Richard d’Alton Williams (1822-1862)

CriticismCommentary


Life
[pseud. “Shamrock”, et al.;] b. Dublin 8 Oct., Dublin, illegitimate son of Count D’Alton, with Mary Williams; brought up in Grenanstown, Co. Tipperary; ed. St Stanislaus (Jesuit Prep. School), Tullabeg, under; afterwards at St. Patrick’s College, Carlow [Carlow College], the seminary and a college for lay students founded by Dr. James Keefe; wrote a “Prologue for Cato” [Theatre of the Lay College, 1841); commenced medicine at TCD, 1843; contrib. verses to The Nation from 1842, incl. “The Munster War Song” (Nation, 7th Jan. 1843), written - or begun - at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin;
 
wrote “The Dying Girl” (‘To Jessy’, a victim of T.B.), and “Sister of Charity” - both set at St. Vincent’s on St. Stephen’s Green; also humorous poems such as “Misadventures of a Medical Student”; he was co-fnder. of the Dublin Society of Vincent de Paul; joined Young Ireland and the Irish Confederation, 1845; fnd., with Kevin Izod O’Dogherty, The Irish Tribune after suppression of Mitchel’s United Irishman, 1848; arrested at home at 35 Mount Pleasant Square, Dublin; and successfully defending by Samuel Ferguson and O’Hagan against charge of treason-felony, 2 Nov., 1848 - two days after O’Dogherty, who was convicted
 
his poems include “Adieu to Inisfail” (Nation, 25 June 1843) and “Extermination” (1848), on the famine - following Mitchel's charge against England; resumed medical studies and grad. Edinburgh, taking out his diplome on 31 July 1849 [[var. 1850]; afterwards practised at Dr. Steevens’ Hospital, Dublin; contrib. “Implore Peace for Clarence Mangan” to The Irishman (7 July 1849) - later reprinted as “Lament for Clarence Mangan” (Poems, pp.15-21);
 
emig. America, 1851, three months after the appearance of his lyric “Come with me o’er Ohio” in The Nation (1 March 1851) - given as the penultimate work in his Poems; at first settled in Mobile, Alabama, visiting New Orleans and Havana; afterwards appt. Professor of belles Lettres at Jesuit College, Spring Hill; m. Elizabeth [var. Eliza] Connolly, 8 Sept. 1856, with whom 4 children - of whom the youngest is commemorated in “Lines on the Death of his Infant Daughter, Katie” (Poems, p.303);
 
taught literature and later practised medicine in Thibodeaux, Louisiana, where he died of tuberculosis, 5 July 1862; wrote “Song of the Irish-American Regts.” in the Civil War [see infra]; he was commemorated with a monument in Carrara marble and inscribed ‘as a slight testimonial of their esteem for his unsullied patriotism and his exalted devotion to the Cause of Irish Freedom’ - erected by Irish soldiers of the 8th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment stationed in Thibodeaux, an event marked by Thomas D’Arcy Magee in verse;
 
RDW’s his poetry was collected by T. D. Sullivan in 1876, and reissued with a biographical memoir by P. A. Sillard in 1894 (2nd edn. 1901); an obituary appeared in The Nation (30 Aug. 1862);CAB ODNB PI DIL RAF DIH OCIL.

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Works
The Poems of R. D. Williams
, ed. T. D. Sullivan [4th edn.] (Dublin 1883); and Do. [New Edn.], with an introduction by P. A. Sillard (Dublin: Duffy 1894, rep. 1901), xxiv, 334pp. - see title-page:

[See extracts - attached.]

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Quotations
The Patriot Brave”: ‘Great spirits who battled in old time/for the freedom of Athens, descend!’ (Quoted in W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition, 1984, p.217; therein described as a celebration of Greek liberty.

Song of the Irish-American Regiments

We have changed the battle-field,
But the cause abandoned never —
Here a sharper sword to wield,
And wage the endless war for ever.
Yes! the war we wage with thee —
That of light with power infernal —
As it hath been still shall be,
Unforgiving and eternal.

[...]

