Helen Selina Blackwood [Lady Dufferin] (1807-67)


[Lady Dufferin, née Sheridan]; author of “I’m sitting on my Stile, Mary”; dg. of Thomas Sheridan and dg of [Miss] Callander; gdg. of RBS, b. London; m. Captain Price Blackwood, 4 July 1825, lived in Italy for 2 years under disapproval of his family; often separated by his naval career; 2nd m. Earl of Gifford (becoming Countess of Gifford); pseud. Honourable Impulsia Gushington; dg. Thomas Sheridan, s. Caroline Norton and Duchess of Somerset; 4 brothers; accompanied Thomas and wife to S. Africa, alone of siblings; saw Napoleon strolling in garden at St Helena on return journey, after death of father; Lispings from Low Latitudes [pseud. “The Hon. Impulsia Gushington”], prose (London 1863); To My Dear Son, verse (1861), which includes verses by Tennyson;

her plays The Fine Young English Gentleman, satirising English pretensions in Ireland, and Finesse or a Busy Day in Messina, a 3-act comedy, were both performed at Haymarket Theatre in 1811 during the managership of John where Buckstone; A Selection of the Songs of Lady D, ed. her son; married the Earl of Gifford on her death-bed; she died of breast cancer; a replica of Helen’s (Ulster) Tower figures as a memorial close to the Thiepval monument to the missing - memorialising the fact that the to the Ulster 36th Division trained at Clandeboye before departure for the Front in WWI; nowadays Clandeboye is a diary-product brandname on yogurt packages bearing the signature Lindy Guinness. CAB JMC ODNB MKA DIW RAF FDA OCIL

[ top ]

To My Dear Son, on his 21st Birthday (c.1861, priv.); Songs, Poems, and Verses (London: John Murray 1894), ed. with memoir by her son the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava; A Selection of the Songs of Lady Dufferin, set to music by herself and others (London: John Murray 1895), edited by her son.

A Selection of the Songs of Lady Dufferin, Set to Music by Herself and Others (1895), incls. “Sweet Kilkenny Town” [‘I was workin’ in the fields near fair Boston City / Thinkin’ sadly of Kilkenny ... ]; “The Emigrant Ship” [‘where a hundred thousands welcomes shall be for evermore!’; “The Lament of the Irish Emigrant” [‘I’m sitting on my stile, Mary ... The red was in your lips, Mary / The lovelight in your eye’]; “Katey’s Letter”, and “The Bay of Dublin”, et al.

[ top ]

Catherine Jane Hamilton, ‘Helen, Lady Dufferin’, in Notable Irishwomen (Dublin: Sealy, Bryers & Co. 1904); Harold Nicholson, Helen’s Tower (London: Constable 1937), ill.,

See also remarks in Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2 - viz., ‘part of a repertoire that is one of the many cultural manifestations of the tortuous negotiations between Gaelic and English modes of civilisation that remain central to the island’s history’ (p.77 - as infra).

[ top ]

G. B. Shaw illustrates the unsentimental Irishman in Larry Doyle by quoting the well known song: ‘An Irishman’s heart is nothing but his imagination. How many of all those millions that have left Ireland have ever come back or wanted to come back? But whats the use of talking to you? Three verses of twaddle about the Irish emigrant “sitting on the stile, Mary” [...] go further with you than all the facts that stare you in the face.’ (John Bull’s Other Island, 1906, Act. I.)

F. J. Bigger, in a cutting held at the Belfast Linenhall Library, calls her authoress of “The Bay of Dublin”, with remarks, viz., née Helen Sheridan; Frederick Blackwood, Dufferin and Ava, Viceroy of India, her only son, very affectionately attached to her, considered her to have a unique love of nature. She wrote “I’m sitting on the stile, Mary ...”, and “The Irish Emigrant” [‘The red was in your lips, Mary, / The lovelight in your eye.’]

[ top ]

Brian McKenna, Irish literature, 1800-1875: a Guide to Information Sources (Detroit: Gale Research Co. 1978), cites “Helen’s Tower”, Clandeboye, by Alfred Lord Tennyson [with] To My Dear son on his 21st Birthday (Clandeboye, private ca. 1861).

Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: University of America 1904) selects “Lament for the Irish Emigrant”, “Terence’s Farewell”, and “Katey’s Letter” (pp.933-36) [available at Internet Archive online].

Chris Morash, The Hungry Voice (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1989), selects “Lament for the Irish Emigrant” from Songs, Poems and Verses (London: John Murray 1894).

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2 selects “The Irish Emigrant” from Songs and Poems and Verses [103]; notes her down among 100 poets remembered for one lyric [3]; popular stylised sentimentality of “The Irish Exile” [Deane, ed.; 67]; part of a repertoire that is one of the many cultural manifestations of the tortuous negotiations between Gaelic and English modes of civilisation that remain central to the island’s history [ibid.; 77]; BIOG as supra [114].

Belfast Public Library holds Lispings; also Blackwood, [ed.,] H. S., Poems, Songs and Verses (1895). Note that Lispings shares or echoes the title of a collection by Francis Davis (publ. Belfast).

[ top ]

Helen’s Tower in Co. Down was built by Lord Dufferin in honour of his mother, with a bronze tablet bearing lines written by Alfred Lord Tennyson: ‘Helen’s Tower, here I stand, / Dominant over sea and land, / Son’s love built me, and I hold / Mother’s love in lettered gold. / Love is in and out of time, / I am mortal stone and lime [...]’.(Quoted in P. J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland, 1994, p.28.)

Ulster dead: The monument to Ulster dead at Albert on the Somme is modelled on Helen’s Tower; see Brian J. Graham, ‘No Place of the Mind: Contested Protestant Representation of Ulster’, in Ecumene: Journal of Environment, Culture, Meaning, 1.3 (1994), p.273.

Young love: Lord Dufferin wrote of her second marriage: ‘In justice to herself, to him [Gifford] and to his parents, she thought it necessary to obtain from the doctors a formal assurance that her recovery was impossible.’ (Dufferin, 1895, p.93); Dufferin claims that her work was frequently published under her sister Caroline’s name at the request of her first husband.

[ top ]