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The Rose of Tralee
How The Ballad Came To Be


One of Ireland's most popular songs was written by William Pembroke Mulchinock who fell in love with one Mary O'Connor, a maid in service to his parents. Fact or fiction, the following account, which was compiled from various sources, tells of an unrequited romance between a wealthy Protestant lad and a poor Catholic colleen.

At 17, Mary was a dark-haired beauty with large, lustrous eyes. When William's sister took him to see her children in the nursery, he saw Mary for the first time - and was totally smitten. From then on, he sought out every opportunity to be with her and eventually, they fell in love. She was especially taken by the lovely poem he had written, just for her:

The pale moon was rising above the green mountains,
The sun was declining beneath the blue sea;
When I strayed with my love by the pure crystal fountain,
That stands in the beautiful Vale of Tralee.
She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer,
Yet 'twas not her beauty alone that won me;
Oh no, 'twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning,
that made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.

The cool shades of evening their mantle were spreading,
And Mary all smiling was listening to me;
The moon through the valley her pale rays was shedding,
When I won the heart of the Rose of Tralee.
Though lovely and fair as the Rose of the summer,
Yet 'twas not her beauty alone that won me;
Oh no, 'twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning,
that made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.

William spent many evenings in Mary's parents' house where he was well liked. As might be expected, his family disapproved. Ignoring the wishes and opinions of his parents, he asked Mary to marry him. She declined because even though she loved him, she was afraid that such a marriage would end in disaster.

Not long after, Dan O'Connell held a tremendous meeting in Denny street on the very doorstep of the County Club. The long monopoly by the Denny's of the parliamentary Borough of Tralee was at last being challenged by O'Connell for the forthcoming election. Maurice O'Connell, Dan's son, was to contest the seat. Tens of thousands came from all parts of Kerry and beyond, some in marching order with many here and there brandishing a pike or rusty sword; Mulchinock was leader of one the Repealer contingents.

On this evening as Mulchinock passed, one of the Repealers shouted at a little man called Leggett, 'Leggett, will you be Pope's Legate?' Pope was a leading Repealer of the time who came from Causeway, and was popularly known as Pope o' the Causeway.' Leggett, whose patience was well-nigh exhausted, made a run at his tormentor with a pike. To defend himself, his tormenter made a thrust at Leggett with a rusty sword and mortally wounded him.

Mulchinock saw what happened but did not realize its gravity. He was more than astonished however, when Captain Fairfield with some of the dragoons approached him later and warned him that if Leggett died he, Mulchinock, would be held responsible.

After the meeting, William went home where he met Mary and produced an engagement ring; this time, she overcame her fears and accepted his proposal. At that moment, William's best friend, Bob Blenerhasset burst in and told him Leggett was dead and the dragoons were coming to arrest him. Bob gave William his horse and a hundred gold sovereigns and told him to ride to Barrow Harbour. There was a ship getting ready to set sail which would remove him from the danger of arrest - unjustified as it was.

Mulchinock took Mary in his arms to kiss her good bye. "Good bye, my own," he said, "and don't grieve: I'll be back soon." Tears welled up in her eyes but she kept brave to the last. Not a flickering of an eyelid did she betray her breaking heart. With that Bob rushed in to hasten William's departure because two dragoons were coming up the lane. William fled.

Eventually, he made his way to India where he worked as a war correspondent. The British were having a difficult time, but amid all the shot and shell and blinding heat, he would often imagine a soft June day in Ireland - lush June of the roses. And the fuchsia, too. It came always about St. John's day, the buds bobbing up and down against their background of dark green - fairy bells with their exquisite purple chiming for far, faraway things such as the bonfires of St. John's eve:

"With how much glee in sweet Tralee
Ere yet, our joys were blighted,
With mirth and song when June came on
Our bonfires once we lighted."

Meanwhile, back on the battlefields of India, an attempt was made to bring in the wounded and collect and bury the dead; William recognized a fellow Tralee man among the fallen - a Lieutenant Collis. William requested an interview with the Commander-in-Chief, known as 'Old Gough'. He wanted to ask the commander's permission to take possession of the young lieutenant's personal belongings so that he could return them to his family, if and when William went back to Tralee.

Permission was gladly granted. The commander then went on to enquire what a Mulchinock was doing so far from home. William told Old Gough the story of Leggett and how William was held responsible for his death. The commander saw the injustice of it all and since the Goughs hailed from Limerick, he had some influence and would see what he could do.

So it was that one afternoon in early spring, in the year 1849, a distinguished-looking stranger descended from the mail coach that had just arrived in Tralee. The coach had deposited William outside The Kings Arms and he needed to shake off the dust from his long journey; he entered the hostelry. "Landlord," he called out.

