as follows:–1. O’Ruairc or O’Rourke; 2. O’Raghailaigh or O’Reilly: these were the princes of the territory of Brefney. 3. Mac-Tighearnain (tigherna, Irish, “a lord or master”), anglicised MacTernan, McKiernan, and Masterson, were chiefs of Teallach Dunchada (signifying the tribe or territory of Donogh), now the barony of “Tullyhunco,” in the county Cavan. 4. The Mac-Samhradhain (anglicised MacGauran, Magauran, and Magovern) were chiefs of Teallach Eachach (which signifies the tribe or territory of Ecchy), now in the barony of “Tullaghagh,” county Cavan. This sirname is by some rendered “Somers,” and “Summers,” from the Irish word “Samhradh” [sovru], which signifies “summer”. 5. MacConsnamha (snamh: Irish, “to swim”; anglicised “Ford” or “Forde”), chief of Clan Cionnaith or Clan Kenny, now known as the Muintir Kenny mountains and adjoining districts near Lough Allen, in the parish of Innismagrath, county Leitrim. 6. MacCagadhain or MacCogan, chief of Clan Fearmaighe, a district south of Dartry, and in the present barony of Dromahaire, county Leitrim. O’Brien states that the MacEgans were chiefs of Clan Fearamuighe in Brefney: hence MacCagadhain and MacEgan may, probably, have been the same clan.

7. MacDarchaidh or MacDarcy, chief of Cineal Luachain, a district in the barony of Mohill, county Leitrim, from which the townland of Laheen may he derived. 8. MacFlannchadha (rendered MacClancy), chief of Dartraidhe or Dartry, an ancient territory co-extensive with the present barony of Ross-Clogher in Leitrim. 9. O’Finn and O’Carroll,# chiefs of Calraighe or Calry, a district adjoining Dartry in the present barony of Dromahaire and comprehending, as the name implies, an adjoining portion of Sligo, the parish of “Calry” in that county. 10. MacMaoilliosa or Malllison, chief of MaghBreacraighe, a district on the border of Leitrim and Longford. 11. MacFionnbhair or Finvar, chief of Muintir Gearadhain (O’Gearon or O’Gredan), a district in the southern part of Leitrim. 12. MacRaghanaill or MacRannall (angilcised Reynolds), who were chiefs of Muintir Eoluis, a territory which comprised almost the whole of the present baronies of Leitrim, Mohill, and Carrygallen, in the county Leitrim, with a portion of the north of Longford. This family, like the O’Farrells, princes of Annaly or Longford, were of the race of Ir or Clan-na-Rory; and one of their descendants, the celebrated wit and poet, George Nugent Reynolds, Esq., of Letterfian, in Leitrim, is stated to have been the author of the beautiful song called “The Exile of Erin,” though its composition was claimed by Thomas Campbell, author of “The Pleasures of Hope.” 13. O’Maoilmiadhaig or Mulvey, chief of Magh Neise or Nisi, a district which lay along the Shannon in the west of Leitrim, near Carrick-on-Shannon. The clans in the counties of Cavan and Leitrim, not given by O’Dugan, are collected from other sources:

14. MacBradaigh or MacBrady, was a very ancient and important family in Cavan; they were, according to MacGeoghagan, a branch of the O’Carrolls, chiefs of Calry. 15. MacGobhain, MacGowan, or O’Gowan (gobha: Irish, “a smith”), a name which has been anglicised “Smith,” etc., were of the race of Ir; and were remarkable for their great strength and bravery. Thus Smith, Smyth, Smeeth, and Smythe, may clam their descent from the Milesian MacGowan, originally a powerful clan in Ulidia. 16. MacGiolladuibh, MacGilduff, or Gilduff, chiefs of Teallach Gairbheith, now the barony of “Tullygarvey,” in the county Cavan. 17. MacTaichligh or MacTilly, chief of a district in the parish of Drung, in the barony of Tullygarvey. 18. MacCaba or MacCabe, a powerful clan originally from Monaghan, but for many centuries settled in Cavan. 19. O’Sheridan, an ancient clan in the county Cavan. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, one of the most eminent men of his age, as an orator, dramatist, and poet, was of this clan. 20. O’Corry was a clan located about Cootehill.

