THE FORGOTTEN POET OF CO. KILDARE
William A. Byrne was born in Rathangan, Co. Kildare in the year 1872. In the house where Mr. Christy Dooley now lives, he spent the first years of his childhood.
Poet, lecturer and scholar of many literatures, the brilliance of his mind impressed all who came to know him. At the age of three he was reading and at the age of nine he was writing his first poem. During college days he won many exhibitions and no student passed through college halls with higher marks or greater distinction. He went to Cambridge in 1915 and took an Honours degree with such brilliance that he was selected for the Chair of English at Friburg. War intervened and the Chair was not filled.
He was also entitled to become Tutor to the Royal family, but being a Catholic this he declined. He refused several other offers at this time and instead returned to Ireland to lecture in U.C.D. taking the place of Thomas McDonagh executed in 1916. The following year he was elected to the Chair of English at U.C.G., where he spent the remainder of his life.
His associations were now altogether with academic men and not with artist. This perhaps is to be regretted, because if the artist or poet is to survive among us he must find sympathy and intelligent appreciation among those of his own kind. The poet cannot survive in an intellectual vacuum, and so as the years passed the poet within him died. His only publication was a book of verse, A light on the broom, this appeared in 1902 under the pseudonym William Dara. Among its pages we discover
poems of such beauty that some to them are unequalled in Anglo-Irish verse. Padraig Colum is the only other Irish poet to have praised the beauty of the Midlands but William Byrne saw the Kildare country side as a parable of divine reality. In his lines we hear the cry of curlew and plover and see the reflection of stars in the great expanse of bog waters.
Many of his poems are mystical and are intensely spiritual.
“There is a way of life,” he wrote in The Carlovian, “the way of trust and gentleness, of sincerity and surrender.” Surely his was close to the mind of a saint. In The Carlovian too we find many of his thoughts and criticisms of the other great Willie;
Mr. Yeats as he refers to him. While having the greatest reverence for the high priest of poetry, he disapproved of what Yeats did.
(Re-typed by Hannah Mustapha)