by Lady Augusta Gregory
McDonough, a piper.
Scene: A very poor room in Galway with outer and inner door.
Noises of a fair outside. A Hag sitting by the fire. Another
standing by outer door.
First Hag: Is there e'er a sign of McDonough to be coming?
Second Hag: There is not. There were two or three asking for
him, wanting him to bring the pipes to some spree-house at the time the
fair will be at an end.
First Hag: A great wonder he not to have come, and this the
fair day of Galway.
Second Hag: He not to come ere evening, the woman that is
dead must go to her burying without one to follow her, or any friend at
all to flatten the green scraws above her head.
First Hag: Is there no neighbour at all will do that much,
and she being gone out of the world?
Second Hag: There is not. You said to ask Pat Marlborough,
and I asked him, and he said there were plenty of decent women and of
well-reared women in Galway he would follow and welcome the day they
would die, without paying that respect to one not belonging to the
district, or that the town got no good account of the time she came.
First Hag: Did you do as I bade you, asking Cross Ford to
send in a couple of the boys she has?
Second Hag: What a fool I'd be asking her! I laid down to her
the way it was. McDonough's wife to be dead, and he far out in the
country, and no one belonging to her to so much as lift the coffin over
the threshold of the door.
First Hag: What did she say hearing that?
Second Hag: She put a big laugh out of her, and it is what
she said: “May the devil die with her, and it is well pleased the
street will be getting quit of her, and it is hard say on what mountain
she might be grazing now.”
First Hag: There will no help come burying her so.
Second Hag: It is too lofty McDonough was, and too
high-minded, bringing in a woman was maybe no lawful wife, or no honest
child itself, but it might be a bychild or a tinker's brat, and he
giving out no account of her generations or of her name.
First Hag: Whether or no, she was a little giddy. But that is
the way with McDonough. He is sometimes an unruly lad, but he would
near knock you with his pride.
Second Hag: Indeed he is no way humble, but looking for
attendance on her, as if she was the youngest and the greatest in the
First Hag: It is not to humour her the Union men will, and
they carrying her to where they will sink her into the ground, unless
it might be McDonough would come back, and he having money in his hand,
to bring in some keeners and some hired men.
Second Hag: He to come back at this time it is certain he
will bring a fist-full of money.
First Hag: What makes you say that to be certain?
Second Hag: A troop of sheep-shearers that are on the west
side of the fair, looking for hire from the grass farmers. I heard them
laying down they met with McDonough at the big shearing at Cregroostha.
First Hag: What day was that?
Second Hag: This day week for the world.
First Hag: He has time and plenty to be back in Galway ere
Second Hag: Great dancing they had and a great supper at the
time the shearing was at an end and the fleeces lodged in the big
sacks. It is McDonough played his music through the night-time. It is
what I heard them saying, “He went out of that place weightier than he
First Hag: He is a great one to squeeze the pipes surely.
There is no place ever he went into but he brought the whip out of it.
Second Hag: His father was better again, they do be saying.
It was from the other side he got the gift.
First Hag: He did, and from beyond the world, where he
befriended some in the forths of the Danes. It was they taught him
their trade. I heard tell, he to throw the pipes up on top of the
rafters, they would go sounding out tunes of themselves.
Second Hag: He could do no more with them than what McDonough
himself can do—may ill luck attend him! It is inhuman tunes he does be
making; unnatural they are.
First Hag: He is a great musician surely.
Second Hag: There is no person can be safe from him the time
he will put his “come hither” upon them. I give you my word he set
myself dancing reels one time in the street, and I making an attack on
him for keeping the little lads miching from school. That was a great
scandal to put upon a decent woman.
First Hag: He to be in the fair to-day and to take the fancy,
you would hear the nailed boots of the frieze-coated man footing steps
on the sidewalk.
Second Hag: You would, and it's likely he'd play a notion
into the skulls of the pampootied boys from Aran, they to be kings of
France or of Germany, till they'd go lift their head to the clouds and
go knocking all before them. And the police it is likely laughing with
themselves, as if listening to the talk of the blackbird would be
perched upon a blessed bush.
First Hag: I wonder he did not come. Could it be he might be
made away with for the riches he brought from Cregroostha? It would be
a strange thing now, he to be lying and his head broke, at the butt of
a wall, and the woman he thought the whole world of to be getting her
burial from the workhouse.
(A sound of pipes.)
