HomePoetryDying in Exile 1869

Dying in Exile 1869

At this time of year when the year’s first tourists arrive on our shores for the celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day and the festivities that accomplish it we also think of those loved ones who are overseas and can’t be with us. Today we can pick up our phone or talk to them face to face on a computer app. It’s not really the same as actually being in each other’s presence and really being face to face but it is a great comfort to be able to communicate and see each other on screen. It wasn’t always like that for our exiles.

Smiles and Tears in distant years

The following expression recounted in a wonderful poem from an exile dispossessed from his home somewhere in Tipperary and exiled to New York in 1850’s or ’60’s was a different story. This is a beautiful rendering of one man’s thoughts as he comes to the end of his life in exile. We know nothing of him other than what he tells us in his beautiful poem.

Other Irish exiles of his time driven from their land like he, or rebels transported to Australia, took his poem to heart and it travelled the world with them. It was eventually published in Australia in the Melbourne Newspaper ‘The Advocate’ of Saturday Feb 20th 1869 where it brought both smiles and tears to the Irish exiles so far away from Ireland and so far away from the exiled author in New York who composed those beautiful lines in his final days.

It was saved in a collection of Australian traditional songs by Mark Gregory in more recent times where I found it and I present it to you now as the first in a series of poems and songs that we will bring to you on a regular basis. This unknown exiles poem is a fitting first of the new series.

Who was this man and why was he exiled? Well he explains that himself in the following lines:

“When the landlord and the sheriff
Came and pulled our roof-tree down,
Ere we’d stored the wheat and barley
On the bawn’s broad levels brown
Why I still keep sadly thinking
Of the land I left behind
And the olden hopes and mem’ries
E’er keep crowding on my mind?”


Despite the trauma of being so ignominiously evicted from his home like so many others of his time he never lost his love for the place of his home which he describes so beautifully in the first verse. I will let him tell his own story which he does so beautifully.


                         Dying in Exile (1869)


 Far away beyond the billow,
In Tipperary’s Golden Vale,
Brightly bloom the primrose clusters,
Softly blows the summer gale;
Fondly wave the wildwood roses,
‘Neath the trembling, linden leaves
Bravely sing the lark and linnet
O’er the low, brown village eaves

The blue lakelet’s twilight vapours
Dim each winding, woodland path;
And the cuckoo-calls re-echo
Thro’ the lonely mountain rath

Open the casement window, Sarah,
Till I see the fleckered sky,
And the clouds with crimson fringes,
On the far-off mountains lie

Till I hear the surges sighing
O’er the winding Hudson’s flood,
And the low, sweet summer breeze
Rushing down the hazel wood;
For I know the east winds laden
With a gentle sigh for me,
And low, whispered words of comfort
From fond friends far o’er the sea.


See, mine eyes are filmed and faded,
And my cheeks are withered now;
Time has whitened my long tresses,
And left furrows on my brow ;
Yet my heart is ever straying
O’er the sea’s white flashing foam,
To the land I left in boyhood
To my childhood’s happy home


To the meadows and the mountains,
And the glens the woods among,
Where I first lisped Ireland’s praises,
In the dear, old Gaelic tongue.
But you ask me, Sarah darling,
Why my heart beats thick and slow
Why mine eyes grow dim with weeping
When you speak of long ago


When the landlord and the sheriff
Came and pulled our roof-tree down,
Ere we’d stored the wheat and barley
On the bawn’s broad levels brown
Why I still keep sadly thinking
Of the land I left behind
And the olden hopes and mem’ries
E’er keep crowding on my mind?


Because I too toiled and laboured
To make Ireland proud and free
And I know how still she struggles,
Chained and shackled tho’ she be.
In the happy years of childhood,
‘Twas her balmy air I breathed
And when boyhood’s bloom came o’er me,
With sweet songs her brow I wreathed.


Deep within her emerald borders
Still beat manly hearts and brave
And her low winds fan the flowerets,
O’er my Kathleen’s early grave.
‘Tis for this I love to listen
To the songs her poets sing
To the tales her children tell me,
And the tidings that they bring.


But my heart-hopes now are blighted,
Like my boyhood dreamings vain
And I feel the burning fever
Dancing, whirling ’round my brain.
Soon the cypress and the willow
O’er my grave shall droop and bend
And the Hudson’s rippling wavelets
Sing my dirges without end.


But you’ll often come sweet Sarah,
When the darkness drapes the west,
With a bunch of summer lilies
For to plant above my breast ?
And when storms come down the valley,
And the sea-waves lash the shore,
Won’t you pray for him who loved you,
And the land he’ll see no more?


From the Victorian Newspaper The Advocate 20 Feb 1869 p. 11.


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