Emerald Isle

John Johnson Marshall
Chapter II (2) - Start of Chapter

Lastly we come to the poetical term for Ireland in most common use to-day—

“The Emerald Isle.”

In a gaelic poem quoted by Douglas Hyde, in his “Literary History of Ireland,” the appelation is partly anticipated in the following lines by an unknown sixteenth century poet:—

“Forborn upon you, ye hosts of the Gael,

For your own Innisfail has been taken

And the Gall is dividing the ‘emerald lands’

By your treacherous bands forsaken.”

The foregoing is quoted as a mere coincidence, and has absolutely nothing to do with what Thomas Moore called “that rebellious but beautiful song ‘When Erin first rose.” It is by Dr. William Drennan, a Belfast man, in whose poem entitled “Erin,” written in 1795 the lines occur:—

“Arm of Erin! prove strong; but be gentle as brave;

And uplifted to strike, still be ready to save;

Nor one feeling of vengeance presume to defile

The cause or the men of the Emerald Isle.”

In a little volume entitled “Fugitive Pieces in Prose and Verse,” by William Drennan, M.D., published in Belfast, March, 1815, the author in a note to the poem says “he used the term ‘Emerald Isle’ in a party song, written without rancour of party in the year 1795.” From the frequent use made of the term since that time he fondly hopes that it will generally become associated with the name of his country as descriptive of its natural beauty and its inestimable value.

The patriotic author’s aspiration has been gratified, and throughout the world wherever the English language is spoken, by the name Emerald Isle, Ireland is at once recognised as the country referred to. As is most fitting, the poet’s association with the name of his country is happily referred to in the lines inscribed upon his tomb:—

“Pure, just, benign, thus filial love would trace,

The virtues hallowing this narrow space—

The Emerald Isle may grant a wider claim,

And link the patriot with his country’s name.”