Second Hag: Whist, I tell you! It's the sound of the pipes.
It is McDonough, it is no other one.
First Hag: (Getting up.) I'm in dread of him coming in the
house. He is a hasty man and wicked, and he vexed. What at all will he
say and she being dead before him? Whether or no, it will be a sharp
grief to him, she to scatter and to go. He might give me a backstroke
and drive me out from the door.
Second Hag: Let you make an attack upon himself before he
will have time to make his own attack.
McDonough: (Coming in.) Catherine! Where is she? Where is
First Hag: Is it readying the dinner before you, or wringing
out a shirt for the Sunday like any good slave of a wife, you are used
to find your woman, McDonough?
McDonough: What call would she have stopping in the house
with the withered like of yourself? It is not to the crabbed talk of a
peevish hag a handsome young woman would wish to be listening and sport
and funning being in the fair outside.
First Hag: Go look for her in the fair so, if it is gadding
up and down is her habit, and you being gone out from her sight.
McDonough: (Shaking her.) Tell me out, where is she?
First Hag: Tell out what harbour were you yourself in from
the day you left Cregroostha?
McDonough: Is it that she got word?—or that she was tired
waiting for me?
First Hag: She is gone away from you, McDonough.
McDonough: That is a lie, a black lie.
First Hag: Throwing a lie in a decent woman's face will not
bring you to the truth.
McDonough: Is it what you are laying down that she went away
with some other man? Say that out if you have courage, and I'll wring
your yellow windpipe.
First Hag: Leave your hand off me and open the room door, and
you will see am I telling you any lie.
McDonough: (Goes to door, then stops.) She is not in it. She
would have come out before me, and she hearing the sound of the pipes.
First Hag: It is not the sound of the pipes will rouse her,
or any sound made in this world at all.
McDonough: (Trembling.) What is it?
First Hag: She is gone and she is not living.
McDonough: Is it to die she did? (Clutches her.)
First Hag: Yesterday, and the bells ringing, she turned her
face to the south and died away. It was at the hour of noon I knew and
was aware she was gone. A great loss it to be at the time of the fair,
and all the lodgers that would have come into the house.
McDonough: It is not truth. What would ail her to die?
First Hag: The makings of a child that came before its time,
God save the mark! She made a bad battle at the last.
McDonough: What way did it fail you to send me out messengers
seeking me when you knew her to be done and dying?
First Hag: I thought she would drag another while. There was
no time for the priest itself to overtake her, or to put the little
dress of the Virgin in her hand at the last gasp of death.
McDonough goes into the room. He comes out as if affrighted,
his head against the wall, and breaks into a prayer in Irish:
“An Athair tha in Naomh, dean trocaire orainn! A Dia Righ an
dean trocaire orainn! A Mhuire Mathair Dia, dean trocaire orainn!”
Second Hag: (Venturing near.) Do not go fret after her,
McDonough. She could not go through the world forever, and travelling
the world. It might be that trouble went with her.
McDonough: Get out of that, you hags, you witches you! You
croaking birds of ill luck! It is much if I will leave you in the
living world, and you not to have held back death from her!
Second Hag: That you may never be cross till you will meet
with your own death! What way could any person do that?
McDonough: Get out the door and it will be best for you!
Second Hag: You are talking fool's talk and giving out words
that are foolishness! There is no one at all can put away from his road
the bones and the thinness of death.
McDonough: I to have been in it he would not have come under
the lintel! Ugly as he is and strong, I would be able for him and would
wrestle with him and drag him asunder and put him down! Before I would
let him lay his sharp touch on her I would break and would crush his
naked ribs, and would burn them to lime and scatter them!
First Hag: Where is the use raving? It is best for you to
turn your hand to the thing has to be done.
McDonough: You to have stood in his path he might have
brought you away in her place! That much would be no great thing to
ask, and your life being dead and in ashes.
First Hag: Quieten yourself now where it was the will of God.
She herself made no outcry and no ravings. I did my best for her,
laying her out and putting a middling white sheet around her. I went so
far as to smoothen her hair on the two sides of her face.
McDonough: (Turning to inner door.) Is it that you are gone
from me, Catherine, you that were the blossom of the branch!
(Old woman moans.)
It is a bad case you to have gone and to have left me as lonesome
after you as that no one ever saw the like!
(The old woman moans after each sentence.)
