Poet Winifred Letts was ‘a rare species’
Members of the poets group at the ceremony in Rathcoole

Poet Winifred Letts was ‘a rare species’

A GROUP of local poets gathered in Rathcoole to mark the 140th anniversary of poet and playwright Winifred Letts in a wreath laying ceremony last week.

The ceremony took place at the Church of Ireland Cemetery on Main Street in Rathcoole on Thursday, February 10 to mark 140 years since Winifred’s birth. Organised by local historian Mervyn Ennis, the ceremony was the first time in fifty years that Winifred’s work was publicly acknowledged.

“I came across this poet while researching the Verchoyle family that once owned Citywest. It turns out that W.H.Verchoyle married Winifred Letts on the death of his first wife. She was the top first war poet in the 1914-18 war,” said Mervyn.

“She died in June 1972 and is sadly buried in an unmarked grave in Rathcoole.

“If successful and greater awareness of her life and work can be achieved, we would like this coming June, the 50th anniversary of her death, to honour her with a stone plaque at her grave.”

Winifred was born in Salford, Manchester, in 1882 to a clergyman, Ernest Letts, and an Irish mother, Isabel Mary Ferrier. She spent many childhood holidays in Knockmaroon, Chapelizod beside Phoenix Park. With deep Irish roots and sympathies, she was the second wife of local landlord Verchoyle in the Rathcoole/Saggart area. After her father’s death in 1904, she and her mother returned to Ireland, to a house called Dal Riada between Blackrock and Stillorgan, County Dublin.

Her writing career began in 1907 when she published two novels with her first collection of poetry, Songs from Leinster, published in 1913. Winifred went on to have two plays, The Eyes of the Blind (1906) and The Challenge (1909), accepted by the newly founded Abbey Theatre.

“In 1933 she produced a book for children, Knockmaroon, considered by many to be her best work,” Mervyn told The Echo.

“Winifred had self-deprecation humour and described herself as a ‘back door sort of bard’. In an Irish Times interview in 1957 she described herself as ‘a period piece, a has-been, totally unknown to her generation’. Some years later in an interview with Maeve Binchy she opined that ‘the only reason she is interesting was that she knew so many people Ireland cared about’. Unlick O’Connor described her as ‘a rare species, a true poet’.

“As next year is the 50th anniversary of her death, it would be lovely to be able to recognise, in a public way, her contribution to literature and life,” said Mervyn.

“She seemed to have been totally forgotten by literary circles since her death, but her WW1 poetry brought her back to well-deserved prominence in recent years principally on the work and effort of Bairbre O Hogan.”

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