SCENE. -- [The last cottage at the head of a
long glen in County Wicklow.
Cottage kitchen; turf fire on the right; a bed near it against
the wall with a body lying on it covered with a sheet. A door is
at the other end of the room, with a low table near it, and
stools, or wooden chairs. There are a couple of glasses on the
table, and a bottle of whisky, as if for a wake, with two cups, a
teapot, and a home-made cake. There is another small door near
the bed. Nora Burke is moving about the room, settling a few
things, and lighting candles on the table, looking now and
then at the bed with an uneasy look. Some one knocks softly at
the door. She takes up a stocking with money from the table and
puts it in her pocket. Then she opens the door.]
Good evening to you, lady of the house.
On my two feet, lady of the house, and when I saw the light below
I thought maybe if you'd a sup of new milk and a quiet decent
corner where a man could sleep [he looks in past her
and sees the dead man.] The Lord have mercy on us all!
It doesn't matter anyway, stranger, come in out of the rain.
TRAMP [Coming in slowly and going towards the bed.]
Is it departed he is?
It is, stranger. He's after dying on me, God forgive him, and
there I am now with a hundred sheep beyond on the hills, and no
turf drawn for the winter.
TRAMP [Looking closely at the dead man.]
It's a queer look is on him for a man that's dead.
He was always queer, stranger, and I suppose them that's queer
and they living men will be queer bodies after.
Isn't it a great wonder you're letting him lie there, and he is
not tidied, or laid out itself?
NORA [Coming to the bed.]
I was afeard, stranger, for he put a black curse on me this
morning if I'ld touch his body the time he'ld die sudden, or let
any one touch it except his sister only, and it's ten miles away
she lives in the big glen over the hill.
TRAMP [Looking at her and nodding slowly.]
It's a queer story he wouldn't let his own wife touch him, and he
dying quiet in his bed.
He was an old man, and an odd man, stranger, and it's always up
on the hills he was thinking thoughts in the dark mist. [She
pulls back a bit of the sheet.] Lay your hand on him now, and
tell me if it's cold he is surely.
Is it getting the curse on me you'ld be, woman of the house? I
wouldn't lay my hand on him for the Lough Nahanagan and it filled
NORA [Looking uneasily at the body.]
Maybe cold would be no sign of death with the like of him, for he
was always cold, every day since I knew him, -- and every night,
stranger, -- [she covers up his face and comes away from the
bed]; but I'm thinking it's dead he is surely, for he's
complaining a while back of a pain in his heart, and this
morning, the time he was going off to Brittas for three days or
four, he was taken with a sharp turn. Then he went into his bed
and he was saying it was destroyed he was, the time the shadow
was going up through the glen, and when the sun set on the bog
beyond he made a great lep, and let a great cry out of him, and
stiffened himself out the like of a dead sheep.
Sit down now, stranger, and be taking your rest.
TRAMP [Filling a pipe and looking about the room.]
I've walked a great way through the world, lady of the house, and
seen great wonders, but I never seen a wake till this day with
fine spirits, and good tobacco, and the best of pipes, and no one
to taste them but a woman only.
Didn't you hear me say it was only after dying on me he was when
the sun went down, and how would I go out into the glen and tell
the neighbours, and I a lone woman with no house near me?
There's no offence, lady of the house?
No offence in life, stranger. How would the like of you, passing
in the dark night, know the lonesome way I was with no house near
me at all?
TRAMP [Sitting down.]
I knew rightly. [He lights his pipe so that there is a sharp
light beneath his haggard face.] And I was thinking, and I
coming in through the door, that it's many a lone woman
would be afeard of the like of me in the dark night, in a place
wouldn't be so lonesome as this place, where there aren't two
living souls would see the little light you have shining from
I'm thinking many would be afeard, but I never knew what way I'd
be afeard of beggar or bishop or any man of you at all. [She
looks towards the window and lowers her voice.] It's other things
than the like of you, stranger, would make a person afeard.
TRAMP [Looking round with a half-shudder.]
It is surely, God help us all!
NORA [Looking at him for a moment with curiosity.]
You're saying that, stranger, as if you were easy afeard.
TRAMP [Speaking mournfully.]
