Tag Archives: The Ballad Of Father Gilligan

The Ballad Of Father Gilligan

The old priest Peter Gilligan
Was weary night and day
For half his flock were in their beds
Or under green sods lay.
Once, while he nodded in a chair
At the moth-hour of the eve
Another poor man sent for him,
And he began to grieve.

William Butler Yeats talks about an old priest who was extremely tired all day and night. Half of his flock was dead and he was depressed. One day while he was nodding in a chair another poor man sent for him as he was about to die and needed the priest’s blessings. Having being extremely tired and not getting a chance to rest, he began to weep out of frustration. God’s work was tiring and starting to take a toll on his humanly old body.

‘I have no rest, nor joy, nor peace,
For people die and die;
And after cried he, ‘God forgive!
My body spake not I!’
He knelt, and leaning on the chair
He prayed and fell asleep;
And the moth-hour went from the fields,
And stars began to peep.

He cried that he got no chance to rest and had no joy or peace in his life for people only died. He only had so much work to do and got no time for relaxation. He cried to God to forgive him and that his body was speaking and not him. He meant that although he wanted to do God’s work, his ageing body was failing to keep up. He knelt and leaning on the chair He prayed and fell asleep. The night came and so did the stars but Father Gilligan kept sleeping unaware.

They slowly into millions grew,
And leaves shook in the wind
And God covered the world with shade
And whispered to mankind.
Upon the time of sparrow chirp
When the moths came once more,
The old priest Peter Gilligan
Stood upright on the floor.

The stars filled the sky and the leaves shook in the wind. God covered the world with shade and whispered to mankind. During the time of sparrow chirps, the moths came once more, the old priest Peter Gilligan awoke on the floor. He had slept throughout the night.


‘Mavrone, mavrone! The man has died
While I slept in the chair.’
He roused his horse out of its sleep
And rode with little care.
He rode now as he never rode,
By rocky lane and fen;
The sick man’s wife opened the door,
‘Father! you come again!’

The priest expressed his grief by crying mavrone for he knew that man had died while he had slept in the chair. He woke up his horse from its sleep and rode in a rash manner by rocky lanes and fen. He reached the sick man’s home and the wife opened the door and exclaimed her surprise on seeing him again.

‘And is the poor man dead?’ he cried
‘He died an hour ago.’
The old priest Peter Gilligan
In grief swayed to and fro.
‘When you were gone, he turned and died,
As merry as a bird.’
The old priest Peter Gilligan
He knelt him at that word.

Father Gillian cried in desperation and asked if the man had died. The wife affirmed that her husband had indeed died an hour ago. Remorse and grief gripped Father Gillian. The wife said that when father Gilligan had gone, he had died as merry as a bird. The priest knelt and realised what had happened.

‘He Who hath made the night of stars
For souls who tire and bleed,
Sent one of this great angels down,
To help me in my need.
‘He Who is wrapped in purple robes,
With planets in His care
Had pity on the least of things
Asleep upon a chair.’

The Priest cried and understood that God who had made the starry night skies for souls who are tired and bleed had given him rest. God had sent one of his angels to help the Priest get his much-needed rest by doing his work. God had taken pity on him and had his work done by sending an Angel to emulate him and bless and take care of the sick and dying man.