The "Bard O'kelly"
— The Potter’s Field in literature has its Poets’ Corner, and the epitaph which chronicles the presence and fate of “ Poor McDonald Clarke ” might aptly be applied to pathetic scores of subdued and silenced poetasters. Literary longevity, like literary popularity, is a gift by itself, and is therefore not to be inferred from the merit of the work in question. There is little doubt that some of the proletarian verse of George P. Morris will survive in the popular mind most of that written by his statelier partner, the author of Absalom. A like fair fortune befalls the “Bard O’Kelly,” in that he is remembered at all, even by this passing “ mention,” which, if it awake any responsive recollection elsewhere, will doubtless bring to mind The Curse of Doneraile. This doggerel ballad records the loss in that unfortunate village of the author’s time-honored chronometer, and is unsparing in its malisons.
Turn always sour at Doneraile !
May every ship that wafts a sail
Be freighted with convicts from Doneraile.”
It is somewhat humiliating to acknowledge that one’s memory may become a vessel for the doctrine of the survival of the unfittest in literature ; but true it is I perfectly recall this unrelieved gibberish, while for the life of me I cannot remember even one line of Clarence Mangan, whom I read, and read admiringly, at the same schoolboy age. But to proceed to that event which proved the great occasion of his career to the “ Bard O’Kelly.”
During the latter part of the reign of George IV. his Majesty made a visit to Ireland, and was there received with a degree of enthusiasm which was the despair of the “patriots” of that unquiet island. Curran came out in invective strongly characterizing this Anglican and tyrant worship, “ and Ireland, like a bastinadoed elephant, kneels to receive her paltry rider !” The poet Moore, having lived long enough in London to become an assenting Englishman, wrote a song entitled The Prince’s Day, which, with a grim humor he was either too shallow to perceive or too deep to betray, he affixed to his collection of Irish Melodies, the tune being St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning.
Of course his Majesty desired to see the chief curiosities of this remarkable island. Among the celebrities whom he caused to be presented to himself was the distinguished laureate of doggerel, known as the “ Bard O’Kelly,” This extraordinary creature appears to have led a life of Arcadian simplicity, wandering from hut to hut, and reciting what he called his “ pomes ” (a pronunciation, by the way, bearing an Old World unction). By some inscrutable process he had acquired the quality of catchiness to such a degree that his effusions lingered in the minds of men when the poetry of his contemporary, Clarence Mangan, of whom mention has been made, was neglected or forgotten. However this may be, let us hear how discreetly the “ Bard O’Kelly ” bore himself on learning of the honor that awaited him from his sovereign : “ I went prepared, knowing that something ahutable to the occasion would be expected, — I went prepared with a lot of impromtous.” In this interview, his Majesty, observing that the poet was lame, remarked that one of England’s greatest bards, namely Byron, also halted in his step, if not in his verse. O’Kelly, who had already caught at the idea that personal deformity might be regarded as a gauge of genius, promptly rejoined, “And so did Scott, your Majesty.” “ Ah, indeed,” said the king, “ and Scotland, too ? ” “ Whereupon,” continues the bard, who in the art of explicating his own meaning rivaled Mr. Wegg, “finding it a proper occasion, I recited one of me own impromtoos, the following, right off the reel.
One for the rose, another for the thorn,
(That’s the thistle, your Majesty knows !)
While rose and thistle yearly die away.”
The elated bard further observes : “ Great was the delight of the king at this beautiful impromtoo, and having Commended the verses which I had just recited, and having subscribed for fifty copies of me complete works, — which, by the way, to this day he has never sent for, — I was allowed to leave the royal presence, a loyaler and a better man.”