A song titled Ireland is the earliest extant work by Glanville-Hicks. In 1931 the Australian Musical News claimed it was a setting of Herrick, but the manuscript score reveals that the poem’s author was the Irish-born poet David McKee Wright. Taken from Wright’s “Dark Rosaleen” suite, it was published in An Irish Heart of 1918. The title refers to Wright’s own nostalgia for “my country”, having emigrated at the age of eighteen to New Zealand.
Wright’s range was wide, writing ethereal lines about angels and gods, about the “lustrous hair” of a lover and, by contrast, about life as a shepherd and rabbiter, “Long, weary days and nights without a smoke”. He could also depict modern urban life: “The trams are shrieking down the wire; Wild motor-cars, with stench and horn, / Speed on the large, inflated tyre, / Raising a dust of pride and scorn”.
“Dark Rosaleen” however is a very personal statement of longing for the country of his birth. The poem describes how “God made Ireland for love, / With a green dress trailing on the sea, / And one star less up above, / But the Dark Rosaleen for me”. There are images of his birthplace, Ballynaskeagh, and recollections of corn fields, apple blossoms and the song of thrushes. There are even references to music,
And always to feel and know
In the music’s ebb and flow
That you are the heart of all,
As you are the heart of me
PGH chose a stanza of reminiscence that could refer to the countryside anywhere in the British Isles,
Mist over a far sea
And fields purple and green;
And ’tis there surely that I would be
With the old things seen,
With the old things I remember,
And the old things I forget,
By the turf fire of December
Or the June hedges wet
The poem may have been her choice, but it seems likely that she found An Irish Heart on the bookshelf at home. For a brief period, both Wright and Ernest Glanville-Hicks lived in Wellington, the financial and cultural hub of New Zealand. Wright moved from Oamaru to Wellington in 1900 as a Congregational minister. The local Free Lance described him as “the young man with the luxurious auburn hair” and “member of a literary family”. PGH’s father was to become a journalist on the Free Lance after his arrival in New Zealand in about 1904, and as an aspiring poet himself he could not fail to have noticed the poet of the much anthologised poem “Wellington”, whose words were etched onto the doors of city trams. Wright left Wellington after a year but returned in 1907 to report on politics for the New Zealand Mail. Whereas he was increasingly interested in socialism, Ernest Glanville-Hicks was a prominent Liberal, in 1908–9 Minister for Lands and then premier in the mimic legislature known as the Union Parliament, a proving ground for anyone interested in standing for parliament. He married in 1909 and in mid-1910 moved to Rotorua to manage the Rotorua Times. It was in Rotorua that he published a book of poetry, Songs of a Season. Wright by then had emigrated to Sydney where he established a reputation as the literary editor of the Bulletin.
Wright died in 1928, only a few years before Ireland was composed. A few years later when PGH herself began exploring the English countryside she too wrote about moments of euphoria on summer days and the glories of walking on Ide Hill, where the views of fields and woods and the sounds of cuckoos had been the same for hundreds of years. This was her pastoral moment, the realisation of dreams of travel and freedom probably held since childhood, and perhaps the happiest time of her life.