George Cameron presently appeared to offer his services. He did not recognize William because he had only recently taken over the hotel. "How may I serve you, Sir?" "A cognac, my good man," replied William, "The old place has not changed much," he added. "You know this place?", Cameron asked. "I was born in Tralee and I've come back for a very special purpose. To marry a girl whose lovely eyes held my soul captive during many years in India. We pledged that we would be true, and I know she has been as true to me as I have been to her." "Indeed," said the landlord, "it must be true love for it to span the years till now, good Sir, but now, if you'll please excuse me, I'll have to pull the curtains across for a few moments as there is a funeral coming down the road." "A funeral?" asked William. "Yes, but don't let it disturb you: I'll bring you your drink and you can sit here." "By all means, landlord," said William, "but it seems a bad omen, a funeral on the day of my return." The landlord soon returned with the cognac and William gulped deeply; he then went over to where George Cameron stood observing the funeral entourage as it passed by. "May she rest in peace" murmured the landlord. William felt a chill run up his back and turned to Cameron. "Who is the funeral for?" "A local girl from down the road." replied Cameron. William's heart sank but he held himself up and finally asked the landlord "What was the girls name?" "Mary, Sir, Mary O'Connor." She was just 29 years old.

There was nothing left for William now but Mary's grave at Clogherbrien. The neighbors wondered if he would ever come back to himself: was this to be the end of it all? Not quite. William's friends saw to it that he was re-aquainted with a girl he had met years before at the races in Ballinasloe - Alicia Keogh. They eventually married and then emigrated to America.

For a while, New York suited William. He and Alicia started a family and he also began writing again. But, in the end, his grief over the death of Mary O'Connor caused the marriage to break up.

William returned to Ireland in 1855 where he sought solace in alcohol. He never forgot his one true love and in his misery, one of the last things he penned was another verse to the poem he had written to Mary so many years before:

In the far fields of India, 'mid wars dreadful thunders,
Her voice was a solace and comfort to me,
But the chill hand of death has now rent us asunder,
I'm lonely tonight for the Rose of Tralee.
She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer,
Yet 'twas not her beauty alone that won me;
Oh no, 'twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning,
that made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.

William spent the rest of his life in a lodging house in Ashe Street. On October 13, 1864, at the age of 44, he died. His last wish was to be buried where he now lies in Clogherbrien, beside his one true love. . .his Mary, the Rose Of Tralee.

And when the pale moon rises o'er the green mountain,
And the sun is declining beneath the blue sea,
We dream of those lovers by the pure crystal fountain -
For they live in our hearts in this vale of Tralee.

Note: The melody is attributed to Charles W. Glover (1912).

Today's Rose of Tralee
Competitions are held in a great number of countries. The winner from each country then travels to Tralee for the World Final. The competition is not an ordinary beauty pageant; contestants have to have Irish ancestry and be able to show some skill reflecting Irish culture - Irish dancing, singing, playing the harp or fiddle, and so on; candidates must also demonstrate academic ability and achievement.
For our article on the Rose of Tralee Festival, please click Festival.

Resources:
Festival Information:The official Rose of Tralee website.

Love Story: IOL.ie

Main Photo:
Commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Rose of tralee Competition, sculptor Jeanne Rynhart is shown putting the finishing touches on a statue of Mary O'Connor and William Pembroke Mulchinock. The statue was cast in bronze and placed on a pedestal in the Rose garden, Tralee, Co. Kerry.
Photographer: Macmonagle, Killarney
Related Story: Irish Indepenedent

 

Sun, Oct 1, 2017

Ireland's Most Haunted Castle

South-east of Birr between Kinnity and Roscrea, in Co. Offaly are the remains of Leap Castle. Originally an O'Carroll fortress, it guarded the pass from the Slieve Bloom into Munster. Said to have more than 50 ghosts, its dark and mysterious past includes the murder of a priest by his brother in the "Bloody Chapel" and the slaughter by their Irish employers of more than 50 Scots mercenaries in order to avoid payment. It has always had a reputation of being haunted and locals have described seeing the windows at the top of the castle "light up for a few seconds as if many candles were brought into the room" late at night. For more details read our article Creepy Irish Castles & Houses.
Photo Credit & More Details: H. J. Moncrieff


Click for More Culture Corner.





Rose of Tralee
The Séan O’Neill Band

In addition to the title track, this great collection also ifeatures other romatic Irish rose favorites including My Lovely Rose of Clare, My Lovely Irish Rose, Rose of Akkendale, Rose of Mooncoin and more.
Click here for The Rose of Tralee.

 

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