Is it myself, lady of the house, that does be walking round in
the long nights, and crossing the hills when the fog is on them,
the time a little stick would seem as big as your arm, and a
rabbit as big as a bay horse, and a stack of turf as big as a
towering church in the city of Dublin? If myself was easily
afeard, I'm telling you, it's long ago I'ld have been locked
into the Richmond Asylum, or maybe have run up into the back
hills with nothing on me but an old shirt, and been eaten with
crows the like of Patch Darcy -- the Lord have mercy on him -- in
the year that's gone.
Wasn't I the last one heard his living voice in the whole world?
There were great stories of what was heard at that time, but
would any one believe the things they do be saying in the glen?
It was no lie, lady of the house. . . . I was passing below on a
dark night the like of this night, and the sheep were lying under
the ditch and every one of them coughing, and choking, like an
old man, with the great rain and the fog. Then I heard a thing
talking -- queer talk, you wouldn't believe at all, and you out
of your dreams, -- and "Merciful God," says I, "if I begin
hearing the like of that voice out of the thick mist, I'm
destroyed surely." Then I run, and I run, and I run, till I was
below in Rathvanna. I got drunk that night, I got drunk in the
morning, and drunk the day after, -- I was coming from the races
beyond -- and the third day they found Darcy. . . . Then I knew
it was himself I was after hearing, and I wasn't afeard any more.
NORA [Speaking sorrowfully and slowly.]
God spare Darcy, he'ld always look in here and he passing up or
passing down, and it's very lonesome I was after him a long while
[she looks over at the bed and lowers her voice, speaking very
clearly,] and then I got happy again -- if it's ever happy we
are, stranger, -- for I got used to being lonesome.
[A short pause; then she stands up.]
Was there any one on the last bit of the road, stranger, and you
coming from Aughrim?
There was a young man with a drift of mountain ewes, and he
running after them this way and that.
Maybe, if you're not easy afeard, you'ld stay here a short while
alone with himself.
I would surely. A man that's dead can do no hurt.
NORA [Speaking with a sort of constraint.]
I'm going a little back to the west, stranger, for himself would
go there one night and another and whistle at that place, and
then the young man you're after seeing -- a kind of a farmer has
come up from the sea to live in a cottage beyond -- would walk
round to see if there was a thing we'ld have to be done, and I'm
wanting him this night, the way he can go down into the glen when
the sun goes up and tell the people that himself is dead.
TRAMP [Looking at the body in the sheet.]
It's myself will go for him, lady of the house, and let you not
be destroying yourself with the great rain.
You wouldn't find your way, stranger, for there's a small path
only, and it running up between two sluigs where an ass and cart
would be drowned. [She puts a shawl over her head.] Let you be
making yourself easy, and saying a prayer for his soul, and it's
not long I'll be coming again.
TRAMP [Moving uneasily.]
Maybe if you'd a piece of a grey thread and a sharp needle --
there's great safety in a needle, lady of the house -- I'ld be
putting a little stitch here and there in my old coat, the time
I'll be praying for his soul, and it going up naked to the saints
NORA [Takes a needle and thread from the front of her dress and gives
it to him.]
There's the needle, stranger, and I'm thinking you won't be
lonesome, and you used to the back hills, for isn't a dead man
itself more company than to be sitting alone, and hearing the
winds crying, and you not knowing on what thing your mind would
It's true, surely, and the Lord have mercy on us all!
[Nora goes out. The Tramp begins stitching one of the tags in
his coat, saying the "De Profundis" under his breath. In an
instant the sheet is drawn slowly down, and Dan Burke looks out.
The Tramp moves uneasily, then looks up, and springs to his feet
with a movement of terror.]
DAN [With a hoarse voice.]
Don't be afeard, stranger; a man that's dead can do no hurt.
I meant no harm, your honour; and won't you leave me easy to be
saying a little prayer for your soul?
DAN [Sitting up in his bed and speaking fiercely.]
Ah, the devil mend her. . . . Do you hear that, stranger? Did
ever you hear another woman could whistle the like of that with
two fingers in her mouth? [He looks at the table hurriedly.]
I'm destroyed with the drouth, and let you bring me a drop
quickly before herself will come back.
How would I be dead, and I as dry as a baked bone, stranger?
TRAMP [Pouring out the whisky.]
