The Ghost Nurse - Sligo Poets

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   Sligo Nationalist & Sligo Times
            6 September 1913

            THE GHOST NURSE

Thou asketh, little golden head,
(Sweet smiling on thy grandsire’s knee)
To tell before the time for bed,
My tale again to thee.

Ah! well the past I’d leave at rest,
For memory oft is fraught with pain;
But. ere I see my sweet distressed,
I’ll wake my grief again.

Full many a year has disappeared—
Has eddied down the tide of Time,
Since came the grief that sapped and scared
My heart in manhood’s prime.

In youth I loved a winsome lass,
With hair and starry eyes like thee;
Ah, dear! how swift the years will pass!
Thy grandma was she.

We two were wed where watch and ward
Yon church keeps—pointing to the skies:
There—’neath that sacred churchyard sward,
Her body mould’ring lies.

Our farm was small, and hard we strove
From it a living to procure;
But when our very lives were love
We surely were not poor.

A year of love with alloy—
Of Paradise to me was given;
Then God sent angels from on high,
Who stole my joy to Heaven.

But gave to me my heart’s fair pearl!
Before her earthly course was run,
Two flow’rs of love—a boy and girl:
Your mother, dear, was one.

How shall I tell the awful woe
That at her death upon me stole;
Nor priestly word not friendship glow
Could warm my grief-chilled soul.

With work I bothered, though by day;
      But oh, the night! then no relief!
Then turned my raven hair to grey,
      Through weight of care and grief.

The children, too, at night would fret,
      And often for their mother cry;
Thus, though I’d fain the world forget,
      The night went sleepless by.

Then what befell of which I speak—
      Which bids me ever to be brave!
My darling lay, ’twas scarce a week,
      Stark in her cold, cold grave.

’Twas at the weirdsome midnight hour,
      I roused me with a weary sigh;
For ’wakened by a hurtling show’r,
      My babes began to cry.

When soft—I thought my fancy mocked—
      Again arose her plaintive croon;
Again I heard the cradle rocked
      To her sweet, fav’rite tune.

I listened ’neath a spell of bliss,
      As thus she hushed the children’s cries;
Scarce breathing lest I should dismiss
      My love to Paradise.

One night, ere morning chased the gloom,
      She whispered “Grieve at they fate;
For we shall meet beyone the tomb,
      Where none are desolate.

“No nurse now want our children dear;
      And Time will ease thy brooding pain.
Farewell! I oft shall linger near.”—
      She never came again.

My grandchild! had not God allowed
      My love from me my grief to take,
Beneath its weight I must have bowed—
      My heart would surely break.

J. G. Quilty.

I heard this tale—of a mother returning from beyond the grave to nurse her infants—recently related at Drumcliffe.


John George Quilty appeared in the 1911 Census as a visitor to the house of Phelim, Mary and Margaret Clancy in
Doonfore, Lissadill West, Co. Sligo. Aged 41, he was born in Sligo and gave his occupation as a book-keeper and clerk. He was a Catholic and was unmarried.

In the 1901 Census the same man was living in Drumcliff North, Carney, Co. Sligo. He gave Sligo Town as his birthplace and shop-keeper (publican), as his occupation. He could speak Irish and English. His brother, Ambrose, was the only other person in the house that evening and his occupation was given as silver miner (home on visit).

These appear to be the only Quilty recorded in either of the two Census living in Co. Sligo.

As in the note printed at the end of the poem this appears to be based on a story told to the author in Drumcliffe, Co. Sligo about a dead mother coming back to nurse her infants.

In a discussion of Traditional Beliefs and Narratives of a Contemporary Irish Tradition Bearer  (Mrs McGlynn from the Irish midlands) Patricia Lysaght says "
there are also many stories told of dead persons appearing to give help or advice or indeed a warning to the living. Our tradition bearer has a few narratives of this nature. One tells of the friendly return of a dead mother to care for her children, a legend rarely noted from Irish oral tradition to date."

Patricia Lysaght is a Professor in the School of Irish, Celtic Studies, Irish Folklore, and Linguistics, University College Dublin.

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