Thursday, 20 December 2007


The river Shannon as it flows under Thomond bridge
The Limerick Chronicle is the oldest newspaper in the Republic of Ireland and since 1766 has appeared each Tuesday faithfully chronicling the events and personalities of Limerick city and county. At this time of year, as Christmas Day approached the Chronicle used traditionally print in its entirety the 400 hundred line epic poem ‘Drunken Thady and the Bishops Lady’ by the self-styled Bard of Thomond Michael Hogan. He was born in Thomondgate in 1832 and the poem first appeared in his collection called 'The Lays and Legends of Thomond'. I remember in my teens eagerly waiting for the newspaper and then avidly reading the thrilling tale about the encounter between a local rake and the spirit of the Bishops wife. The ghostly tale has all the key elements of a Christmas chiller!
by Michael Hogan
The Bishops House where the good lady lived is still there today,just a stones throw from Villiers Square and across the road from King Johns Castle.Despite being married to the Bishop she was more given to partying than praying, as Hogan puts it…

"Spending his Reverend Lordship's treasure
Chasing the world's evil pleasure".

And while lost in her dissolute lifestyle…

"she never dreamt at balls or dinners.
There is a hell to punish sinners."

But like all mortal endeavours hers came to an end…

“Tis true she was a bishop's bride -
Tis true she lived -
Tis true she died -”

Hogan muses on the brevity of our mortal state…

“How quick Time throws his rapid measure
Along the date of worldly pleasure!
A beam of light mid cloudy shadows
Flitting along the autumn meadows:
A wave that glistens on the shore
Retires, and is beheld no more:
A blast that stirs the yellow leaves
Of fading woods in autumn eves.”

The certainty and brutal reality of death occupies him in these lines…

“Death steals behind the smile of joy
With weapons ready to destroy
And tho’ a hundred years were passed
He’s sure to have his prey at last,
And when the fated hour is ready
He cares not for a lord or lady,
But lifts his gun and snaps his trigger
And shoots alike the king and beggar.”

Her new situation did not entirely agree with her and soon after her departure from this earth stories abounded about her nightly spectral appearances in the vicinity of the Castle and Thomond Bridge. Many witnessed these ghostly visitations…

"And those that stayed out past eleven
Would want a special guard from heaven,
To shield them with a holy wand,
From the mad terrors of her hand."

Her apparitions were not just eerie other-worldly affairs but even in death the Lady packed a powerful punch…

"No pugilist in Limerick town
Could knock a man so quickly down
Or deal an active blow so ready
To floor one, as the Bishop's lady".

At this stage we meet our man Thady, a man well versed in the art of conversation and fond of convivial society with all its attendant vices. Thady was very fond of a ‘drop of malt’ which loosened his tongue and kept him warm from the icy wind that blew up from the river Shannon as he made his way homeward across the Thomond bridge.

"In every grog-shop he was found
In every row he fought a round.
He flailed his wife and thumped his brother
And burned the bed about his mother,"

Not surprisingly Thady had been imprisoned for his nocturnal excesses on umpteen occasions. And so on this particular Christmas Eve it was no surprise and Thady and ‘friends’ had become involved in a row while playing cards and drinking…

"At half-past one the town was silent
Except for a row raised on the island
Where Thady -foe to sober thinking -
With comrade lads, sat gaily drinking
A table and a pack of cards
Stood in the midst of four blackguards
Who, with bumper- draught elated
Dashed down their trumps and swore and cheated”

The Guards were called and Thady made his escape into the freezing winter night

“The night was stormy, cold and late,
No human form was in the street
The virgin snow lay on the highways
And choked-up alleys lanes and by-ways
The North still poured its frigid store,
The clouds looked black and threatened more."

Through this awful night Thady fled , staggering his way along Castle Street,where…

“With nodding head and zig-zag feet
He gained the centre of the street
And giddy as a summer midge -
Went staggering towards Old Thomond Bridge"

In his panic to escape the clutches of the law Thady wandered on to the Bridge ,the Bishops Lady’s haunting-ground and passing the first of Thomonds fourteen arches the chilling thought seized him.

“This night he was in no position
For Scripture, history or tradition,
His thoughts were on the Bishop’s Lady-
The first tall arch was crossed already.”

His worst fears were about to be realised…

“He saw her face, grim large and pale
Her red eyes sparkled through her veil,
Her scarlet cloak-half immaterial
Flew wild around her person aerial”

Even though seized with terror Thady fought valiantly to escape her icy clutches, but in the end he was no match for this spirit , spurned on with a hellish fury. She flung the unfortunate reprobate over the bridge into the raging torrent of the Shannon…

“Towards Curraghours rolling fall
The billows tossed him like a ball ”

But Thady was made of stronger stuff and he resolved not to go down without one final effort…

“The stream in which he learned to swim
Shall be no watery grave to him.”

Safety was at hand for the gallant Thady…

“Above the fall he spied afloat
Some object like an anchored boat
To this with furious grasp he clung
And from the tide his limbs unslung.”

By morning he had been found and rescued and brought to the safety of the shore.From that hour he was a changed man, he mended his errant ways and became a model of decency…

“Mid gazing crowds he left the shore
Grew sober, and got drunk no more!
And in the whole wide parish round
A better Christian was not found!
He loved his God and served his neighbour,
And earned his bread by honest labour.”

Well there I’ve done it, an old tradition of Christmas in Limerick long ago ,revived. I hope you enjoyed the tale and maybe if called to do a party recitation over the Christmas, you might give ‘Drunken Thady and the Bishop’s Lady’ an airing in the part of the world where you live!

Gerard O'Shea


Diarmuid said...

What a great yarn, I'd love to read the complete thing. Is it available on the Net ?

Anonymous said...

Do you ever Sleep.