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J. J. Callanan Gougane Barra

September 9, 2012 by · Comments Off on J. J. Callanan Gougane Barra 

J. J. Callanan Gougane Barra, Gougane Barra is Jeremiah Joseph Callanan’s most famous poem which was written about a beautiful lake in the parish of Uibh Laoire while the poet was sheltering from a thunderstorm by the wall under a tree on the island hermitage.

J.J.Callanan was born a few miles outside Cork city in 1795 and he became very familiar with the Irish language. He went to O’Sullivan’s School in the city and afterwards to Dr. Harrington’s School in Cobh.

His parents intended him for the priesthood and with this in mind he went to Maynooth in 1813. After two years he discovered he had no vocation so he returned to his native city and lost the friendship of his nearest friends and neighbours. In 1818 he entered Trinity college to study medicine and while at college he won several prizes for poetry. He never attended lectures and again after a few years he had to abandon the idea altogether because of financial difficulties.

He took various posts as tutor around Ireland until he was employed as an assistant in Maginn’s school in Cork in 1823. After some time he joined Blackwood’s magazine and secured the publication of several of his many poems.

After that, Callanan left Cork city and wandered through the hills and glens of West Cork making and writing his many poems. His friends had asked him on several occasions to publish a volume of poetry and also folklore of the county as he had an intimate knowledge of the Irish language. However, his collection did not appear and he continued his ramblings in West Cork. During that time he was always out in the wet and cold until he contracted tuberculosis and his health began to fail. He was then advised to seek a warmer climate and he took up a job in Lisbon as a tutor to an Irish family. While there he felt lonely and regarded his life as a failure as Ireland was his homeland and always in his thoughts.

In his last verse of ‘Gougane Barra’, his wish was to be buried on the banks of the Avonbuee river when he wrote:

“I soon shall be gone though my name may be spoken

When some friends will come in the Summer eve’s gleaming.

To bend over my grave with a tear of emotion

Where calm Avonbee seeks the kisses of the ocean

And a wild wreath to plant from the banks of the river.

Oh the heart and the harp are silent forever.”

This hope was never to be fulfilled. His health deteriorated further and it became obvious in September 1829 that he had not long to live. He expressed a desire to die in his native land and he was actually put on board a ship sailing for Cork, but he became so ill that he had to be taken off. He died a few days later at the young age of 34 and is buried in an unmarked grave on the banks of the Tagus in Lisbon.

It was a great thought that a headstone was erected to his memory on the island at Gougane Barra only twenty yards from St. Finbar’s Oratory and possibly on the spot where he wrote the beautiful poem ‘Gougane Barra’ when sheltering from a thunderstorm.

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