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Poetry from Headstones

Verses from Emigrants and Immigrants


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The history of Ireland is a travellerís tale. The Irish Diaspora washed up many an Hibernian itinerant on a foreign shore, in many different guises: the Wild Geese, the Flight of the Earls, the famine refugees desperately seeking succour in America, the Ulster Scots Dissenters seeking liberties stateside denied them by the Established Church in Ireland, the Fenians and the United Irishmen transported to Botany Bay or Van Diemenís Land. From Bernardo OíHiggins who became President of Chile, by way of Ned Kelly the Australian bushranger and national icon, to the ubiquitous Irish bar in every flyblown town, the Irish, Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter, underclass or overlord, exploiter or victim, have colonised the planet.

 

Some immigrants will harbour a dewy-eyed version of his or her former homeland. Through their rose-coloured spectacles they deny the negative aspects of their native country that drove them to emigrate in the first place. They maintain through the songs and stories of the past a version of the present that no longer exists. Through the generations they develop a sense of nationality glaringly at odds with the reality lived by the folks back home. Others take a more pragmatic approach.

 

Here are two examples of verse inscribed by individuals living far from their place of birth. The first details an unusual lament, that of an Englishman who settled in Downpatrick, and found the locals decidedly congenial. He appears to have assimilated with facility:

 

Oh, if English or native you chance to draw near
Know a stranger in Ireland hath made his home here,
Think not tho'from all he loved best far away
The Englishman found him alone in that day,
When the tired wheels of nature refusing to move
He felt he must die far from home and his love
Ah no! All around him contented to share
The duties a wife would have paid to him there,
For the sons and the daughters of Erin well Know
From their own soft emotions, to feel others woe
And the spirits of friends which from England had flown
Found fit temples of grief in the kind hearts of Down
Sacred to the memory of John Wyatt Lee, Esquire, of London who died at Downpatrick 2nd April 1833 aged 48 years, Downpatrick Church of Ireland churchyard, County Down

 

The second example conveys the more traditional emotions of an exile who cannot quite cut the umbilical cord attaching him to his homeland:

 

A wanderer of the race from different climes
Revisiting this spot he penned these lines
And raised this stone to guard in hallowed trust
His kindredís memory and great-grandsireís dust
Resting in hope that at the Saviourís feet
We yet will re-unite when Zionís pilgrims meet
Boardmills 1st Presbyterian graveyard, County Down. Erected by a certain McKee who lies buried in Woodlawn Cemetery New York

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