I promised more information about the writer of last week’s tragic verses, The Burial of Sir John Moore.
The poem is about the heroic, horrendously wounded General Moore, laid to rest in the darkness of war during the Battle of Coruña. Requested by Moneymore reader Iris Stewart, numerous copies of the poem arrived from readers all over Northern Ireland, and several from over the border.
Many commented on its sadness. Some included short biographies of the Rev Charles Wolfe, who penned the poem in the early 1800s. According to readers’ accounts he was born at Blackhall, Co Kildare on December 14, 1791. Charles was the eighth and youngest son of Theobald Wolfe and his wife Frances, daughter of the Rev Peter Lombard. There were three sisters in the family too.
The Wolfes were related to United Irishman Theobald Wolfe Tone, and to General James Wolfe, the conqueror of Quebec. When he was eight years old, Charles’s father died and the family moved to England. In 1801 Wolfe went to school in Bath, where he suffered constant ill health. From 1802 to 1805 he was tutored in Salisbury before attending Winchester College. In 1808 his family returned to Ireland, and he entered Trinity College, Dublin, graduating in 1814. He was ordained as a Church of Ireland curate in 1817. His first curacy was Ballyclog, County Tyrone before transferring a few weeks later to nearby Donaghmore. His poem The Burial of Sir John Moore written in 1816 (some readers said 1814), was very popular, but was initially attributed to a number of other writers. It first appeared in the Newry Telegraph in 1817, and was re-printed in many other publications. Then his poem was more or less ignored until after his death when Lord Byron described it as “the finest ode in the English language”. Readers tell me Charles Wolfe wrote other fine poems, and that he died of tuberculosis in Cobh when he was 31, where he is buried.