Aubrey Thomas de Vere was born on the 10th January 1814, at Curraghchase House, Kilcornan in County Limerick. De Vere was the son of poet Sir Aubrey de Vere. He was educated privately at home in his youth and at the age of 18, he entered Trinity College Dublin, in 1832. This was also the year he composed his first poetic work. Following his time at Trinity, he spent the next few years of his life travelling and in literary study, meeting poetic and theological influences such as John Henry Newman and Sir Henry Taylor. He would also become friendly with Alfred Tennyson and William Wordsworth. Much of de Vere’s later work was inspired by his time in Ireland during the Great Irish Famine as well as Irish legends and myths. One poetic piece which will forever be linked to Athlone Castle is his poem about the Great Siege of 1691, named ‘The Ballad of Athlone’. Aubrey Thomas de Vere died on the 20th of January 1902.
Ballad of Athlone
By Aubrey de Vere
Does any man dream that a Gael can fear?
Of a thousand deeds let him learn but one!
The Shannon swept onwards broad and clear,
Between the leaguers and broad Athlone.
‘Break down the bridge!’ – Six warriors rushed
Through the storm of shot and the storm of shell;
With late but certain victory flushed.
The grim Dutch gunners eyed them well.
They wrench’d at the planks ‘mid a hail of fire;
They fell in death, their work half done;
The bridge stood fast; and nigh and nigher
The foe swarmed darkly, densely on.
“Oh, who for Erin, will strike a stroke?
Who hurl yon planks where the waters roar?
Six warriors forth from their comrades broke,
And flung them upon that bridge once more.
Again at the rocking planks they dashed;
And four dropped dead, and two remained;
The huge beams groaned, and the arch down-crashed –
Two stalwart swimmers the margin gained.
St. Ruth in his stirrups stood up, and cried,
“I have seen no deed like that in France!”
With a toss of his head, Sarsfield replied,
“They had luck, the dogs! ’Twas a merry chance!
O many a year, upon Shannon’s side,
They sang upon moor and they sang upon heath,
Of the twain that breasted that raging tide,
And the ten that shook bloody hands with Death!
Artist: Julia Margaret Cameron
Albumen silver print
The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1969,
Curtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art