I am always intrigued, and fascinated to learn of a person, who in their time was famous, but somehow or other has faded into the mists of time. Such a person is our subject Joseph Stirling Coyne. He was during his lifetime a very famous dramatist, writing upwards of 100 plays, a theatre reviewer and one of the first editors of Punch magazine. His story is worth telling and hopefully this blog may restore him to public conscientiousness, especially in his native town.
He was born in 1803 in Birr, then known as Parsonstown. The year 1803 was a pretty good year to be born, for he shares it with Gerald Griffin, John Henry Newman and James Clarence Mangan no less, and of course with his fellow Birr man the poet John De Jean Frazer.
Happy St Patrick’s Day to all our followers. A good day to recall a talented young man who died all too early. Sean Mac Caoilte/John Forrestal of Henry (now O’Carroll) Street, Tullamore is forgotten in his home town. Why is that? For one thing he died in Dublin at the age of only 37 having spent almost half his life there. He was from a strongly nationalist family with his father Andrew and sister Emily very much associated with the move for independence as was his brother Dick. Séan was a literary man from a young age. Richard (Dick) Barry (born 1880, emigrated to New York 1904) recalled him as prominent in the early days of the Irish Ireland movement in Tullamore. He was also associated with the first historical and literary publication. In the Christmastide of 1903 appeared for the first time Ard na h-Eireann: An Irish Ireland Magazine, published under the auspices of the St. Columkille branch of the Gaelic League at Tullamore. A second and final issue appeared in 1904. This was to be the last such publication from Tullamore until Offaly Heritage in 2003 and Tullamore Annual in 2012. Forrestal was very much the editor of the 1903 magazine and his literary leanings ensured that he was a prime mover in having the new street names for Tullamore recommended by the Gaelic League and adopted by the urban district council. An associate of Forrestal’s and very much in the same mould was the solicitor James Rogers, who in 1903–4 was still a law clerk in A. & L. Goodbody’s Tullamore office. Rogers lived on until 1967 and could have told us much but no one asked.
The young Tullamore solicitor James Rogers was busy after 1908 with his own legal practice, but went on to found the Offaly Archaeological and Historical Society in 1938 and had the support of Tribune editor James Pike. The Society suffered during the war years because of transport difficulties, but in 1943 Pike was kind enough to call attention to the contribution of Rogers to the Gaelic League early in the century with his friends John Forrestal and the young Henry Egan. We can return to this in a later blog. But now we want to hand over to an excellent short life of Forrestal published in ainm.ie and reprinted here with authority. The later blog will tell you of a new novel based partly on the life of our Sean Mac Caoilte who died in 1922 in the same year as the Free State was founded. His brother Richard (Dick) was part of the new National army. Emily worked with Mrs Wyer of Church Street another ardent nationalist. The Ainm.ie site is a must for historians and lay people and has lives not to be found in the DIB.
In Midnight Oil (London, 1971) V.S. Pritchett (1900-97) describes how The Christian Science Monitor sent him to Ireland early in 1923 to write about the Irish Civil War. The Anglo-Irish treaty had been signed, the Irish politicians split, and the two parties were killing each other. When Pritchett arrived the siege of the Four Courts in Dublin was well over and the fighting was drifting away to the south and west. In fact there was not much more than three months left before the Republicans decided to dump arms
On a misleadingly sunny day on the first of February 1923, I took the train from London to Holyhead. In a heavy leather suitcase I carried a volume of Yeats’s poems, an anthology of Irish poetry, Boyd’s Irish Literary Renaissance, Synge’s Plays, and a fanatical book called Priests and People in Ireland by McCabe [McCarthy, 1864–1926, published in 1902], lent to me by a malign Irish stationer in Streatham who told me I would get on all right in Ireland so long as I did not talk religion or politics to anyone and kept the book out of sight. Unknown to myself I was headed for the seventeenth century.
