Joseph Campbell

Prolific poet and committed republican

Poet and republican Joseph Campbell (Eosamh MacCathmhaoil) was the son of a Catholic road-building contractor who lived on the Castlereagh Road. Educated at St Matthew’s National School, Malachy College, and James O’Neill’s Academy (later the University Law and Military College) in College Square East, Campbell took over the family business on the death of his father, completing a contract for the Belfast Corporation.  

Campbell’s interest in Irish language and culture led him to join the Gaelic League in Belfast, and to compose verses to traditional airs published in 1904 as Songs of Uladh. In the same year he involved himself with Bulmer Hobson’s Ulster Literary Theatre, contributing prose, articles and plays to the group’s journal Uladh. In the succeeding years he published the poetry collections The Garden of the Bees (1905), The Rushlight (1906), The Man-Child and The Gilly of Christ (both 1907).  

The verse in these volumes can be uncertain and derivative. Nevertheless, Campbell’s work possessed an energy that was not common among the minor poets of the literary revival, and he is arguably the first Irish poet to use free verse. 

As well as the Irish language, he was drawn to a tradition he called ‘the Chaucer-cum-Burns of Co Down,’ and attributed the vigour of his work to such communal wellsprings. He stated, ‘Being a Belfast man, hearing the half-Scots, half-Irish speech of my neighbours about me daily I could not escape so lusty an environment.’  

Joseph Campbell left Belfast for London in 1906, moving on to Dublin in 1911. In 1922, he was interned by the Free State government for republican activities. After his release, he went into exile in New York, where he founded the School of Irish Studies in 1925. Campbell returned to Ireland in 1939 and died in Wicklow in June 1944. 

Further Reading  

'I was among the Captives': Joseph Campbell's Prison Diary 1922-1923 (2001) edited by Eilean Ni Chuilleanain; Joseph Campbell, Poet and Nationalist, 1879-1944: A Critical Biography (1988) by Norah Saunders and AA Kelly; Poems (1963) edited by Austin Clarke.

Consult the Linen Hall Library catalogue