I to bring you travelling you were the best traveller, and the best
stepper, and the best that ever faced the western blast, and the waves
of it blowing from you the shawl! I to be sore in the heart with
walking you would make a smile of a laugh. I would not feel the road
having your company; I would walk every whole step of Ireland.
I to bring you to the dance-house you would dance till you had them
all tired, the same in the late of the day as in the commencement! Your
steps following quick on one another the same as hard rain on a
flagstone! They could not find your equal in all Ireland or in the
whole ring of Connemara!
What way did it fail me to see the withering of the branches on
every bush, as it is certain they withered the time laughter died with
your laugh? The cold of winter has settled on the hearth. My heart is
closed up with trouble!
First Hag: It is best for us shut the door and to keep out
the noises of the fair.
McDonough: Ah, what sort at all are the people of the fair,
to be doing their bargaining and clutching after their luckpenny, and
she being stark and quiet!
First Hag: She has to be buried ere evening. There was a
messenger of a clerk came laying that down.
McDonough: May ill luck attend him! Is it that he thinks she
that is gone has no person belonging to her to wake her through the
First Hag: He sent his men to coffin her. She will be brought
away in the heel of the day.
McDonough: It is a great wake I will give her. It would not
be for honour she to go without that much. Cakes and candles and drink
and tobacco! The table of this house is too narrow. It is from the
neighbours we should borrow tables.
First Hag: That cannot be. It is what the man said, “This is
a common lodging-house. It is right to banish the dead from the
living.” He has the law with him, and custom. There is no use you
thinking to go outside of that.
McDonough: My lasting grief it will be I not to get leave to
show her that respect!
First Hag: “There will a car be sent,” he said, “and two boys
from the Union for to bear her out from the house.”
McDonough: Men from the Union, are you saying? I would not
give leave to one of them to put a hand anigh or anear her! It is not
their car will bring her to the grave. That would be the most pity in
First Hag: You have no other way to bring her on her road. It
is best for you give in to their say.
McDonough: Where are the friends and the neighbours that they
would not put a hand tinder her?
First Hag: They are after making their refusal. She was not
well liked in Galway. There is no one will come to her help.
McDonough: Is that truth, or is it lies you have made up for
First Hag: It is no lie at all. It is as sure as the winter's
frost. You have no one to draw to but yourself.
McDonough: It is mad jealous the women of Galway were and
wild with anger, and she coming among them, that was seventeen times
better than their best! My bitter grief I ever to have come next or
near them, or to have made music for the lugs or for the feet of wide
crooked hags! That they may dance to their death to the devil's pipes
and be the disgrace of the world! It is a great slur on Ireland and a
great scandal they to have made that refusing! That the Corrib River
may leave its merings and rise up out of its banks till the waves will
rise like mountains over the town and smother it, with all that is left
of its tribes!
First Hag: Be whist now, or they will be angered and they
hearing you outside in the fair.
McDonough: Let their day not thrive with the buyers and the
sellers in the fair! The curse of mildew on the tillage men, that every
grain of seed they have sowed may be rotten in the ridges, and the
grass corn blasted from the east before the latter end of harvest! The
curse of the dead on the herds driving cattle and following after
markets and fairs! My own curse on the big farmers slapping and
spitting in their deal! That a blood murrain may fall upon their
bullocks! That rot may fall upon their flocks and maggots make them
their pasture and their prey between this and the great feast of
Christmas! It is my grief every hand in the fair not to be set shaking
and be crookened, where they were not stretched out in friendship to
the fair-haired woman that is left her lone within boards!
Second Hag: (At door.) Is it a niggard you are grown to be,
McDonough, and you with riches in your hand? Is it against a new
wedding you are keeping your pocket stiff, or to buy a house and an
estate, that it fails you to call in hired women to make a right
keening, and a few decent boys to lift her through the streets?
McDonough: I to have money or means in my hand, I would ask
no help or be beholden to any one at all.
Second Hag: If you had means, is it? I heard by true telling
that you have money and means. “At the sheep-shearers' dance a high
lady held the plate for the piper; a sovereign she put in it out of her
hand, and there was no one of the big gentry but followed her. There
never was seen so much riches in any hall or home.” Where now is the
fifty gold sovereigns you brought away from Cregroostha?
McDonough: Where is it?
Second Hag: Is it that you would begrudge it to the woman is
McDonough: You know well I would not begrudge it.
