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John Reade, Poet


JOHN READE of Ballyshannon:
Dean of Canadian Literature


John Reade is dead---the sad words tell
A nation's loss; whilst bowed the head
Ring softly bells a requiem knell,
A poet's soul has fled.

With length of days, with honour crowned,
With love his lot was blest,
At death no darkling shadow frowned,
He gently passed to rest.

The above words were written by the Canadian, Historian and Author, John Boyd, on the occasion of the death of the poet, John Reade, a native of Ballyshannon whose grandparents came from Pettigo and who was one of the  major figures in Canadian letters in the last century. I would like to see a revival of interest in his work.

John Reade died in 1919 in Montreal Canada. He was born in Ballyshannon and emigrated from there in 1856. At his death he was described as the "Dean of Canadian Literature" and although his fame has considerably dimmed since then he undoubtedly was a major figure in Canadian letters for a period of 30 or 40 years towards the end of the last century and the start of this.

He was the son of Joseph Reade and Francis Smyth who I believe were natives of Pettigo. John's grandfather lived at Killynoogan, in Fermanagh, a short distance from the village and Killynoogan is in my opinion the subject of one of his finest poems. He went to Portora Royal School, Enniskillen and to Queens University in Belfast.

In Canada, with friends, he founded a short-lived literary journal called the Montreal Literary Gazette. The journal was well received by the press but failed to attract sufficient public support. In 1859 he began the study of law and passed the preliminary examinations. He held the Rectorship of Lachute College for three years while studying theology and in 1864-65 he was ordained by Bishop Fulford. He served in the Eastern Townships and in 1868-9 he was in charge of a Church of England Journal in Montreal.

In 1870 he left the church and became the literary and assistant general editor of the Montreal Gazette. He held this position for the rest of his life conducting a famous column "Old and New" for most of this time.  In 1870 he published an acclaimed volume of verse entitled "The Prophecy of Merlin and other Poems". This volume made his name in Canada and from then on his poems were an essential part of any volume of Canadian poetry. He continued to write poetry but never again published a major volume.

Ballyshannon produced two major poets in the 19th century, William Allingham in Ireland and John Reade in Canada. He contributed either prose or poetry to every magazine or review started in Canada in the 30 years to 1886 according to George MacLean Rose in his "Cyclopeadia of Canadian Biography" of that year. He died unmarried and is buried in Montreal and was survived there by his sister Miss Mary Reade. The poets William Longfellow and Matthew Arnold thought highly of his work and for many years every anthology of Canadian verse contained his poetry. Longfellow included the following poem Killynoogan in his collection of poems about places. It falls easily into the category of emigrant poetry.

"Killynoogan" Poem         John Reade, Family Notes

Contributed by John B. Cunningham

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