Raglan Road runs between Pembroke Road and Clyde Road in exclusive Ballsbridge, Dublin. It came into existence in 1857, on the conclusion of peace after the Crimean War, and was named after one-armed (he had lost his right arm at Waterloo) Field Marshal FitzRoy James Henry Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan, the first Chief Commander in that war. Lord Raglan and his staff were at the time blamed by press and government for the sufferings of the British soldiers in the terrible Crimean winter before the Siege of Sevastopol, owing to shortages of food and clothing. Historians have since suggested that the chief neglect rested with the home authorities, and the appalling logistical support from England. The severe situation at the front line sent Florence Nightingale into action.
On 3 October 1946 a poem appeared in The Irish Times under the title ‘Dark Haired Miriam Ran Away’. The author was Patrick Kavanagh. The poet whilst walking on a ‘quiet street’ recalls a doomed love affair with a younger woman:
On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.
The poem became famous under its later title ‘On Raglan Road’. The young lady involved was Hilda Moriarty who later married Donogh O’Malley, the Irish Minister for Health. In a 1987 interview she explained that the main reason for the failure of their relationship was the wide age gap between them. The poet was forty, she eighteen years younger. The poem itself had been set as a challenge to him. Kavanagh had described himself to Hilda as a ‘peasant poet’. She did not consider vegetables fit for poetry and asked him to write something more fundamental. He left and created ‘On Ragland Road’.
The Bailey, Duke Street, is a famous Victorian pub which has a special place in the history of Dublin life – literary, social, and political. It was there that Kavanagh met Luke Kelly of The Dubliners. As a result of that meeting, Kelly set ‘On Grafton Street’ to the music of a Gaelic song ‘Fáinne Geal an Lae’. The song had been published by Edward Walsh in 1847 in his collection of Irish Popular Songs. In 1873, it was translated into English as ‘The Dawning of the Day’ by native Irish-speaker Patrick Weston Joyce, the outstanding historian, author, and music collector, whose most enduring work is The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places (first edition published in 1869). Luke Kelly however denied that chain of events. In Luke Kelly: A Memoir his biographer Des Geraghy describes a gathering of poets and singers in The Bailey. Kavanagh asked Kelly on that occasion to sing ‘Ragland Road’ for him. This would suggest that the former had already set his poem to music. In an interview for Irish television, author Benedict Kiely described how Kavanagh had asked him previously if his poem ‘Dark Haired Miriam Ran Away’ could be set to the tune of ‘Dawning of the Day’. Whatever the genesis of the song may be, ever since The Dubliners put it on their repertoire, ‘Ragland Road’ has become a Dublin anthem, performed and recorded by a string of artists. Van Morrison’s rendering of the song is undoubtedly the most brilliant one.