21. O’Clery or Clarke was a branch of the O’Clerys of Connaught and Donegal, and of the same stock as the authors of the Annals of the Four Masters. 22. O’Daly and Mulligan, were hereditary bards to the O’Riellys. 23. Fitzpatrick, a clan originally of the Fitzpatrlcks of Ossory. 24. Fitzsimon, a clan long located in the county Cavan of Anglo-Norman descent, who came originally from the English Pale ##. 25. O’Farrelly, a numerous clan in the county Cavan. 26. Several other clans in various parts of Cavan, as O’Murray, MacDonnell, O’Conaghy or Conaty, O’Connell or Connell, MacManus, O’Lynch, MacGilligan, O’Fay, MacGafney, MacHugh, O’Dolan, O’Drum, etc.27. And several clans in the county Leitrim, not mentioned by O’Dugan, as MacGloin of Rossinver; MacFergus, who were hereditary erenachs of the churches of Rossinver, and whose name has been auglicised “Ferguson”; O’Cuirnin or Curran, celebrated bards and historians; MacKenny or Keaney, MacCartan, O’Meehan, etc.


* Brefney: In Irish this word is “Breifne” or “Brefne,” wbich signifies the Hilly Country; it was cailed by the English “The Brenny,” and has been Latinized “Brefnia” and “Brefinnia.” This ancient territory comprised the present counties of Cavan and Leitrim, with a portion of Meath, and a part of the barony of Carbury in Sligo; O’Rourke being prince of West Brefney or Leitrim; and O’Rielly, or O’Reilly, of East Brefney or Cavan. Brefney extended from Kells in Meath, to Drumcliff in the county Sligo and was part of the Kingdom of Connaught, down to the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when it was formed into the Counties of Cavan and Leitrim, and Cavan was added to the province of Ulster. In this territory Tiernmas, the 13th Monarch of Ireland, was the first who introduced Idol worship into Ireland; and set up at Moy Slaght (now Fenagh, in the barony of Mohill, county Leitrim) the famous idol Crom Cruach, the chief deity of the Irish Druids which St. Patrick destroyed.

Brefney was inhabited in the early ages by the Firvolgians who are by some writers called Belgae and Firbolg), who went by the name of “Ernaidhe”, “Erneans”, and “Ernaech”; which names are stated to have been given them from their inhabiting the territories about Lough Erne. These Erneans possessed the entire of Brefney. The name “Brefney” is, according to “Seward’s Topography,” derived from “Bre,” a hill, and therefore signifies the country of hills or the hilly country: a derivation which may not appear inappropriate as descriptive of the topographical features of the country, as innumerable hills are scattered over the counties of Cavan and Leitrim. On a vast number of these hills over Cavan and Leitrim are found those circular earthen ramparts called forts or raths, and some of them very large; which circumstance shows that those hills were inhabited from the earliest ages. As several thousands of these raths exist even to this day, and many more have been levelled, it is evident that there was a very large population in ancient Brefney. The erection of these raths has been absurdly attributed to the Danes, for it is evident that they must have formed the chief habitations and fortresses of the ancient Irish, ages before the Danes set foot in Ireland, since they abound chiefly in the interior and remote parts of the country, where the Danes never had any permanent settlement.

