Two Poets by Kieran Devaney

Patrick McDonough is not mentioned on Facebook or Twitter and a Google search only finds one reference to his work. But Patrick was a true Irishman and a boyhood friend of WB Yeats with whom he discussed and wrote poetry here in Rosses Point.

Patrick was born in Sligo in 1871, the son of a Church of Ireland Minister and like Yeats he came from a privileged Anglo Irish background. 

When I was a youngster having my first pints in the Elsinore Bar in Rosses Point, the old men who remembered used to tell me that both poets were “away with the fairies”. But it was Patrick McDonough who went away. While Yeats chose to live in Dublin and London like many of his generation, Patrick took ship to New York and studied law at Notre Dame, Fordham and Columbia Universities. 

He spurned a promising career as a US Attorney  to devote his life to working with the thousands of Irish immigrants arriving every week  on Ellis Island. There he took  a part time job as Literary Editor of Castle Garden, a newspaper dedicated to the Irish who helped to build New York.

His writing was encouraged by Helen Healy, a flame haired young Irish girl he met when she arrived on Ellis Island from Galway in 1908, fell in love with and married soon afterwards. Patrick never published prose or verse without showing it to her first for approval. 

Never forgetting his Sligo home he wrote:

When the witching-hour comes down the sky,
When the wind is cold and the moon rides low,
And the tide comes in with a sob and sigh,
Like a mother burdened with care and woe;
Oh then, as in days of the long ago,
When clipper and brig brought over freight,
They troop again in a ghostly show,
The Irish host at the Castle Gate.

William Butler and Patrick exchanged letters and poems. Their early work followed a similar style and I’d like to think they collaborated and maybe influenced each other.

Patrick  made his home in Greenwich Village on 310 West 29th Street above the Petitpas Restaurant, a haunt of literary giants. His contemporaries included the painter Van Wyck Brooks, Alan Seeger, the uncle of the legendary folk singer, and the writer Oliver St John Gogarty. They all contributed to the newspaper. 

William Butler Yeats’ father, the painter John B Yeats, came to Castle Garden for two weeks in 1908 and stayed until his death 13 years later at the age of 83. It was upstairs in the Petitpas that John B  sketched Pat in 1908 – the pencil drawing still hangs above the fireplace in the family home in New York.

Pat’s wife Helen died in 1939. His friend WB Yeats died weeks later and was buried in France.  Before he died Yeats wrote his own epitaph:

Under bare Benbulben’s head….
In Drumcliffe churchyard Yeats is laid…
“Cast a cold Eye
On life, on Death,
Horseman, pass by!”

Years later Patrick wrote: 

Bring home the poet, laurel-crowned,
Lay him to rest in Irish ground;
Make him a grave near Sligo Bay,
At fair Drumcliffe or Knocknarea,
For near his mother’s kindred dwelt,
And at Drumcliffe his father knelt,
And all about in beauty’s haze,
The print of proud, heroic days,
With wind and wave in druid hymn
To chant for aye his requiem.
And he’ll have mourners at his bier,
The fairy hosts who hold him dear,
And Father Gilligan, he’ll be there,
The martial Maeve and Deirdre fair,
And lads he knew in town and glen,
 The fisher folk and sailor men;
The Dooney fiddler and the throng
He made immortal with his song;
And proud in grief his rightful queen,
Ni Houlihan, the brave Kathleen.
Bring home the poet, let him rest
In the old land he loved the best.

It was the last poem he wrote. 

Pat McDonough himself passed away on July 15th, 1960 but he lived to see to see William Butler Yeats’ remains  brought home to Sligo and the poems and plays of  his childhood friend achieve fame around the world.

More than 80 years after his death, William Butler Yeats’ life is still celebrated here in Sligo.

No such fame for Patrick.

In America, on page 965 of The Home Book of Modern Verse you will find just one of his poems:

It’s far I must be going,
Some night or morning gray,
Beyond the oceans’ flowing,
Beyond the rim of day;
And sure it’s not the going,
But that I find the way.

Turning to the index of authors, under Patrick McDonough’s name these words are written: 

‘No biographical data available.’

About the contributor

Kieran Devaney
Kieran Devaney has written extensively for the London Times and other world-wide publications. During a 30-year-career in television, he has reported on and produced programmes around the world for TV am, Channel 4, ITN and Sky News in the United Kingdom, CNN in the United States and until his retirement he produced the Vincent Browne Programme for TV3 in Ireland.

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