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McDonough's Wife by Lady Augusta Gregory



McDonough, a piper.
First Hag.
Second Hag.


   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 world.

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 this.

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 went in.”

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 Catherine?

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, leans
   his head against the wall, and breaks into a prayer in Irish:

“An Athair tha in Naomh, dean trocaire orainn! A Dia Righ an Domhain,
 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 night-time?

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 the world!

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 my tormenting?

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 inside?

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 mind!
   (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, looking

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 strength.

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 bones.

   (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 come.

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 Cymric 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.”


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