Ancient Brefney bore the name of Hy Briuin Breifne, from its being possessed by the race of Brian, King of Connaught, in the fourth century, brother of Niall of the Nine Hostages, and son of Eochy Moyvane, Monarch of Ireland from A.D. 357 to 365, and of the race of Heremon. That Brian had twenty-four sons, whose posterity possessed the greater part of Connaught and were called the “Hy-Briuin race.” Of this race were the O’Connors, kings of Connaught; O’Rourke, O’Rielly, MacDermott, MacDonogh, O’Flaherty, O’Malley, MacOiraghty (MacGeraghty, or Geraghty), O’Fallon, O’Flynn (of Connaught), MacGauran, MacTiernan, MacBrady or Brady, etc. In the tenth century Brefney was divided into two principalities, viz, Brefney O’Rourke or West Brefney, and Brefney O’Rielly or East Brefney. Brefney O’Rourke comprised the present county Leitrim, with the barony of Tullaghagh and part of Tullaghoncho in the county Cavan; and Brefney O’Rielly, the rest of the present county Cavan: the river at Ballyconnell being the boundary between Brefney O’Rourke and Brefney O’Rielly, the O’Rourkes being the principal chiefs. “O’Rourke’s Country” was called Brefney O’Rourke; and “O’Rielly’s Country” Brefney O’Rielly. The O’Rourkes, and O’Riellys maintained their independence down to the reign of James the First, and had considerable possessions even.”











The Forgotten Poet



William Portrait

William Henry Drummond was born on Holy Thursday April 13, 1854 in the townland of Curraun(1854-04-13), in the northern end of the parish of Mohill.  At that time William’s family used the surname Drumm but changed it to Drummond in 1875.

The world that William grew into was one where the British Empire was entering its zenith with Victorian ingenuity, innovation and industrial might allowing the Empire to spread its power and influence around the globe. Just a fortnight prior to William’s birth, Britain and France had declared war on Russia and the Crimean War officially began. A few miles away at Lough Rynn, William Sydney Clements had acquired the title the Third Earl of Leitrim and begun his infamous lordship.

In the Leitrim that the young Drummond was born into An Gorta Mor, the Great Famine had not long ended and this seismic event had changed the demographics and landscape of the County forever. In Dublin, Oscar Fingal O’Flaherty Wilde was born, a talent whose popularity and fame endures to the present. How ironic it is then that in the latter decades of the Nineteenth Century, William Henry Drummond’s name was as well known and in some countries his writings more popular than that of his compatriot. Today though is very different and Drummond’s work has fallen into disuse and obscurity. We should not forget however this Leitrim man, born in relatively humble beginnings in Mohill who would go on to become the First National poet of Canada.

Early Life

William was the oldest of the four sons born to George Drumm and Elizabeth Morris Soden. George was an officer of the Irish Constabulary (not yet Royal until 1867). Elizabeth’s family were native to Mohill and lived on a comfortable holding at Creenagh. In 1856 The Drumm Family moved to North Leitrim and lived at Tawley, Tullaghan. The Archives of the University of Toronto record that the young Drummond was tutored by a Paddy McNulty whilst at Tawley. J. B Lyons records that

While in Tawley, William attended an Irish National school where he fell under the spell of a gifted and charismatic teacher by the name of Patrick McNulty. At this time, William began to “scribble” his first verses and was exposed to the tradition of Celtic legends expressed in the popular poetry of the day.

The family returned briefly to Mohill in 1863-64 before emigrating permanently to Canada in 1865.

According to Williams wife May, George Drumm was dismissed from the Police Force because of a quarrel he had with Lord Leitrim. It appears his health also broke at this time. Despairing with conditions in Ireland and worried about the family’s future, George and his Elizabeth decided to emigrate with their children to Lower Canada. The family arrived in Montreal in the summer of 1864. Sadly the new beginning very quickly turned into a false dawn because in February 1866 George died suddenly and his family, left without even his small pension, faced financial ruin and hardship.

Elizabeth Drumm opened a shop in the front room of their house in Montreal. The boys all sold newspapers, and, when he was 14, William Henry left school and became an apprentice telegraph operator. He worked for several years for a logging firm spending his summers at L’abord-à-Plouffe, an isolated lumber town in Quebec.  It was here that Drummond had his first encounters with the speech and customs of the French-Canadian backwoodsmen. Many of these men were miners, prospectors or fur trappers and they were known colloquially as Habitants and Voyageurs. These characters, many of whom shunned the bright lights and comforts of city life, would be the primary inspiration for the future writings of William Henry Drummond.

