By Declan FoleyToday Monday April 10 is the 150 anniversary of the birth of a great
Irishman George W Russell, AE. A contemporary of W B Yeats, he has not,
sadly, received the same attention from the Irish government, nor the
€300k to commemorate his life, which in fact was entirely devoted to
the Irish nation and its people.
AE was a poet,
writer, painter, Theosophist, newspaper editor and Cooperative Movement
organizer, best described in the title of Henry Summerfields' biography
of AE "That Myriad Minded Man". He began his working life as a clerk in
Pim's Stores in Dublin. In October 1883 he enrolled in evening classes
at the Metropolitan School of Arts Kildare Street, Dublin, were he met W
B Yeats, also a student there. His love of painting lasted most of his
life, he and Jack Yeats spent summers in Sligo and Donegal drawing and
As a poet he published
several books of poetry and books including "The Candle of Vision",
"The Interpreters" and "Imaginations and Reveries" in which he writes of
his friends, his religious beliefs, and most of all his vision for the
Irish Nation.The introduction of Censorship by the Irish government and
the ongoing failure of governments to create greater opportunities for
the people broke his heart.
co-founded the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, the first Irish
Dairy Co-operative was erected at Doneraile Cork in 1889: today the
Irish Co-operative Societies are multi-billion Euro operations.
was employed as a Secretary and local organizer, the latter took him to
every parish west of the Shannon, and most of Munster, by bicycle,
train and sidecar, in all weathers. There is a delightful story in
Oliver St. John Gogarty's book "Mourning Became Mrs Spendlove and other
portraits grave and gay" titled "The Hero in Man'", which relates AE's
work in rural areas, in rescuing farmers and their families from the
gombeen men and usury that was rife in the early days of the 20 century.
the IAOS he produced the weekly newspaper "The Irish Statesman"
incorporating "The Irish Homestead" mocked by Joyce in "Ulysses" 'the
pig's paper': a publication of great cultural importance as well as
agricultural advice. Farming and cultural families alike devoured its
contents with glee.
His 'at homes' were always
packed with young poets and artists as he encouraged all with talent to
pursue their life in the arts. James Joyce gave him a more appropriate
place later in "Ulysses" with A.E.I.O.U.
support of the 1913 Lock-out strike brought him in contact with James
Connolly et al. It was AE who designed the banner for Connolly's Citizen
Army "The Plough and the Stars" In a radio interview circa 1948 W. R
Rodgers was told by Cathal O'Shannon, "It was a symbolic of AE as it was
of the Citizen Army. It was on a green background with the seven stars
of the constellation on it. It was an actual plough of the old wooden
type. The plough itself was in yellow with three stars of the
constellation in the handles, and the four stars in the other part of
the plough. The men of the Citizen Army called it 'The Starry Plough'.
It wasn't easy to carry, especially if there was a high wind." p 203
'Irish Literary Portraits'. The Starry Plough symbolised the connection
of the earth with the heavens
In 1932/3 AE
toured mid West America for 6 months lecturing to farmers at the
invitation of the Roosevelt administration, who greatly admired his work
in Ireland. In 1933 be became so disillusioned with Irish politics he
moved to Bournemouth in England, where he died from cancer in 1935.
his funeral in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Yeats was asked to give the
oration at the grave. He refused on the grounds "I would have to tell
the truth!" He passed the task to Frank O'Connor. As they left the
cemetery Yeats asked O'Connor the speech to give to the newspapers.
O'Connor stunned Yeats with the reply: "I gave it off the cuff!"
later years Frank O'Connor was asked what he said at the graveside:
"Yeats stood behind me, an old man who looked as though he didn't have
long to live himself, and opposite me on the other side of the grave was
Mr De Valera; in those days it wasn't considered a mortal sin to attend
a Protestant funeral. I don't know what nonsense I spoke over the
grave, I suspect it was all very youthful and very literary -- all I
should say now was that this was the man who was father to three
generations of Irish Poets, and there is nothing more to be said." p
203 Irish Literary Portraits.
"That Myriad Minded Man: A Biography of G.W.Russell - AE." Henry Summerfield
"Irish Literary Portraits: W.B.Yeats, James Joyce, AE et.al W. R. Rodger's broadcast conversations with those who knew them"
"The Living Torch" Monk Gibbon a biography of AE.
"Selections from the Contributions to 'The Irish Homestead" ed. Henry Summerfield
The W B Yeats Poetry Prize for Australia
Yeats 150 ed. Declan J Foley
Essays commemorating the 150 anniversary
of the birth of W B Yeats.
The Only Art of Jack B. Yeats ed Declan J Foley
Letters from his father to Jack and essays.