Who should right our wrong?
We have arms and men and valour. [85]
Strike! the idol long adored
Waits the doom just gods award her;
To arms! away! with fire and sword!
Our march is o’er the British border!
—Poems, ed. P. A. Sillard (Duffy 1894), pp.85-86 - as attached.

The Dying Girl”: ‘They brought her to the city, / And she faded slowly there, / Consumption has no pity / For blue eyes and golden hair.’ (Quoted by Tadhg Foley, on Irish Studies List [Virginia], Nov. 1999.) See also the lines ‘Consumption has no pity / For blue eyes and golden hair.’ (Quoted by Matthew Russell, S.J., in Rose Kavanagh and Her Verses, Dublin: M. H. Gill 1909, p.9; see R. DAlton Williams, Poems, p.220ff.)

Poems inspired by Gerald Griffin’s The Collegians

HARDESS CREGAN TO EILY O’CONNOR.

Sustain me, God! - for mine own sin
Has bound me with a fiery chain,
And - like a corrach drawn within
A vortex on the black’ ning main -
The while for fame, for life, for love,
I madly strain with desp’rate oar,
A spectre laughs the helm above,
And mocks my frenzied strokes to shore.
[...]

HARDRESS CREGAN TO ANNE CHUTE

I dreamed last night that, pillow’d on thy breast,
I heard thee sing a sad yet pleasing strain -
How pride once severed hearts that love possessed,
And how, at length, in tears they met again;
And o’er the maiden’s high and polished brow
The blush of conscious beauty went and came. [...]
—Poems, ed. P. A. Sillard (Duffy 1894), pp.245 & 246 - as attached.

See also his “Lament for James Clarence Mangan” - as attached.

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The Barmaids’ Eyes” [parody of "The Times of the Barmacides" by Mangan]: My eyes are goggled, my whiskers dyed, / I am stooped, notwithstanding stays; / I would I were stretched that stream beside, / Where I fished in my zigzag days; [181] / For, back to that spot — (it costs nothing, you know) — / My memory ever flies, / Where I first saw glow, long, long ago, / The light of the barmaid’s eyes! / Where I first saw glow, long, long ago. / The light of the barmaid’s eyes." (p.181; see full text, attached.)

Note: Williams also wrote a parody of Davis “Oh! For a Steed” as “Oh! For a Feed!!” - a song about rich dining and poteen (p.198).

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Come with Me O’er Ohio”: ‘Come with me o’er Ohio, / Among the vines of Indiana, / Or nearer to the tropic glow, / Its gorgeous plumes and vast banana, / Its teeming vales and waters rife, / Rich foliage, shining fruits abundant, / Superfluous springs of fiery life. / From nature's burning heart redundant. / Desert a land of corse and slave. / Of pauper woe and tinsel splendour; / Poor Eire now is all a grave [...]. (See full text, attached,

 

References
R. R. Madden, summary notes held in Gilbert Collection, Pearse St. Library): Richard Dalton Williams (1822-62), medical doctor poet of The Nation who worked in St. Vincent’s Hospital, hence his well-known and moving poem on “The Dying Girl” (of T.B.), resided at 35, Mount Pleasant Square, Dublin; obituary in The Nation (30 Aug. 1862), giving his ballads “Munster War Song”, “To Jessy, Dying Girl”, “Adieu to Innisfail”.

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Charles Read, ed., A Cabinet of Irish Literature (3 vols., 1876-78), Davis ‘Lament for Owen Roe’, early in 1842, Nation, followed a few months later by ‘The Munster War Song’ from Williams, ‘still a schoolboy; The Misadventures of a Medical Student, verses; crown failed to obtain conviction against Williams when John Martin’s Irish Felon and Kevin Izod O’Dogherty’s Irish Tribune were suppressed, following suppression of Mitchel’s United Irishman; completed medical studies in Edinburgh; emigrated to US in 1851; settled at New Orleans; “Songs of the Irish-American Regiments”; d. of consumption, 5 July 1862; Nation nom de plume, “Shamrock”; Carrara monument raised by passing Irish-American soldiers. Read selects “Ben-Heder”; “Adieu to Inisfail”; “My Cousin” [‘... hopping ... shopping’]; Poems collected by proprietors of Nation [viz, TD O’Sullivan].

Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: CUA 1904), gives “The Munster War song”.

Note that Dictionary of Irish History gives shows no indication of his final residence in Louisiana. See also entries in Old DNB - viz., Richard D’Alton Williams; Webb, Compendium of Irish Biography - viz., Richard Dalton Williams; and Boylan, Dictionary of Irish Biography. There is a Wikipedia page - online.

Stephen Gwynn, Irish Literature and Drama (1936) cites “The Munster War-Song” as appearing in The Nation

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Brian McKenna, Irish Literature, 1800-1875: A Guide to Information Sources (Detroit: Gale Research Co. 1978), lists The Poems of Richard Dalton Williams, ed. T. D. Sullivan (Nation Office 1876); another edn. ed. by John Sillard (Duffy 1894). Bibl. as in Works, supra.

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Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English: The Romantic Period, 1789-1850 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1980), cites the same editions as O’Donoghue (Poets of Ireland, 1919), and adds, died in US where he practised medicine.

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Chris Morash, The Hungry Voice (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1989), bio-notes: b. Dublin, 8 Oct 1822, d. Thibodeaux, Louisiana, 5 July 1862; wrote for The Nation as ‘Shamrock’ and ‘D.N.S.’ while a medical student; co-founded Irish tribune with Kevin Izod O’Doherty; tried with him for treason-felony, William acquitted; emig. 1851. His ‘Lament for Clarence Mangan, selected by Morash, p.157-59; originally published as ‘Implore Pace for Clarence Mangan’ in The Irishman, 1, 27 (7 July 1849) [see Morash pp.18-19, 284]. Morash selects “Extermination”, in The Poems of RD Williams (Dublin: Duffy 1901), p.25; “Hand in Hand”, in The Nation, Vol. 8, No. 9 (26 Oct. 1850); “Kyrie Eleison”, in Poems (1901), p.150, “Lord of Hosts” in The United Irishman, Vol. 1, No. 15 (20 May 1848); “Vesper Hymn to the Guardian Angels of Ireland”, in Poems (1901), p.149.

Medical men of letters: Anent the literary propensities of the profession, it was said that there was a better chance of finding a doctor at Nation D’Olier St offices than Mercer’s Hospital (Morash, op. cit. p.27). Further: Williams’s “Lord of the Hosts” can be found sharing the page with popular music hall numbers and ‘minstrel“ songs in the weekly Harding’s Dublin Songster in the first decades of this century.’ (Ibid., p.30.)

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Eggeley Books (Cat. 44) lists The Poems of Richad D’Alton Williams, ‘Shamrock’ of The Nation, ed. with biog. intro. by P. S. Sillard (Dublin: Duffy 1901), 2nd edn.

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Notes
Anne Keary: Sillard writes in his Introduction to Richard D’Alton Williams’s Poems (Duffy 1894): “But perhaps the finest poetry that Williams wrote about this period was the striking ballad, “Lord of Hosts,” which appeared in John Mitchel’s United Irishman on the 20th of May, 1848, and the touching “Kyrie Eleison,” a lay of the Famine, which he wrote for Duffy’s Irish Catholic Magazine. This poem has been enshrined by Miss Annie Keary in one of the most affecting passages in her famous novel, Castle Daly, in which she makes her heroine, Ellen Daly, read it “ with a face wet with tears.”

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Poetesses of the Nation: Williams’ Poems (1894 edn.) includes “Valentine to the Poetesses of the Nation” (p.174-79). a comic paean set at Stoneybatter, where the poets on meeting the ladies of the title ‘cease to think or act correctly / and go stark mad with love directly.’ (p.174.) Among those mentioned are J. de Jean, “Maria”, “Eva”, “Desmond”, “Zero” and “Clericus” - while the full complement of Nation poets is calculated at ‘five score poets to every maiden!’

Spenserian fare: Sillard’s footnote annotation to “The Fairies of Knockshegowna” runs: ‘The name of a Fairy Hill in Lower Ormond, and means Oonagh’s Hill - so called being the fabled residence of Una the Faerie Queene of Spenser.’ (Poems, 1894, p.325, n.)