First Hag: A queer thing you to speak so stiff and to be
running down all around you, and your own pocket being bulky the while.
McDonough: (Turning out pocket.) It is as slack and as
empty as when I went out from this.
Second Hag: You could not have run through that much.
McDonough: Not a red halfpenny left, or so much as the image
of a farthing.
First Hag: Is it robbed and plundered you were, and you
walking the road?
McDonough: (Sitting down and rocking himself.) I wish to
my God it was some robber stripped and left me bare! Robbed and
plundered! I was that, and by the worst man and the unkindest that ever
was joined to a woman or lost a woman, and that is myself.
First Hag: Is it to lose it unknownst you did?
McDonough: What way did I lose it, is it? I lost it knowingly
and of my own will. Thrown on counters, thrown on the drink-house
floor, given for spirits, given for porter, thrown for drink for
friends and acquaintances, for strangers and strollers and vagabonds.
Scattered in the parish of Ardrahan and at Labane cross. Tramps and
schemers lying drunk and dead drunk at the butt of every wall.
(Buries head in his hands.)
First Hag: That is what happened the gold yourself and the
pipes had won? You made no delay doing that much. You have a great
wrong done to the woman inside, where you left her burying bare.
Second Hag: She to be without a farthing dip for her corpse,
and you after lavishing gold.
First Hag: You have a right to bruise your knees making
repentance, you that lay on the one pillow with her. You to be putting
curses upon others and making attacks on them! I would make no
complaint, you to be naked at your own burying and at the very hour of
death, and the rain falling down on your head.
McDonough: Little I mind what happens me. There is no word
you can put out of your mouth can do me any injury at all. Oh,
Catherine, it is best for me go hang myself out of a tree, and my
carcass to be torn by savage dogs that went famished through a great
length of time, and my bones left without a token or a flag or a
headstone, and my name that was up at one time to be forgotten out of
(He bursts out sobbing.)
First Hag: The shadows should be lengthening in the street.
Look out would you see the car to be coming.
Second Hag: It was a while ago at the far corner of the fair.
They were but waiting for the throng to lessen.
First Hag: They are making too much delay.
Second Hag: I see a hint of the livery of the poorhouse
coming through the crowd.
First Hag: The men of the Union are coming to bring her away,
McDonough. There is nothing more to be done. She will get her burial
from the rates.
McDonough: Oh, Catherine, Catherine! Is it I myself have
brought you to that shame and that disgrace!
Second Hag: You are making too much of it. Little it will
signify, and we to be making clay, who was it dug a hole through the
nettles or lifted down the sods over our head.
First Hag: That is so. What signifies she to be followed or
to be going her lone, and her eyes being shut to the world?
McDonough: Is that the thought ye have within ye, ye Galway
hags? It is easy known it is in a trader's town you were bred, and in a
street among dealers.
First Hag: I was but saying it does not signify.
McDonough: But I say it does signify! I will tell that out to
you and the world! That might be the thought of a townsman or a trader,
or a rich merchant itself that had his estate gained by trafficking,
for that is a sort does be thinking more of what they can make out of
the living than of keeping a good memory of the dead!
First Hag: There are worthier men than yourself, maybe, in
storehouses and in shops.
McDonough: But I am of the generations of Orpheus, and have
in me the breed of his master! And of Raftery and Carolan and O'Daly
and all that made sounds of music from this back to the foundations of
the earth! And as to the rich of the world, I would not humble my head
to them. Let them have their serving men and their labourers and
messengers will do their bidding. But the servant I myself command is
the pipes that draws its breath from the four winds, and from a wind is
beyond them again, and at the back of the winds of the air. She was a
wedded woman and a woman having my own gold ring on her hand, and my
own name put down with hers in the book. But she to have been a
shameless woman as ye make her out to be, and sold from tinker to
tinker on the road it is all one! I will show Galway and the world that
it does signify; that it is not fitting McDonough's wife to travel
without company and good hands under her and good following on the
road. Play now, pipes, if you never played before! Call to the keeners
to follow her with screams and beating of the hands and calling out!
Set them crying now with your sound and with your notes, as it is often
you brought them to the dance-house!
(Goes out and plays a lament outside.)
First Hag: (Looking out.) It is queer and wild he is, cutting
his teeth and the hair standing on him.
Second Hag: Some high notion he has, calling them to show
honour to her as if she was the Queen of the Angels.
