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Edward Duffy



Edward Duffy was born at Ballaghadereen, Co. Mayo, 1840. He had been the leading Fenian organiser for Connacht and died in the Millbank prison infirmary in London on 17 January 1868. He had been suffering from tuberculosis and had been released by Dublin Castle after the original Fenian trials of 1865 -6, because of his poor health. Duffy was not expected to live for much longer, but he returned to revolutionary activity and was arrested and sentenced. Rossa’s request to see him on his deathbed was refused as it was against the prison rules. This led to great bitterness and one of Rossa’s best poems, which was smuggled out of jail and sent to the Nation newspaper, which published it to admiring comment:


A lament for Edward Duffy

The world is growing darker to me – darker day by day;

The stars that shone upon life’s path are vanishing away.

Some setting and some shifting – only one that changes never,

‘Tis the guiding star, the beacon light, that blazes bright as ever.


Liberty sits mountain high, and slavery has birth

In the hovels, in the marshes, in the lowest dens of earth.

The tyrants of the world pit-fall dig the path between,

And overshadow it with scaffolds, prison blocks and guillotine.


The gloomy way is brightened when we walk with those we love,

The heavy load is lightened when we bear and they approve,

The path of life grows darker to me as I journey on,

For the loving hearts that travelled it are falling one by one


The news of death is saddening, even in the festive hall;

But when ‘tis heard through prison bars ‘tis saddest then of all.

Where there’s none to share the sorrow in the solitary cell-

In the prison within prison – a blacker hell than hell.


That whisper through the grating has thrilled through all my veins -

“Duffy is dead!” a noble soul had slipped the tyrant’s chains,

And whatever wounds they gave him, their lying books will show

How they very kindly treated him, more like a friend that foe.


For these are Christian Pharisees, the hypocrites of Creeds,

With the Bible on their lips and the Devil in their deeds;

Too merciful in public gaze to take our live away,

Too anxious here to plant in us the seed of life’s decay.


Those Christians stand between us and the God above our head,

The sun and moon they prison, and withhold the daily bread;

Entomb, enchain and starve us, that the mind they may control,

And quench the fire that burns in the ever-living soul.


To lay your head upon the block for faith in freedom’s God,

To fall in fight for freedom in the land your fathers trod;

For freedom on the scaffold high to draw your latest breath

Or anywhere ‘gainst tyranny ‘tis well to die the death.


Still, sad and lone was yours, Ned, ‘mid the jailers of your race,

With none to press the cold white hand, with none to smooth the face;

With none to take the dying wish to homeland, friend or brother,

To kindred mind, to promised bride, or to the sorrowing mother.


I tried to get to speak to you before you passed away,

As you were dying near to me and far from Castlerea;

But the Bible-mongers spurned me off when at their office door

I asked last month to see you, now I’ll never see you more.


If spirits once released from earth could visit earth again,

You’d come and see me here, Ned, but for these we look in vain.

In the dead house you are lying and I’d wake you if I could;

But they’ll ‘wake’ you in Loughglynn Ned, in the cottage by the wood’.


For the mother’s instinct tells her that the dearest one is dead;

That the gifted mind, the noble soul, from earth to heaven hath fled

As the girls rush towards the doors and look towards the trees

To catch the sorrow-laden wail that’s borne on the breeze.


Thus the path of life grows darker to me – darker by the day;

The stars that flashed their light on it are vanishing away.

Some setting and some shifting, but that one which changes never –

The beacon light of liberty that blazes bright as ever.