Williams’s earnings with his telegraph work helped to keep the family and provide his three younger brothers with an education.

In 1875, having been convinced by a cousin that “the name Drumm was but a Corruption of the name Drummond our ancient family name,” William officially changed his surname and that of his mother and brothers to Drummond.

Drummond Family Portrait

     After six summers working in the remote logging camps Drummond set his sights on pursuing a career in Medicine.  In 1876–77 Drummond attended the High School of Montreal. He began studying medicine at McGill University the following year but subsequently failed his second year. Sir William Osler, of McGill University fame remembered Drummond as “a brilliant and loveable personality, but at the same time one of the least studious in my class.”

In 1879 he transferred to the medical faculty of Bishop’s College, Montreal and he completed his studies there. One source records,  “Bill Drummond was better known as an athlete than as a student, excelling in snowshoeing, hammer throwing, putting the shot, and fast walking and for a time was Canadian Amateur Champion of the last named exercise and one of the most popular men in College”.

Drummond spent his internship and early years of practice in numerous locations throughout rural Quebec. In 1888 he returned to Montreal, and set up a General medical practice in the family home. In 1893 he was appointed as Professor of Hygiene at his alma Mater, Bishops College. In 1894 he was made assistant Registrar and Professor of Medical Jurisprudence. In 1895 he became associate editor of the Canada Medical Record.

Drummond was also well known as a breeder and exhibitor of Irish terriers. He was a member of the Montreal Kennel Club and the Irish Terrier Club of Canada.

Drummond’s brothers George Edward, John James, and Thomas Joseph, all became successful businessmen and the Drummonds were one of the most influential families in both Montreal and Canadian society. William also invested successfully in various ventures with his brothers ranging from Ironworks to silver mines.

When Drummond was 40, he married May Isobel Harvey, a native of Jamaica in the West Indies. The couple was reputed to have met in September 1892 at the Laurentian Club, a well known social club in Montreal. Drummond later travelled to Jamaica where the couple were engaged before marrying at Savanna la Mar, Jamaica. After their marriage they made frequent trips between Montreal and Jamaica. Drummond became interested in the French Creole and Patois language patterns and dialects found in the West Indies.


In his work Drummond embraced the folklore and way of life of rural Québec. His style of narrative verse was written in the English idiom but totally inspired by the French Canadian farmers and woodsmen.

Drummond’s best-known poem, “The wreck of the ‘Julie Plante’” was written in the late 1870s. The poems origins were later recounted by Mrs. Drummond; Drummond had been warned by an old French Canadian man to come in off the Lac des Deux Montagnes in a windstorm. The old man had said “An’ de win’ she blow, blow, blow lak a hurrican!” According to  Mrs. Drummond these words spoken in dialect “rang so persistently in his ears that, at the dead of night, unable to stand any longer the haunting refrain, he (Drummond) sprang from his bed and penned” the lines that were “to be the herald of his future fame.” With its clever mixture of English and French words, strong rhythms, and witty lines, the poem was an immediate success when eventually published.

“De win’ can blow lak hurricane
An’ s’pose she blow some more,
You can’t get drown on Lac St. Pierre
So long you stay on shore”

Drummond had composed occasional poems for circulation amongst friends and for informal recitation throughout the 1880’s. In the early 1890s his verses began appearing in Periodicals and he made his début reciting his own poetry.

Drummond does not appear to have deliberately courted literary fame and preferred to compose his verse for private readings and intimate gatherings. By 1895-96 however he was planning a published volume with much encouragement from his family and friends. He was also greatly encouraged by the well known French-Canadian poet Louis Fréchette, whom he had met in 1896. The eagerly awaited publication “The Habitant and other FrenchCanadian poems” was a runaway success and transformed Drummond into one of the most popular authors in the English-speaking world. The Volume contained 23 poems and several illustrations by Frederick Simpson Coburn.

In the Introduction Drummond said that having lived beside French Canadians most of his life, he had “grown to admire and love them.” Although the English-speaking public might be familiar with the urban French Canadian, it “had little opportunity of becoming acquainted with the habitant”.

