Edward Lysaght

Born 1763—Died 1810.

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 2, edited by Charles A. Read.

"Pleasant Ned Lysaght," as he was commonly called, barrister, wit, and song-writer, was the son of John Lysaght, Esq. of Brickhill in the county of Clare, and was born on the 21st of December, 1763. His early days were passed amid the romantic associations that surrounded his father's home, and the names of the ancient heroes and princes of his country were familiar in his mouth as household words. Both parents were Protestants, but they had so little of the bigotry of the time that they sent their boy to a high-class school in Cashel conducted by the Rev. Patrick Hare, a Roman Catholic divine.

At this school Lysaght soon began to distinguish himself by his wit and humour as well as personal courage, and became a great favourite with his companions. He did not neglect his studies, however, and in 1779 entered Trinity College, Dublin, his leaving Cashel being cause of much sorrow to both teachers and pupils. While studying at Trinity his father died, and Lysaght, full of deep grief, returned home to his mother. With her he remained for some time, and in 1784 he was after examination admitted a student of the Middle Temple, London. Before long he gained some of the best prizes, and having taken his degree of M.A. at Oxford, was called to the English and Irish bar in 1798.

After a time he married, but his practice continued meagre, and Sir Jonah Barrington says he discovered that his father-in-law, whom he had believed to be a wealthy Jew, was only a bankrupt Christian. His creditors pressing him, Lysaght left England and returned to Ireland, resolved to make it his future home. He soon won the good wishes and esteem of the people generally, and, what was even better, his practice began to improve, and he gained reputation on circuit as a fluent speaker. He now occupied his leisure hours —and there were leisure hours in those days for even the busiest—in verse-making, and the production of many a witty skit now utterly lost. In the Volunteer movement he took a prominent and active part, and helped it forward both by tongue and pen. When the movement which resulted in the Union began, Lysaght opposed it with all his power, and, though repeatedly tempted, remained to the last unbribable and patriotic. In 1810, when he had come to believe that Ireland would never more take her place among the nations of the earth, he died, regretted by all who knew him, or who had listened to his wit that so often set the court as well as the table in a roar.

Lysaght's poetry was, like himself, full of wit and humour, with an under-stratum of feeling and sentiment, and a strength and directness of expression which were characteristic of him in everyday life. His style is essentially a healthy one, escaping on the one hand from the stiffness of the age in which he lived, yet free from license and not overloaded with ornament. His insight into character, especially Irish character, was wonderful, and his "Sprig of Shillelah" remains to this day a perfect photograph of the now extinct being it portrays. The respect of the bench and bar in Ireland for Lysaght's memory was shown by their donation of £2520 for his widow and daughters. A volume of Poems by the late Edward Lysaght, Esq. was published in Dublin in 1811, but it does not contain some of his best effusions, many of which are now doubtless lost.

Poems by Edward Lysaght:—

Kate of Garnavilla
The Sprig of Shillelah
Our Island
Sweet Chloe
Thy Spirit is from Bondage Free
To Henry Grattan
Kitty of Coleraine