Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Walsh, Edward (1805-1850)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

WALSH, EDWARD (1805–1850), Irish poet, the son of a sergeant in the Cork militia, was born in Londonderry, to which his father's regiment had been sent for training, in 1805. His parents were natives of the village of Millstreet, co. Cork, near which his father at one time possessed a small holding. Walsh spent about thirty years of his life in Millstreet. His education was received in that most primitive of Irish primary schools, the ‘hedge school’—so called because the children assembled under a spreading hedge on summer days to be taught by untrained teachers who, wandering from district to district, thus obtained a miserable livelihood. This was the only agency of education available for the children of humble Roman catholics until the establishment of the national system of education in 1831. Walsh in time became a hedge-school teacher. Irish was then the every-day tongue of the lower orders of the peasantry, and Walsh not only obtained a thorough mastery of the language, but developed a passion for collecting the old tales, legends, and songs related and sung in the vernacular by the people. After acting as private tutor to the children of an Irish member of parliament, he was imprisoned for taking part in the anti-tithe agitation. After his release he became a national school teacher at Glounthaune, near Mallow, but was dismissed for writing ‘What is Repeal, Papa?’ in the ‘Nation.’ In 1837 he obtained a position as teacher in a national school at Toureen, co. Waterford, married, and began to contribute original poems and charming translations of old Irish songs to the ‘Dublin Penny Journal,’ and subsequently to the ‘Nation,’ when that weekly nationalist organ was established in 1842. He removed to Dublin about 1843 in the hope of being able to improve his position in life. He had a brief connection with journalism as a sub-editor on a weekly newspaper called ‘The Monitor,’ a post which he obtained through the influence of John O'Daly and (Sir) Charles Gavan Duffy, the editor of the ‘Nation,’ and was subsequently a clerk in the corn exchange, Dublin. In 1847 he was forced by adverse circumstances to accept the humble position of school teacher to the convict establishment of Spike Island, off Queenstown. From this post he was dismissed for obtaining a clandestine interview with John Mitchel [q. v.], the political convict; but on 24 Aug. 1848 he was appointed schoolmaster in the Cork union workhouse, and this position he held until his death on 6 Aug. 1850. He was buried in the Botanic Gardens (now St. Joseph's cemetery), Cork. A monument was erected to his memory in 1857 by the trades of Cork city. He married Bridget Sullivan, daughter of a teacher residing at Aglish, eight miles from Toureen. His widow and children were befriended by Sir Charles Gavan Duffy.

Walsh will long be remembered in Ireland for his melodious translations of old Irish ballads, in which he preserved the very spirit and essence of the originals. He had an intense admiration for the Irish tongue. He wished to see it used by the people in their every-day life, and often remonstrated with what he called ‘the mere English-speaking Irish’ for their preference for a language which, compared with Irish, was ‘as the chirpings of a cock-sparrow on the houseroof to the soft cooing of the gentle cushat by the southern Blackwater.’

Walsh's published works are: 1. ‘Reliques of Irish Jacobite Poetry, with Metrical Translations,’ Dublin, 1844, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1866. 2. ‘Irish Popular Songs, translated with Notes,’ Dublin, 1847, 12mo; 2nd edit. Dublin, 1883. In both books the original Irish, as well as Walsh's metrical translations, is given; and in the former literal translations, which show how closely Walsh followed the originals in his English renderings, are also published.

[Biogr. Sketch by Timothy Gleeson, with selections of poetry, in the Journal of the Cork Hist. and Arch. Soc. 1894, III. ii. 145–214; O'Donoghue's Dictionary of Irish Poets; Celt, December 1857; Gavan Duffy's Young Ireland; Mitchel's Jail Journal; private sources of information.]

M. MacD.