      “The Habitant” as well as being a popular work was also a critical success. The volume was favorably reviewed in the literary press of Great Britain and North America. The poems themselves became subjects of detailed critical comment. It is unclear how much money Drummond made from sales, but the attention that he received both enabled and forced him to change his life to cope with these new demands      Three more volumes were published “Philorums canoe and Madeleine Vercheres; two poems” (1898); “Johnnie Courteau and other poems” (1901); and “The Voyageur and other poems” (1905). All three publications were successful and were reprinted many times.   Drummond was besieged with requests for speaking engagements, recitations, tours, and more books.

The Last Portage Image dated 1908

Later Life

As his fame grew Drummond undertook various lecture tours in the United States and Canada. In 1902 he spent part of the summer in Britain and Ireland. It is not recorded whether he had the opportunity to revisit his birth place. All of these activities brought even more fame as he brought his work to a wider audience. He also received other honors. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature of the United Kingdom in 1898 and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1899. In 1902 he was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Toronto and in 1905 another would be conferred on him by Bishop’s College.

In August 1904 Moira, Drummond’s only daughter, was born. The following September his third son William Harvey, died aged three. One of his most famous poems, “The last portage,” which appeared in “The Voyageur and other poems”, came to him as a result of a dream that he had on Christmas Eve 1904 while he was still mourning the boy’s death.  In 1905 he closed his medical practice in Montreal. His mother, Elizabeth died in April 1906 and the weight of personal grief seems to have greatly affected Drummond at this time.

Increasingly Drummond was spending more and more time in the mining town of Cobalt where he and his brothers had acquired an interest in silver mines. He spent most of the winter of 1906–7 in Cobalt fighting a smallpox epidemic in the settlement. Drummond’s own health suffered in this period.  He returned to Montreal in early March, and was the guest speaker at the annual dinner of the St Patrick’s Society in Montreal on 18 March 1907. He returned to Cobalt shortly after and died suddenly on the 6th April 1907 from a cerebral hemorrhage. William Henry Drummond, Canada’s first national poet was buried in Mount Royal Cemetery, Montreal. He was widely mourned.

A year after his passing “The Great Fight: poems and sketches”, a collection of 20 poems and two sketches, with a short biography by his widow and illustrations by Coburn, was published. “The poetical works of William Henry Drummond” was also published posthumously in 1912.


For decades Drummond and his poetry remained important elements within the canon of English Canadian literature. Gradually though his poetry became to be seen as old-fashioned and unrepresentative. Commentators such as Lee Briscoe Thompson lamented that Drummond was a “victim of an attack of modernists on late-19th-century poetry”. Other critics believe that Drummond’s poetry was sidelined because it lacked political correctness and might offend the Quebecois people. Thompson believes the “shelving” of this “people’s poet” was unfortunate, for Drummond represents a very sincere attempt to articulate a sympathetic portrayal of rural French Canadians.  Thompson also believed Drummond’s work was a valid portrayal of a uniquely Canadian language and dialect which was borne of the fusion of two distinct ancient cultures in the New World. In his most recent biography, J.B Lyons seeks to redress the fate of  Drummond by placing him in the context of dialect poets, the best known being Robert Bums of course. It remains to be seen what the future holds for the poetry of William Henry Drummond. What cannot be denied is that for a few short decades this son of Leitrim was one of the most popular, and celebrated authors of the day and was considered Canada’s National Poet.

