Ellen O’Leary (1831-89)


b. Co. Tipperary, sister of John O’Leary, she was an active Fenian, mortgaging her property to raise 200 [var. 2,000] for escape of James Stephens from Richmond Prison, 1865; lived in Tipperary, from 1867 to the return of her brother in 1885; elected one of 2 treasurers of Ladies’ Land League, 1881; moved to Dublin, 1887; author of ‘To God and Ireland True’, contrib. to The Nation;
co-ed., The Irish People; also contrib. to The Irishman, Boston Pilot, and Irish Fireside; contr. 5 poems to The Irish Monthly (March 1887 to May 1889); her poems issued, after her own final corrections, as Lays of Country, Home and Friends (1891), edited by T. W. Rolleston,; a selection appeared in Alfred Miles, The Poets and Poetry of the Century (1892), with a sketch of “the Fenian poet” by W. B. Yeats. PI ODNB DBIV MKA DIW DIH OCIL


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T. W. Rolleston, intro., Lays of Country, Home and Friends [by Ellen O’Leary] (Dublin: Sealy, Bryers & Walker 1891), with port., memoir, and an introduction by Charles G. Duffy; includes “Ellen O’Leary” by Rose Kavanagh.

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Rose Kavanagh, “Ellen O’Leary” (d. 15 Oct. 1889)

Asleep, asleep! God loved you well,
My dear one, when He let you lay
Life’s burthen down that autumn day.

’Twas brave borne. Who knew you learned
How white a truth true living brings
To glorify the homeliest things.

Who knew you learned the noble lore
Of boundless faith and hope and love
For Ireland here, and God above.


The Irish Monthly, 18, 209 (Nov. 1890), p.609; reprinted in Rose Kavanagh and Her Verses (1909), p.69. (See under Kavanagh, q.v.; also available in Irish Monthly at JSTOR [online; accessed 03.07.2010];

Dominic Daly, The Young Douglas Hyde (1974): Charles Hubert Oldham collaborated with Maud Gonne in published Ellen O’Leary’s posthumous verse, Lays of Country, Home and Friends. (Daly, op. cit. p.203, n.)

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See her poem inscribed to Rose Kavanagh, q.v., supra.

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Dictionary of National Biography calls her a Fenian poet; contrib. Irish People, and helped James Stephens with his organisation.

Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: Catholic Univ. of America 1904), selects “To God and Ireland True” and “My Old Home”.

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Brian McKenna, Irish Literature, 1800-1875: A Guide to Information Sources (Detroit: Gale Research Co. 1978) , cites Lays of Country, Home and Friends (1890), and criticism by Charles Gavan Duffy (Dublin University Review, 1886) T. W. Rolleston (Intro., Lays), and W. B. Yeats, ‘Ellen O’Leary [dates]’, in Poets and ‘Poetry of the Century,’ V (1892), rep. in Uncollected Prose. Also, some recollections by Rosa Mulholland, Irish Monthly 39 (1911). She was primarily assoc. with the Irish People.

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John Cooke, ed., The Dublin Book of Irish Verse (Dublin: Hodges Figgis 1909): bio-dates 1831-1889; selects “To God and Ireland True” [‘I sit beside my darling’s grave, / Who in the prison died / And though my tears fall thick and fast / I think of him with pride. [...] And oh, my darling, I am true / To God - to Ireland - and to you!”).

Belfast Public Library holds Lays of Country, Home and Friends (1891).

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