The Irish Sea was calm—thank God—and I saw at last that unearthly sight of the Dublin mountains rising with beautiful false innocence in their violets, greens, and golden rust of grasses and bracken from the sea, with heavy rain clouds leaning like a huge umbrella over the northern end of them. My breath went thin: I was feeling again the first symptoms of my liability to spells. I remember wondering, as young men do, whether somewhere in this city was walking a girl with whom I would fall in love: the harbours of Denmark gave way to Dublin Bay and the Wicklow Hills. The French had planted a little of their sense of limits and reason in me, but already I could feel these vanishing.
This question has popped up recently arising from the launch last week in Birr by Offaly History of a book containing the complete poems of John De Jean Frazer. The Tullamore launch is Thursday 24 Nov. at Offaly History Centre at 5 p.m. so the editors may get to meet you there. You are welcome to attend.
John De Jean Frazer was a poet and cabinet-maker, the son of a Presbyterian Church minister from Birr, then known as Parsonstown. He was also a quite accomplished artist.
While his exact date of birth is not known, it is pretty certain he was born in 1804 and died a young man in 1852.
He was believed to from Huguenot stock, this belief coming from the use of `De Jean` in his name. We are not sure of this, and certainly a recent DNA test by one of his descendants cast doubt on this, as it showed no French DNA but rather Scottish. Frazer is certainly a Scottish name and is quite common in Ulster. His being from a Presbyterian family tends to make me believe that a Scottish ancestry is more likely to be correct. The `De Jean` in his name could be explained by possible sympathy with the ideals of the French revolution.
J. de Jean’ was the nom-de-plume of John Frazer (c. 1804–1852), a Presbyterian of Huguenot extraction, cabinet-maker and a native of Birr. As a young man he started writing poetry, and his first work – a lengthy poem entitled ‘Eva O’Connor’ was published in 1826 (Richard Milliken, Grafton Street, Dublin). During the 1840s individual poems, increasingly expressing radicalised politics, appeared in the newspapers and periodicals of the day, many of which were featured in his collected works `Poems For The People` 1845 and `Poems` 1851.
This online presentation is to promote the first complete edition of his poems, edited by Terry Moylan, Pádraig Turley and Laurel Grube, which will be published in October of this year. The society would like to thank Offaly County Council and Creative Ireland for support for this important publication.
A presentation of the Birr poet John Frazer (J. de Jean)
The Offaly Heritage Office and Amanda Pedlow have been working with Dr Maebh O’ Regan of National College of Art and Design supporting a project with the Banagher Crafting Group exploring the Banagher and Bronte connections. Some of you may have attended events at the recent That Beats Banagher Festival.
One of the outputs is a short fifteen-minute film about the discovery of the Bronte Family Portrait in Hill House in Banagher in 1914 and an interview with Dr Sarah Mouldon of the National Portrait Gallery London who care for it now. Please see the video link for you tube of a very fine presentation adding greatly to our knowledge of how the portrait was received when first presented to the public in 1914. We attach some background material on the discovery of the painting at Hill House, Banagher and how it came to be there from an earlier Offaly History blog. Our thanks to Amanda Pedlow and all concerned with this fine and informative production.
This is one of the projects supported by Offaly County Council through the Creative Ireland programme.
Today, 23 March 2022 we mark the 170th anniversary of the death of John de Jean Frazer (1804–1852). A poet and a cabinet-maker, a native of Birr county Offaly he was born into a Presbyterian family. While `J. De Jean` was his preferred nom-de-plume, he also used pseudonyms `Z`, `Y`, `F` and `Maria`.
His first major poem was Eva O`Connor published in 1826, by Richard Milliken, Grafton Street, Dublin. During the 1840s individual poems, increasingly expressing radicalised politics, appeared in newspapers and periodicals of the day including The Nation, The Dublin University Magazine, The United Irishman, The Felon and The Freeman`s Journal.
In 1845 a substantial number of his poems were gathered together and published as Poems for the People by J. Browne, Nassau Street, Dublin. This collection contained eighty-two poems, a mixture of lyrical and polemical pieces.
