Mary Balfour (1778-1819)

Notes


Life
[vars. ?1775; 1780-1820]; b. 24 Jan., prob. Derry; dg. of a clergyman; moved with her sisters on the death of their parents to Limavady, and worked there as schoolteacher issued while living in Limavady she issued Hope: A Poetical Essay (1810) addressed to Bishop of Derry (Lord Hervey, Earl of Bristol), in whose gift her father’s living had been; contains translations from Irish;
 
also issued Kathleen O’Neil, a grand national melodrama in 3 acts later performed at the Belfast Theatre (1814); moved to Belfast by 1813 and opened a school, reportedly at junction of Castle place and Castle Street, which later closed; latterly styled Mary Balfour Bruton, presum. on marriage; served as a committee-member of the Belfast Harp Society est. by Edward Bunting and James MacDonnell, 1808;
 
her poems to Irish airs, inspired by the example of Tom Moore, were included in the enlarged edition of by Bunting’s General Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland (2nd edn. 1809), and others. PI TAY RAF MKA FDA OCIL DIL

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Works
  • Hope: A Poetical Essay: with Various Other Poems (Belfast: Smith & Lyons 1810) [ded. Earl of Bristol with epigraph from Charlotte Brooke];
  • Kathleen O’Neil: A Grand National Melodrama (Belfast: Archbold & Duncan 1814), 12°.;

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Criticism
D. J. O’Donoghue, Shamrock 28 (1890), pp.102-03 [infra]; McKenna, Irish Literature (1978) [subject index]; Robert Welch, A History of Verse Translation from the Irish 1789-1897 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1988), pp.28-43 [infra].

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Commentary
D. J. O’Donoghue discusses her work in Shamrock 28 (1890), pp.102-03, ‘popular in her time, Miss Balfour’s songs are not very remarkable in any way, but they are Irish’.

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Robert Welch, ‘Walker and Brooke’ [Chap. 3], A History of Verse Translation from the Irish 1789-1897 (Gerrard Cross: Colin Smythe 1988), pp.28-43, notes that she contributed eight versions to Bunting [2 ser. 1809] and was a member of the Harp society committee established by Dr James McDonnell and Edward Bunting in 1808 to teach blind children to play in the traditional Irish manner; her own Hope, A Poetical Essay &c. (1810) contained translations from Irish. Welch supplies a reference to Brendan Ó Buachalla, I mBéal Feirste Cois Cuain (Dublin 1968), p.297 [54f].

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Claire Connolly, ‘Irish Romanticism, 1800-1839’, in Cambridge History of Irish Literature (Cambridge UP 2006), Vol. I [Chap. 10], “Poetry” [sect.], notes that the poems Balfour contributed to Bunting’s Ancient Irish Music (rev. edn. 1809) were “Ellen a Roon”, “I am Asleep and Don’t Wake Me [i.e., trans of Tá mé in mo gcodlaigh]”, and “My Lodging is on the Cold Ground”, and that no musical notation was given to accompany them. (Connolly, p.435).

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Quotations
Hope”: ‘Ah me, what fragrant flowers our paths bestrew / When life is young, and ev’ry object new; / ... say from what source each simple pleasure flows / .. / This Hope, the Cherub!’

“A Saying of the Old Duke of Ormond'’s, Versified”

I.
Like an old clock, impaired by time,
Neglected and forlorn I stand,
The cheerful bells no longer chime,
And motionless remains each hand.

II.
The springs and wheels with rust o'ergrown,
How faithful once, now matters not,
How just each stroke, how clear each tone,
How regular ... are all forgot.

III.
Yet though old age destroys my power,
Though dumb, forlorn, I bear each slight,
Unvarying still, I point the hour,
And once a day, at least, am right.

 
—From Hope, a Poetical Essay - With Various Other Poems (Belfast: Smith and Lyons, 1810): [111]-12; given in Representative Poetry online [link].

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‘Now we alone engross your fostering care, / Superior objects that attention share; / See paintings, famed Italian artists’ boast, / And sculpture’s noblest forms adorn our coast / Where the purple heather unheeded grew / The traveller now with pleasure and surprize / Sees spacious domes as stately towers arise / In spots with furze and brambles once o’ergrown / Marks all the wonders of the breathing stone.’

‘Still doomed unnoticed and unknown, / In sad obscurity to pine, / Be fame, my Erin, all thy own, / One Sprig of Shamrock mine!’

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References
Edward Bunting, General Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland ([2nd enl. edn.] 1809), sets 8 of her poems to Irish airs and Hercules Ellis, ed., Romances and Ballads of Ireland (London: Duffy 1850), contains extracts.

D. J. O’Donoghue, Poets of Ireland (1909), notes under ‘Murphy, John’ that his Wild Flowers of Erin (Dublin 1811), incl. poems addressed to her and also to the harper Arthur O’Neill.

Brian Cleeve & Ann Brady, A Dictionary of Irish Writers [rev. edn. in 1 vol.] (Dublin: Lilliput 1985), remarks of her date of birth that ‘as D. J. O’Donoghue (Poets of Ireland, 1909, p.17) says she was “probably born on 24 Jan 1775”,’ while other sources suggest that she was born as late as 1780.’

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2 selects “In Ringlets Curl’d Thy tresses Flow”, and “The Dew Each Trembling Leaf Inwreath’d” [FDA2 10] a biographical note gives her date of birth as 1780 and the place Derry [FDA2 111].

Libraries: Belfast Linenhall Library holds Hope, a poetical essay (1810) and Kathleen O’Neil, poem (1814); Belfast Central Library holds Hope, A Poetical Essay (1810).

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Notes
George Pepper, author of Kathleen O'Neil, or, A picture of feudal times in Ireland: a national melo-drama of the fourteenth century in three acts (Philadelphia: Thomas Town 1832), acknowledges that he has borrowed scenes and incidents, as well as the outlines of three of the characters of his play, from Balfour's of the same title.

Townley Hall Collection at TCD Library contains William Gilpin, An exposition of the New Testament: intended as an introduction to the study of the scriptures, by pointing out the leading sense, and connection of the sacred writers. Edition: Second edition. In two volumes (London: R. Blamire 1793), formerly owned by Mary Frances Balfour; also John Sargent, The Mine: a dramatic poem. To which are added two historic odes [The vision of Stonehenge, and Mary Queen of Scots] (London 1796), formerly owned by Mary Henrietta Townley; also A favorite collection of the much admired old Irish tunes: the original and genuine compositions of Carolan the celebrated Irish bard set for the harpsichord piano forte and German flute. ... (Dublin: Hime [1795); Forty eight original Irish dances: never before printed with basses for the piano-forte & with proper figures for dancing Books 1 & 2 ... ([Dublin] Hime's Musical Circulating Library [1795]), 17pp., 32 cm.

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Namesake?: Mary Balfour is to be confused with Mary Balfour Brunton, the author of Discipline (1814) or Emmeline and Some Other Pieces (1820), both fiction. (Corrig. supplied by Leith Davis, Director of the Centre for Scottish Studies, Simon Fraser University, BC, Canada.

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