The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

IX. Anglo-Irish Literature

§ 22. National Songs

William Alexander, archbishop of Armagh and sometime professor of poetry at Oxford, deals very beautifully with Irish scenery in many of his poems, and writes with delicate spirituality; but his wife, Cecil Frances Alexander, born Humphreys, had a more Irish heart with a wider range of sympathy, and the pulse beats as quickly to her Siege of Derry as it does to “Charlotte Elizabeth’s” The Maiden City. Her hymns and sacred poems, including The Burial of Moses, much admired by Tennyson, are household words, and her less well-known lyric The Irish Mother’s Lament, is one of the most poignant appeals of the kind ever uttered.

The recent death of T. D. Sullivan, long editor of The Nation in its latest phase of political existence, removed from the field of Irish patriotic literature its most distinguished veteran. For, although he wrote stirring narrative poems entitled The Madness of King Conchobar and The Siege of Dunboy, the stronghold of the O’sullivans of Beara, and shared with Robert Dwyer Joyce the honour of giving to fine English verse the beautiful early Irish Story of Blanaid, it was as a writer of patriotic Irish songs and ballads that he made his special poetical mark. His God Save Ireland, if but as a makeshift, has become the Irish national anthem. His much finer Song from the Backwoods is widely and affectionately known, as is, also, his impetuous rebel ballad Michael Dwyer, and his simple but most pathetic A Soldier’s Wake will not be forgotten.

The Fenian movement, unlike that of the Young Irelanders, was unassociated with literary effort. Yet it had an organ, The Irish People, whose staff included men of ability: T. Clarke Luby, John O’Leary and C. J. Kickham. O’Leary lived to write, in his old age, the history of Fenianism in a rambling and disappointing manner. His sister Ellen had, however, a distinct literary gift. During her brother’s long period of imprisonment and banishment she lived quietly in Tipperary, waiting the hour of his return and then made a home for him in Dublin, which became a centre of Irish literary influence. Robert Dwyer Joyce, the brother of the historian and archaeologist Patrick Weston Joyce, was another Fenian. After producing some stirring ballads such as The Blacksmith of Limerick, he slipped away to the United States and made his mark in Boston, both as a medical man and as the author of Deirdre and Blanaid, spirited narratives in Irish verse. John Boyle O’Reilly, after reprieve from execution for having joined the Fenians though a soldier in the service of the queen, escaped from imprisonment in Australia on board an American vessel, and, after a while, became editor of The Boston Pilot, as McGee had been before him. He wrote much spirited verse, including The Amber Whale in his Songs from the Southern Seas, and became a leading literary figure in Boston. But, undoubtedly, Kickham was the Fenian writer who has left the best literary work behind him. His ballads are touched with simple pathos and deserve their wide popularity. Of these, The Irish Peasant Girl is, perhaps, the best known. His novel, Knocknagow, has been well compared in its characteristics to the work of Erckmann-Chatrian for attention to minute details and homely incident, and is brimful of shrewd observation and bright humour; indeed, it deserves to rank among the best novels descriptive of Irish life.

Sir Jonah Barrington is more properly a historian than a writer of fiction; but his Personal Sketches of his own times have a literary quality which makes them worth recording.