J. F. Macdonald, William Henry Drummond (Toronto, [1923?]), is the sole book-length study of the poet.

L. J. Burpee, “W. H. Drummond: interpreter of the habitant,” Educational Record of the Prov. of Quebec (Quebec), 61 (1945): 208–12, reissued as “W. H. Drummond [1854–1907],” Leading Canadian poets, ed. W. P. Percival (Toronto, 1948), 71–78. R. H. Craig, “Reminiscences of W. H. Drummond,” Dalhousie Rev., 5 (1925–26): 161–69. M. J. Edwards, “William Henry Drummond,” The evolution of Canadian literature in English. . ., ed. M. J. Edwards et al. (4v., Toronto and Montreal, 1973), 2: 94–97. R. G. Moyles, EnglishCanadian literature to 1900: a guide to information sources (Detroit, 1976), 129–31. Gerald Noonan, “Drummond – the legend & the legacy,” Canadian Lit. (Vancouver), no.90 (autumn 1981): 179–87. Thomas O’Hagan, “A Canadian dialect poet,” Catholic World (New York), 77 (April–September 1903): 522–31; Intimacies in Canadian life and letters (Ottawa, 1927). R. E. Rashley, “W. H. Drummond and the dilemma of style,” Dalhousie Rev., 28 (1948 49): 387–96. L. B. Thompson, “The shelving of a people’s poet: the case of William Henry Drummond,” Journal of American Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), 2 (1980): 682–89.

“William Henry Drummond” (1854-1907) by John Garvin, (1872-1934)
Garvin, John William, ed. Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 177-188.

Parkes Castle

Parke's Castle

Parkes Castle is one of my favourite places in Leitrim.

As the scion of a dispossessed native family, this Planters home shouldn’t really hold much enjoyment for me. I think it is perhaps because it has a picturesque natural setting. The soft lapping waters of Lough Gill provide a fitting foreground and the beautiful Glens of North Leitrim give it formidable background. You couldn’t fault the planter for picking such a fantastic site to set up home.

Parkes Castle isn’t in fact a Castle at all. It is a restored plantation house dating to the early 17th century. It was once the home of Mr. Roger Parke and his family but the site also once boasted a Manor House owned by Sir Brian O’Rourke or Brian na Murtha (Brian of the Ramparts). The O’Rourke Manor at Newtown was where O’Rourke entertained the famous survivor of the shipwrecked Spanish Armada, Francisco de Cuellar.

In his memoirs De Cuellar said of his host “Although this chief is a savage, he is a good Christian and an enemy of the heretics and is always at war with them.” O’Rourke was the son of Brian Ballagh O’Rourke and he became the Chief of West Breifne in 1566 after disposing of his chief rivals, his elder brothers. He was well educated in the classical fashion and was regarded by the Tudor Administration in Dublin as being proud and insolent. The president of Connacht, Sir Nicholas Malby, described O’Rourke as ‘the proudest man living in Ireland today’.

O’Rourke was knighted by the English in 1575 but his relationship with them was fraught as they extended their control into his territory. He just about survived implication in the doomed Desmond rebellion (1579) but by the mid 1580’s he was complaining bitterly about harassment by the President of Connacht Sir Richard Bingham. O’Rourke took his complaints to Dublin Castle and seems to have enjoyed, for awhile, the friendship and protection of Sir John Perrot, the Lord Deputy. Brian entered negotiations to surrender his lands and receive a royal title but does not appear to have ever taken up the letters patent.

In 1588 he was condemned for providing assistance to over 80 survivors of the shipwrecked Armada and helping most of them return to Spain. Tensions rose throughout 1589 and all talks between Bingham, O’Rourke and the new Lord Deputy, Fitzwilliam failed. Bingham invaded Leitrim in 1590 and occupied several of O’Rourke’s Manor houses. O’Rourke fled to Scotland where he was the equivalent of a political refugee seeking asylum. Queen Elizabeth seeking to rely on the recent Treaty of Berwick sought to have O’Rourke extradited and the Leitrim noble became a cause celebre. The Scots eventually did have him extradited and he soon found himself in the Tower of London. O’Rourke’s Trial for treason attracted a lot of attention but the sentence of death was inevitable.

O’Rourke was brought to Tyburn on the 3rd of November, 1591where he was hung, drawn and quartered. His final request to the hangman was reputedly to be hung in the Irish Fashion with a willow rope but this was refused.

