Thomas Caulfield Irwin

Life
1823- 1892; b. Warrenpoint, Co. Down, son of a prosperous doctor; ed. privately; travelled to Europe and Africa; impoverished through collapse of family fortunes, c.1848; took up journalism; later became eccentric or insane; highly regarded as poet by contemporaries, though now primarily thought of as an imitator of Tennyson; notable poems incl. To A Skull, and Sonnets; contrib. to Nation and to Dublin University Magazine; ed., The Irish Monthly Illustrated Journal, nos. 1-3, Jan-March 1873; issued Versicles (1856), Poems (Dublin 1866), Irish Poems and Legends (1869), Winter and Summer Stories; and Slides of Fancy’s Lantern (Dublin 1879), Pictures and Songs (1880), Sonnets on the Poetry and Problems of Life (1881), Poems, Sketches and Songs (Dublin 1889) - all poetry collections; also From Caesar to Christ (1853), a historical romance. CAB ODNB PI JMC TAY DIW IF DIL MKA APPL OCIL

[ top ]

Works
Poetry
, Versicles (Dublin: Wm. Hennessy 1856); Poems (Dublin: McGlashen & Gill 1866); Irish Historical and Legendary Poems, Glas: Cameron & Ferguson 1868)]; Irish Poems and Legends [1869]; Songs and Romances (Dublin: Gill 1878); Winter and Summer Stories, and Slides of Fancy’s Lantern (Dublin: Gill 1879); Pictures and Songs (Dublin: Gill 1880); Sonnets and Poetry on the Problems of Life (Gill 1881); Poems, Sketches, and Songs (Dublin: Gill 1889).

[ top ]

Criticism
Matthew Russell, ‘Thomas Caulfield Irwin’, in Irish Monthly 5 (1877), and Do., 20 (1892); David James O’Donoghue, ‘The Literature of ‘67’, in Shamrock, 30 (1893); William Rooney, ‘Thomas Caulfield Irwin,’ New Ireland Review 7 (1897), [pp.86-100]; Louis H. Victory, ‘Thomas Caulfield Irwin,’ in The United Irishman (Nov. 30 1901), p.6; Geoffrey Taylor, ‘A Neglected Poet’, in The Bell, 3 (1942), pp.302-12; Terence Brown, Northern Voices, Poets from Ulster [Chap. 4, ‘Of Heroes, Gods and Peasants’] (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975), espec. pp.56-58.

See also Vivian Mercier who cites a reference to Irwin in James Joyce’s Ulysses and briefly characterises him as ‘an Irish imitator of Tennyson’ (‘John Eglinton as Socrates: A Study of “Scylla and Charybdis”’, in James Joyce: An International Perspective, ed. Suheil Bushrui & Bernard Benstock, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1982, p.66.)

[ top ]

References
D. J. O’Donoghue, The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical Dictionary (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co 1912); Versicles (1856); Poems (1866); Irish Poems and Legends (1869); Songs and Romances (1878); Pictures and Songs (1880); Sonnets on the Poetry and Problem of Life (1881); Versicles (1882); Poems, Sketches and Songs (1889). b. Warrenpoint, Co. Down, 1823; ‘T.I.’ in the Nation from 1853; contrib. DUM; biog. of Swift in The Shamrock; d. Rathmines after some years of poverty and imbecility; wrote a pamphlet accusing various people of robbing him. Called ‘The Irish Keats’ by Richard Dowling in Tinsley’s Magazine. DIW adds; ‘regardedas major poet by contemporaries; some poetry in Dublin and Glasgow.

[ top ]

Stephen Brown, Ireland in Fiction: A Guide to Irish Novels, Tales, Romances and Folklore [Pt. I] (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), notes that he wrote 130 tales of various length, essays, and an historical romance, From Caesar to Christ; unsound mind for years before his death. IF lists 23 tales of Winter and Summer ... close print (Gill 1879), which incl. ‘Old Christmas Hall,’ ‘An Irish Fairy Sketch,’ ‘Falstaff’s Wake,’ ‘The Shores of Greece,’ ‘An Ancient Aryan Legend,’ ‘A Florentine Fortune,’, &c. For the most part, peculiar,. wierd tales touching preternatural, but not morbid; also jeux d’esprit; poetic prose comp. de Quincey. ‘The Miser’s Cottage’ has curous pictures of old Dublin, c.1770; lists, Winter and Summer Stories and Slides of Fancy’s Lantern (1879); incl. jeux d’esprits with sketches and stories, and some ‘weird tales’ with prose of poetic quality. Justin McCarthy, ed., Irish Literature (1904), gives ‘An Extraordinary Phenomenon,’ ‘To a Skull,’ ‘A Character’, ‘A Window Song’. SEE also John Cooke, Dublin Book of Irish Verse.

[ top ]

Geoffrey Taylor, Irish Poets of the Nineteenth Century (London 1951), gives a selection, with a bibl. ref. to Taylor, ‘A Neglected Irish Poet’, The Bell, 3 (1942). Note that Terence Brown quotes Irwin’s poetry from Taylor’s anthology rather than from the original volumes (Northern Voices, 1975, p.56-57.) John Montague, Faber Book of Irish Verse (1974), selects stanzas XI to XVII of “Swift” (pp.206-07).

Robert Hogan, ed., A Dictionary of Irish Literature (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1979), gives bio-data: b. Warren Point [sic], Co. Down; priv. ed.; prolific contrib. Nation, Dublin University Magazine; stories, one collection, Winter and Summer Stories (1879); in old age Irwin became ‘a weird and uncouth but venerable figure’; there is a letter from John Donovan to Ferguson describing ‘the mad poet ... next door ... One of us must leave ... I have a house full of books and children; he has an umbrella and a revolver.’ [also cited in Don Gifford, Ulysses Annotated, 1989, p.211] Bibl, Versicles (Dublin: Wm. Hennessy 1856); Poems (Dublin: McGlashen & Gill 1866); Irish Poems and Legends [1869]. Cites Lorna Reynold’s ‘perceptive couple of pages on [his] poetry’ categorising him as sub-Keats; see also Terence Brown, bibl., Lorna Reynolds, ‘Irish Romantic Poets 1850-1900’, Irish Poets in English [n.d.], p.97.

[ top ]

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2; selects Versicles, ‘Angelo’; Songs and Romances, ‘Summer Wanderings’; Sonnets on the Poetry and Problems of Life, I, Iv, V, VIII [58-59); his poem ‘Swift’ a poss. source of Yeats’s Words upon the Window Pane (1934), 930, BIOG 113, b. Warrenpoint, Co. Down, son of well-off doctor; ed. privately; began writing for magazines in 1848; contrib. regularly to Nation and DUM; some 130 stories and tales; a novel, from Caesar to Christ (1853); translations from classical and European writers; wildly eccentirc in old age. [Bibl. and commentary as above].

Belfast Public Library holds Pictures and Songs (1871); Sonnets on the Poetry and Problems of Life (1881); Winter and Summer Stories (1879)

[ top ]