Did an Irish Poet Sneak An Insult Into a Seemingly Patriotic Poem?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to poetry and poets and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of all poetry legends featured so far.

POETRY URBAN LEGEND: Oliver St. John Gogarty wrote a poem dedicated to the returning Irish soldiers from the Boer War that contained a hidden, less celebratory, meaning within.

Oliver St. John Gogarty (1878-1957) was an Irish physician who was also a poet and author and was especially prominent in literary society as being quite witty and funny.

A contemporary and one time friend of James Joyce, many scholars believe that Gogarty is the basis for the character of Buck Mulligan in Ulysses. One of Gogarty’s poems does make its way into Ulyesses, or at least a reference to one of his poems, that is (the poem, The Ballad of Japing Jesus, appears in Ulysses as The Ballad of Joking Jesus).


Here’s Gogarty at the age of 21…


Gogarty was, like many Irishmen, a proponent of a free Irish state, and like a great deal of Irishmen, he was not happy with the Boer War (really, the second Boer War, but whatever), which involved England and the Boers, who were European settlers (mostly Dutch) who had migrated to South Africa years earlier and had co-existed with England in a state of mutual distrust. Like many Irishmen, Gogarty found parallels in the way the British treated the Boers to the way that the British treated the Irish, and it did not help that Irish soldiers were enlisted to help fight the war!

So Gogarty had an interesting response to the war…

Upon the return of the (victorious) Irish Regiment in June of 1900 Gogarty sent in the following poem (anonymously) to the conservative Anglo-Irish journal, Irish Society:

‘Ode of Welcome’

The Gallant Irish yeoman
Home from the war has come
Each victory gained o’er foeman
Why should our bards be dumb.

How shall we sing their praises
Our glory in their deeds
Renowned their worth amazes
Empire their prowess needs.

So to Old Ireland’s hearts and homes
We welcome now our own brave boys
In cot and Hall; neath lordly domes
Love’s heroes share once more our joys.

Love is the Lord of all just now
Be he the husband, lover, son,
Each dauntless soul recalls the vow
By which not fame, but love was won.

United now in fond embrace
Salute with joy each well-loved face
Yeoman: in women’s hearts you hold the place.

This patriotic, almost jinoistic, poem was accepted gladly by the journal, but upon its release, reportedly that particular issue of Irish Society became a hot-seller.

Not because of the patriotic zeal of its readers, but rather the cries of “scandal” over the poem.

You see, the poem is an acrostic, which is a poem or other sort of writing where the first letter of each sentence, paragaph (or however it is marked) of the writing works to form a writing in and of itself.

Here, this patriotic welcoming of the brave Irish soldiers is really saying, “The whores will be busy.”

Pretty darn funny.

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

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