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…
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