By now Ireland was in rebellion in what became known as the ‘Nine Years War’, it would end in defeat for the Irish at the Battle of Kinsale. Brian son, Brian Og played a prominent part in defeating the English at the Battle of the Curlews in 1599. Brian died in 1604 and was succeeded by his brother Tadhg, the last ‘Lord’ of Breifne who died the following year, probably poisoned. The heirs to these last two ‘Lords’ were declared illegitimate and the family lands confiscated. Robert Parke received a grant of the lands and Manor at ‘Baile Nua’ and within a couple of years he had demolished the O’Rourke tower and built his house within the original protective walls. The house was rebuilt in the late 1600’s and was occupied until the late 1700’s when it was abandoned permanently.

The Office of Public Works has carried out a sympathetic and impressive restoration. The ‘Castle’ is definitely worth a visit and is close to the village of Dromahaire and convenient to Sligo also.


Canon Donohoe Hall, Mohill, Co. LeitrimJitterbug_dancers_NYWTS

The Anti-Jazz Campaign

Mohill and Cloone became the national centre of the infamous Anti – Jazz campaign of the early 1930’s. The leader of the campaign was the parish priest of Cloone, Fr. Peter Conefrey.  Conefrey was an ardent cultural nationalist and was heavily involved in the promotion of Irish music, dancing and the Irish language.  He devoted his life to making parishioners wear home – spun clothes and become self – sufficient in food.

Many people who look at the anti-jazz campaign often do so in isolation of the cultural context and background in which these events played out. The new Irish State faced enormous economic and social problems including high unemployment rates and falling living standards. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church had grown considerably in power and influence after independence and began to pre-occupy itself with perceived threats to the virtue of it flock. In the Lenten pastorals of 1924 the Irish Bishops addressed mass-goers on a number of evils and sources of degradation; these threats included women’s fashions, immodest dress, indecent dancing, theatrical performances and cinema exhibitions, evil literature, drink, strikes and lock-outs. By 1931 Archbishop McRory had taken to attacking the dangers of increased mobility which was bringing people into more and more contact with various evil vices. Now even the humble bicycle was a conduit for moral danger whilst ‘the motor car was seen as an instrument of seduction in the hands of unscrupulous males’.

Of all the perceived threats to the moral health of the nation one rose high above all others, the unlicensed Dance Hall, The clergy were not against dancing in principle. It was a perfectly healthy activity so long as the dances were of Irish Origin and the supervision was close. Cardinal Logue stated

‘They (ceili dances) may not be the fashion in London and Paris. They should be the fashion in Ireland. Irish dances do not make degenerates’.

In 1931 a Government appointed committee investigated the moral condition of the Nation, and its subsequent report, known as the Carrigan Report, concluded that the moral sate of the nation was very poor and legislation would have to be passed to improve the situation.

‘The ‘commercialised’ dance halls, picture houses of sorts, and the opportunities afforded by the misuse of motor cars for luring girls, are the chief causes alleged for the present looseness of morals’.

The Clergy led the way in seeking to have unlicensed dance halls closed and foreign dances banned entirely and pressurised the Government at every juncture for legislative reform. The definition of a ‘Street’ in the Criminal Law Amendment Bill was extended to include the evil motor car leading the liberal Senator Dr. Mahaffy to suggest that a wheelbarrow was a street and therefore could be used for an immoral purpose!

The Gaelic League re-launched its anti-jazz campaign in 1934. Fr. Peter Conefrey, the parish priest of Cloone came to national prominence as one of the leaders of the Anti-Jazz Campaign. Before long the campaign had grown into a national frenzy with Mohill at the epicentre. To have an alternative opinion was to be considered ‘anti-Gaelic’ and ‘un-Irish’.

Leitrim County Council adopted a resolution condemning jazz and all-night dancing. From the benches of local Courts District Justices took up the refrain talking of the dangers of ‘Nxxxxr music’ and the orgy of unrestricted all-night dances’.