[An article on de Jean Frazer appeared in the 1903 issue of Tullamore’s Ard na hEireann magazine by Sean MacCaoilte (Forrestal, d. October 1922) and as such was part of the cultural context for the Gaelic League and the Irish Cultural Revival in the Tullamore locality. Thanks to Offaly Archives which holds a copy. Ed.]
Pauline Clooney’ Charlotte & Arthur, an imaginative recreation of the Charlotte Brontë’s honeymoon in Wales and Ireland, is an exciting combination of fact and fiction. The extensive historical research which preceded the writing of the book is evident throughout and this coupled with the creation of less historic characters and the weaving in of more fictional nuances ensures a work that is at once refreshing and convincing. While the sources of history are comparatively plentiful for this episode due to Charlotte’s prolific letter writing and an abundance of biographies of the two main characters, it is the richness of Pauline Clooney’s writing that makes the work engrossing and appealing.
When the well-known musical historian Terry Moylan drew my attention to the Offaly poet John de Jean Frazer, I was forced to confess I had never heard of him, much to my shame. I made enquiries about him and surprisingly few had knowledge of him. Shannonbridge native, James Killeen, currently resident in Illinois, was able to tell me that Master John Lane, who taught in Shannonbridge National School, was aware of him and mentioned him. He always referred to him as Frazer, finding the de Jean a bit much. James also told that Francis Reddy, the son of Michael Reddy M.P. used to enthuse about the Nationalistic poetry of Frazer.
The object of this Blog is to rescue from the mists of time the name and career of this significant Birr poet. Writing in the first half of the 19th century John de Jean Frazer, has left a considerable body of work. His work is hard to source outside the major libraries and college archives.
This is a shame, as his poetry has not been published in a sole collection for a long time. It would be wonderful if this Blog were to give an impetus to someone to undertake such a project, as I feel his writings should be more readily available.
The questions I shall try to answer are, who was he, where did he hail from, what are his most notable works, what were his politics, his religion and his family details.
He is said to have been born and reared in Parsonstown, now Birr, King`s County, however like a lot of things about him there is a degree of uncertainty. On the 100th anniversary of his passing in 1952 The Westmeath Independent did a piece where it said tradition claimed he was from Moystown, near Clonony Castle. There is also a suggesting that he may have been from near Ferbane, guess his poem `Brosna`s Bank` lend a bit of credit to all these claims.
There is some conjecture as to the exact year he was born. We know his date of death was 23rd March 1852, at which time he is recorded as being 48 years old, suggesting he was born in 1804. The current Birr Tourism Brochure gives his year of birth as 1804. However ` A Compendium of Irish Biography 1878` by Alfred Webb gives his date of birth as 1809. Webb also gives his year of death as 1849 which we know is incorrect, so it seems Webb may have needed a better editor. I am inclined to accept the 1804 figure, especially as I discovered his wife was born in 1800.
He is believed to come from a Presbyterian family, but unfortunately records of Presbyterian births/baptisms for Birr only commence in 1854. His family were said to be from Huguenot stock. I have been unable to unearth details of his parents.
For many the habit of reading started with the local library and has never left us. Recollections of the several libraries we have had in Tullamore remind us that so far as reading and comfort goes we have never had it so good. This is the time to recall the first public library in Tullamore started in May 1921, just 100 years ago. For that we have to thank an unsung hero E. J. Delahunty, a native of Clonmel, who was in charge of technical education in the county from 1904 to 1930 and died in 1931. He organized the first ‘students’ union’ in Tullamore and a superb lecture series on the great issues of the day in the 1916–21 period, and with mostly well-known speakers with a national reputation. The Midland Tribune gave the opening of the library an editorial and regretted that the lecture series had to be abandoned that year. Delahunty was shrewd and had the Tribune editor, Seamus Pike, on side. Another unsung hero of the revolutionary decade was Revd John Humphreys, a Tullamore-based Presbyterian minister, and great advocate for technical education. These are three people who need to be included in the Offaly Dictionary of Biography.