New book reveals Dorothea Herbert’s ‘lost’ poetry

Dorothea Herbert’s celebrated autobiographical Retrospections, first published in 1929-30 more than a century after her death, has a devoted following and is of particular interest to Tipperary readers.

Dorothea Herbert’s celebrated autobiographical Retrospections, first published in 1929-30 more than a century after her death, has a devoted following and is of particular interest to Tipperary readers.

Set in Carrick-on-Suir where her father was the Church of Ireland Rector, it describes the Assemblies, theatricals and numerous entertainments and squabbles of her wealthy, eccentric family, and is a fascinating account of local life in the period.

In 1789 Rev. Herbert was required by the archbishop of Cashel to attend to his duties in another of his parishes - Knockgrafton (now New Inn) and to reside in the new glebe house for three months of each year. Dorothea became infatuated with John Roe of Rockwell, an obsession which destroyed her health and sanity (she imagined she was his wife) and led to her seclusion and decline.

Although she mentions in her Retrospections three other “Volumes” of completed works, these were regarded as lost until historian Frances Finnegan, who first lectured on Dorothea Herbert in 1994, located her manuscript of poetry. This is now published for the first time in Dr. Finnegans new biography of the Tipperary writer - ‘Introspections the Poetry and Private World of Dorothea Herbert.’ Particularly significant is the astonishing mock heroic epic ‘The Buckiad,’ of local interest and sure to be regarded as a valuable contribution to Irish literature of the period. Also included in the new book are the previously unpublished Journal Notes (a tragic continuation of the Retrospections) and chapters on John Roe, Dorothea’s fear of spinsterhood and the literary influences on her work. Also examined are Rev. Herbert’s tithe activities and their contribution to Tipperary Whiteboy and Rightboy agitation.

Frances Finnegan, who moved to Ireland from England in 1979, has lived near Carrick-on-Suir for twenty-four years. She recently retired from Waterford Institute of Technology where she was Lecturer in Social History and most of her books have been on nineteenth century poverty. She was historical advisor to two television documentaries on Irish Magdalen Asylums, and her courageous book ‘Do Penance or Perish: Magdalen Asylums in Ireland’ - the result of twenty-one years meticulous research was published by Oxford University Press in 2004. The exposure of such a discreditable matter in Ireland’s very recent history (now of topical and international concern) was a difficult process, but her ground-breaking study was acclaimed by the Guardian as the definitive work on the subject.

Dr. Finnegan has two daughters and three grandsons, and spends much of her time in Venice. Her beautifully produced book on Dorothea Herbert is published by Congrave Press, and is available from Easons in Clonmel, Clery’s in Carrick-on-Suir, the Tourist Office in Cashel, or from her website www.congravepress.com, priced at E20.