Williams, Richard D'Alton (DNB00)

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WILLIAMS, RICHARD D'ALTON (1822–1862), Irish poet, known as ‘Shamrock’ of the ‘Nation,’ born in Dublin on 8 Oct. 1822, was the natural son of Count d'Alton, an extensive land proprietor in co. Tipperary, and Mary Williams, a farmer's daughter. While still an infant he was taken to Grenanstown in Tipperary. When he was eight he was sent to the jesuit school of St. Stanislaus at Tullabeg, and in his fourteenth year was removed to St. Patrick's College, Carlow. At this early age he began to write verses, ten of which were considered sufficiently meritorious to obtain a place in a book of honour kept in the college. The ‘Munster War Song,’ his first published contribution, appeared in the ‘Nation’ newspaper (7 Jan. 1843), and received warm encomiums from the editor, Thomas Osborne Davis [q. v.] His next appearance in the ‘Nation’ was with the pathetic ‘Adieu to Inisfail.’ He proceeded to Dublin in March 1843 to follow the medical profession. While pursuing his studies at the school of medicine, he was connected with St. Vincent's Hospital in St. Stephen's Green, and there he wrote two of his most admired ballads, ‘The Sister of Charity’ and ‘The Dying Girl.’ At this period he composed the series of humorous verses, ‘The Misadventures of a Medical Student,’ and other facetiæ which abound in wit and gaiety.

Williams was not long in Dublin before he was whirled into the vortex of the ‘Young Ireland’ movement. National ballads and stirring war songs flowed from his pen, and were eagerly read from week to week in the ‘Nation.’ The famine of 1847 and its attendant horrors evoked some of the most powerful of his poems. Two deserve special mention, ‘Kyrie Eleison’ and ‘Lord of Hosts.’ The latter appeared in John Mitchel's ‘United Irishman’ [see Mitchel, John]. On the suppression by government of that paper Williams set about supplying its place, and in June 1848, aided by a young Dublin doctor named Antisell, he brought out the first number of the ‘Irish Tribune.’ This periodical had a brief career of six weeks, when it also was suppressed and Williams was arrested and brought to trial for ‘treason felony,’ but he was found ‘not guilty’ and set at liberty. After this experience Williams resumed his medical studies, and obtained his diploma in the autumn of 1849. He was attached for some time to Steevens's Hospital, but in June 1851 left Ireland for America. He obtained a professorship of belles-lettres in the Jesuit College at Springhill, Mobile, which he held until 1856. In that year, on his marriage, he removed to New Orleans, where he resumed his profession of medicine. He still contributed occasionally to American magazines and journals, and sent a few pieces home to the ‘Nation,’ but the greater part of his literary work was done. The climate of New Orleans proved unsuited to his health. After visiting Baton Rouge, he finally moved to Thibodeaux, where he died of consumption on 5 July 1862. A beautiful monument of Carrara marble, bearing a touching inscription, was erected over his grave by the soldiers of an Irish American regiment—the 8th New Hampshire volunteers. In 1856 he married Elizabeth Conolly, and he had four children—one son and three daughters.

With the passing of the thrilling and harrowing episodes which evoked Williams's poetry, some of his finest pieces lose much of their significance and effect; but such a deep note of pathos as pervades ‘The Dying Girl’ touches the heart as only great poetry can. His poems on devotional themes breathe a deeply religious spirit.

A selection of his verse was published by Mr. T. D. Sullivan in Dublin, 1877; a complete collection, edited with a biographical introduction by the present writer, was published in Dublin in 1894.

[Cabinet of Irish Literature, 4 vols.; Webb's Compendium of Irish Biography; Duffy's Young Ireland; O'Donoghue's Dictionary of Irish Poets; private information.]

P. A. S.