If there is peace to be found in this world,
a heart that is humble might find it here.
- Thomas Moore
NIAGARA FALLS -- From native Indians to explorers, all who have laid eyes on Niagara, have been enchanted by its majesty. But, if it were not for the lyrical lines of one passing tourist, Thomas Moore, the esteemed Irish poet, we would never have received the legendary "Canadian Boat Song," a popular ditty that he penned while on a three-week sojourn to these parts in 1804.
Best compared to a modern day rock star, Thomas Moore received adulation wherever he roamed. His reputation as a poet equalled that of his contemporaries Byron and Shelley and it is believed that the poet's love for the ladies is the cause that relieved him from his duties as Registrar of the Admiralty Court in Bermuda after just one too many infractions with the island girls. So he did what every dutiful officer to the Crown did at the time, he headed back to England. But before he embarked for home, the handsome 25-year old stopped in Philadelphia before resuming his northward trek into Upper Canada where he was a guest of Colonel Brock and was entertained by the Tuscaroras and Mohawks.
By all accounts Moore was more than enchanted by the Niagara frontier and wrote a letter to his beloved mother in Ireland conveying how there would need to be a new language invented to describe the beauty of Niagara Falls. Writer William Kirby commented in 1896 how "Moore's residence in Niagara seems to have been a great relief and pleasure to him." Moore is said to have found heavenly inspiration for his poems beneath the shady branches of an old oak tree on the McFarland farm.
After his lyrical poems were published, tourism in Niagara ignited. Irish settlers were inspired to visit the lush forests and witness first hand the vast waters of the Niagara River cascading over the falls. Many visitors even made a pilgrimage to the very oak tree dubbed as "Moore's Oak," chipping of a piece of bark as a memento, a souvenir, of the place.
Moore's oak is long gone but thanks to the zeal of one Irish lass, Yvonne McMorrough, Niagara has its own special spot commemorating Thomas Moore. Along the banks of the Niagara River on your way to Niagara-on-the-lake off Service Road 72 rests a granite boulder under a gnarly old oak tree. Officially designated as the Thomas Moore landmark, the ancient rock bears a plaque with a simple inscription:
"One of Ireland's best loved and renowned poets and lyricists, Thomas Moore visited Niagara during July 1804. Captivated by the scenic splendour of the area and as guest of Colonel Isaac Brock, Commander at Fort George, Moore frequently found rest and creative inspiration under a large Oak tree here on the McFarland farm. His poems and other writings about Ontario helped to give the Irish and British a better picture of this region and, subsequently, played a role in emigration to Canada."
"We wanted to commemorate Moore's 200th anniversary of arriving in Niagara," says Yvonne about the unveiling ceremony that occurred in July. The active senior, who once owned her own public relations company in Toronto, was the driving force behind the commemorative plaque when she successfully lobbied the Niagara Parks Commission earlier this year.
Moore's writing was most likely used to promote emigration. Yvonne says, "There was a 30 to 40 year period where Ontario (then Upper Canada)'s population doubled," and adds, "a great deal of credit is due to Moore's writings."
Lord Russell, a former British Prime Minister, proclaimed Thomas Moore not only as Poet Laureate of Ireland but also "Poet Laureate of Canada," although, he never officially received the Canadian title. Today, Niagara is recognizing the young Irish poet's contribution to Canada's heritage.
Portrait oil on canvas - Unknown Artist cira 1800-1805