In January 1934 a large demonstration took place in Mohill, County Leitrim. It was made up mostly of young people and the press estimated the attendance at 3,000, with five bands and banners inscribed with ‘DOWN WITH JAZZ’ and ‘OUT WITH PAGANISM’. Support came from church and state. A meeting was then held at the Canon Donohoe Hall organised and chaired by Canon Masterson the local Parish Priest. A letter from Cardinal McRory was read out:

‘I heartily wish success to the Co. Leitrim executive of the Gaelic League in its campaign against all night jazz dancing. I know nothing about jazz dancing except that I understand that they are suggestive and demoralising: but jazz apart, all night dances are objectionable on many grounds and in country districts and small towns are a fruitful source of scandal and ruin, spiritual and temporal. To how many poor innocent young girls have they not been an occasion of irreparable disgrace and lifelong sorrow?

The campaign was given official state blessing in a letter from Eamonn de Valera:

‘I sincerely hope that the efforts of Conradh na Gaeilge in your county to restore will be successful, and within the reasonable hours which have always been associated with Irish entertainment’.

Douglas Hyde also sent a message of support to the meeting and he hoped in future that all dances and games should be Irish. The Secretary of the Gaelic League Sean O’Ceallaigh condemned the Minister for Finance, Sean McEntee;

‘Our Minister of Finance has a soul buried in jazz and is selling the musical soul of the nation for the dividends of sponsored jazz programmes. He is jazzing every night of the week’.  A voice from the floor shouted, ‘Put him (MacEntee) out.’ To which Ó Ceallaigh replied, ‘Well I did not help to put him in,’ and added,

As far as nationality is concerned, the Minister for Finance knows nothing about it.  He is a man who will kill nationality, if nationality is to be killed in this country.

This prompted the local Fianna Fáil TD, Ben Maguire, to defend his party colleague.  He agreed that the broadcasting was not as national as it should be but he declared that if the minister was to be attacked personally he would take up the challenge on his behalf.  He added, ‘I hope it will not pass unanswered and that the minister will be given the opportunity of defending himself.’

 Fr. Conefrey then got up to speak. He declared that jazz was a greater danger to the Irish people than drunkenness and landlordism and concerted action by church and state was required. Jazz, Fr. Conefrey advised the gathering, emanated from “the savages of Africa” and had been brought to Ireland by “the anti-God society, with the object of destroying morals and religion.” He called on the government to circularise Garda barracks to forbid the organisation of jazz dances and to compel dance halls to shut at 11 pm.  He also called for the training of young teachers in Irish music and dancing. The meeting in Mohill was the high point of the anti-jazz campaign and it was covered by all the major newspapers and further afield.

Fr. McCormack from Granard, Co. Longford, informed the meeting that GAA clubs were some of the worst offenders for organising jazz dances while Mr. B. Fay of the Ulster Council of the GAA called for legislation regulating the use of dance halls and excluding young people under the age of 16 from entering them.  He also warned that it was a sign of degradation to see young women smoking in public. Not surprisingly the meeting was then followed by a concert and Céilí in the hall.

On the 20th of January, the Leitrim Observer published a letter from ‘Lia Fáil and fellow Gaels.’  The writer advised the ‘Gaels of Breffini’ that,

‘we are with you in the fight against the imported slush. Keep out, we say the so – called music and songs of the Gall; his silly dances and filthy papers, too.  We can never be free until this is done’.

The piece went on to say,

‘Let the pagan Saxon be told that we Irish Catholics do not want and will not have the dances and the music that he has borrowed from the savages of the islands of the Pacific.  Let him keep them for the 30 million pagans he has at home.’

It was eventually decided that Dance Halls should be the subject of separate legislation. The Dance Halls Act of 1935 was passed without any debate in the Dail. The act was draconian and made it practically impossible to hold dances without the sanction of the trinity of clergy, police and judiciary. It marked the end of private dances in private homes which were popular up to that time. It also led to the closing of many privately owned Halls who could not compete with the many new Parish Halls that sprung up around the country. At last the Church and Conradh na Gaelige could rest content that one of its main proposals for legal control of personal morality had become the law of the land.


Leitrim Observer, 6th January 1934,

Leitrim Observer, 13th January 1934.

Leitrim Observer, 20th January 1934.

Leitrim Observer, 10th February 1934.