Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
Songs and Ballads.
III. A Legend of Tyrone
By Ellen O’Leary (1831–1889)
AMONG 1 those green hills where O’Neill in his pride
Ruled in high state, with his fair English bride,
A quaint cottage stood, till swept down by some gale;
And of that vanished home the old wives tell this tale.
*            *            *            *
Crouched round a bare hearth in hard, frosty weather,        5
Three lone, helpless weans cling close together;
Tangled those gold locks, once bonnie and bright—
There’s no one to fondle the baby to-night.
“My mammie I want! Oh! my mammie I want!”
The big tears stream down with low wailing chaunt;        10
Sweet Ely’s slight arms enfold the gold head;
“Poor weeny Willie, sure mammie is dead—
And daddie is crazy from drinking all day,
Come down, holy angels, and take us away!”
Eily and Eddie keep kissing and crying—        15
Outside the weird winds are sobbing and sighing.
All in a moment the children are still,
Only a quick coo of gladness from Will.
The sheiling no longer seems empty and bare,
For, clothed in white raiment, the mother stands there.        20
They gather around her, they cling to her dress;
She rains down soft kisses for each shy caress,
Her light, loving touches smooth out tangled locks,
And pressed to her bosom the baby she rocks.
He lies in his cot, there’s a fire on the hearth;        25
To Eily and Eddy ’tis heaven on earth,
For mother’s deft fingers have been everywhere,
She lulls them to rest in the low sugaun chair.
They gaze open-eyed, then the eyes gently close,
As petals fold into the heart of a rose;        30
But ope soon again in awe, love, but not fear,
And fondly they murmur, “Our mammie is here!”
She lays them down softly, she wraps them around,
They lie in sweet slumbers, she starts at a sound!
The cock loudly crows, and the spirits away—        35
The drunkard steals in at the dawning of day.
Again and again ’tween the dark and the dawn
Glides in the dead mother to nurse Willie bawn, 2
Or is it an angel who sits by the hearth?
An angel in heaven, a mother on earth.        40
Note 1. The Legend of the Dead Mother, as told among the hills of Tyrone, is simple and very homely. The tender mother and fond wife dies; the father in despair turns to drinking and neglects his little ones. The mother, still watching over her babies, comes back in the gloaming, again and again, to succour and fondle them. They tell the neighbours to take them to the priest. In reply to his incredulous questions, their only answer is another question, “Wouldn’t we know our own mammie?” [back]
Note 2. Bán, i.e. fair, in Irish. [back]

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