First Hag: To draw to silence the whole fair did. Every
person is moving towards this house.
(A murmur as of people. McDonough comes in, stands at door,
McDonough: I squeeze the pipes as a challenge to the whole of
the fair, gentle noble and simple, the poor and the high up. Come
hither and cry Catherine McDonough, give a hand to carry her to the
grave! Come to her aid, tribes of Galway, Lynches and Blakes and
Frenches! McDonough's pipes give you that command, that have learned
the lamentation of the Danes.
Come follow her on the road, trades of Galway, the fishermen, and
the carpenters, and the weavers! It is by no short road we will carry
her that never will walk any road from this out! By Williams-gate,
beside Lynch's gallows, beside the gaol of the hangings, the salmon
will make their leap as we pass!
Men at Door: We will. We will follow her, McDonough.
Others: Give us the first place.
Others: We ourselves will carry her!
McDonough: Faith, Catherine, you have your share and your
choice this day of fine men, asking to carry you and to lend you their
I will give no leave to traffickers to put their shoulder under you,
or to any that made a refusal, or any seaside man at all.
I will give leave to no one but the sheep-shearers from Eserkelly,
from Moneen and Cahirlinny and the whole stretch of Cregroostha. It is
they have friendship for music, it is they have a wish for my four
(Sheep-shearers come in. They are dressed in white flannel. Each
has a pair of shears at his side. The first carries a crook.)
First Sheep-shearer: Is it within there she is, McDonough?
First Hag: Go in through the door. The boards are around her
and a clean quilt over them. Have a care not to leave down your hands
on it, and they maybe being soiled with the fair.
(They take off their hats and go in.)
McDonough: (Turning to her door.) If you got no great honour
from your birth up, and went barefoot through the first of your youth,
you will get great respect now and will be remembered in the times to
There is many a lady dragging silk skirts through the lawns and the
flower knots of Connacht, will get no such grand gathering of people at
the last as you are getting on this day.
It is the story of the burying of McDonough's wife will be written
in the book of the people!
(Sheep-shearers appear at inner door. McDonough goes out,
squeezing the pipes. Triumphant music is heard from outside.)
In my childhood there was every year at my old home,
Roxborough, or, as it is called in Irish, Cregroostha, a great sheep-shearing
that lasted many days. On the last evening there was always a dance for the
shearers and their helpers, and two pipers used to sit on chairs placed on a
corn-bin to make music for the dance. One of them was always McDonough. He was
the best of all the wandering pipers who went about from house to house. When,
at my marriage, I moved from the barony of Dunkellin to the neighbouring barony
of Kiltartan, he came and played at the dance given to the tenants in my honour,
and he came and played also at my son's coming of age. Not long after that he
died. The last time I saw him he came to ask for a loan of money to take the
train to Ennis, where there was some fair or gathering of people going on, and I
would not lend to so old a friend, but gave him a half-sovereign, and we parted
with kindly words. He was so great a piper that in the few years since his death
myths have already begun to gather around him. I have been told that his father
was taken into a hill of the Danes, the Tuatha de Danaan, the ancient invisible
race, and they had taught him all their tunes and so bewitched his pipes that
they would play of themselves if he threw them up on the rafters. McDonough's
pipes, they say, had not that gift, but he himself could play those inspired
tunes. Lately I was told the story I have used in this play about his taking
away fifty sovereigns from the shearing at Cregroostha and spending them at a
village near. “I said to him,” said the old man who told me this, “that it would
be better for him to have bought a good kitchen of bacon; but he said, 'Ah, when
I want more, I have but to squeeze the pipes.'“ The story of his wife's death
and burial as I give it has been told to me here and there. That is my fable,
and the emotion disclosed by the story is, I think, the lasting pride of the
artist of all ages:
“We are the music makers
And we are the dreamers of dreams....
We in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth.”
I wrote the little play while crossing the Atlantic in the
last September. Since it was written I have been told at Kinvara that
“McDonough was a proud man; he never would go to a wedding unasked, and he never
would play through a town,” So he had laid down pride for pride's sake, at that
time of the burying of his wife.
In Galway this summer one who was with him at the end told me
he had a happy death, “But he died poor; for what he would make in the long
nights he would spend through the summer days.” And then she said, “Himself and
Reilly and three other fine pipers died within that year. There was surely a
feast of music going on in some other place.”