What will herself say if she smells the stuff on you, for I'm
thinking it's not for nothing you're letting on to be dead?
It is not, stranger, but she won't be coming near me at all, and
it's not long now I'll be letting on, for I've a cramp in my
back, and my hip's asleep on me, and there's been the devil's own
fly itching my nose. It's near dead I was wanting to sneeze, and
you blathering about the rain, and Darcy [bitterly] -- the devil
choke him -- and the towering church. [Crying out impatiently.]
Give me that whisky. Would you have herself come back before I
taste a drop at all?
DAN [After drinking.]
Go over now to that cupboard, and bring me a black stick you'll
see in the west corner by the wall.
TRAMP [Taking a stick from the cupboard]
Is it that?
It is, stranger; it's a long time I'm keeping that stick for I've
a bad wife in the house.
TRAMP [With a queer look.]
Is it herself, master of the house, and she a grand woman to
It's herself, surely, it's a bad wife she is -- a bad wife for an
old man, and I'm getting old, God help me, though I've an arm to
me still. [He takes the stick in his hand.] Let you wait now a
short while, and it's a great sight you'll see in this room in
two hours or three. [He stops to listen.] Is that somebody
There's a voice speaking on the path.
Put that stick here in the bed and smooth the sheet the way it
was lying. [He covers himself up hastily.] Be falling to sleep
now and don't let on you know anything, or I'll be having your
life. I wouldn't have told you at all but it's destroyed with
the drouth I was.
TRAMP [Covering his head.]
Have no fear, master of the house. What is it I know of the like
of you that I'ld be saying a word or putting out my hand to stay
you at all?
[He goes back to the fire, sits down on a stool with his back to
the bed and goes on stitching his coat.]
NORA [To Micheal.]
Go over now and pull down the sheet, and look on himself, Micheal
Dara, and you'll see it's the truth I'm telling you.
I will not, Nora, I do be afeard of the dead.
[He sits down on a stool next the table facing the tramp. Nora
puts the kettle on a lower hook of the pot hooks, and piles turf
NORA [Turning to Tramp.]
Will you drink a sup of tea with myself and the young man,
stranger, or [speaking more persuasively] will you go into the
little room and stretch yourself a short while on the bed, I'm
thinking it's destroyed you are walking the length of that way in
the great rain.
Is it to go away and leave you, and you having a wake, lady of
the house? I will not surely. [He takes a drink from his glass
which he has beside him.] And it's none of your tea I'm asking
MICHEAL [After looking at the tramp rather scornfully for a moment.]
That's a poor coat you have, God help you, and I'm thinking it's
a poor tailor you are with it.
If it's a poor tailor I am, I'm thinking it's a poor herd does be
running back and forward after a little handful of ewes the way I
seen yourself running this day, young fellow, and you coming from
NORA [To Micheal in a low voice.]
Let you not mind him at all, Micheal Dara, he has a drop taken
and it's soon he'll be falling asleep.
It's no lie he's telling, I was destroyed surely. They were that
wilful they were running off into one man's bit of oats, and
another man's bit of hay, and tumbling into the red bogs till
it's more like a pack of old goats than sheep they were.
Mountain ewes is a queer breed, Nora Burke, and I'm not used to
them at all.
NORA [Settling the tea things.]
There's no one can drive a mountain ewe but the men do be reared
in the Glen Malure, I've heard them say, and above by Rathvanna,
and the Glen Imaal, men the like of Patch Darcy, God spare his
soul, who would walk through five hundred sheep and miss one of
them, and he not reckoning them at all.
Is it the man went queer in his head the year that's gone?
That was a great man, young fellow, a great man I'm telling you.
There was never a lamb from his own ewes he wouldn't know before
it was marked, and he'ld run from this to the city of Dublin and
never catch for his breath.
NORA [Turning round quickly.]
He was a great man surely, stranger, and isn't it a grand thing
when you hear a living man saying a good word of a dead man, and
he mad dying?
It's the truth I'm saying, God spare his soul.
[He puts the needle under the collar of his coat, and settles
himself to sleep in the chimney-corner. Nora sits down at the
table; their backs are turned to the bed.]
MICHEAL [Looking at her with a queer look.]
I heard tell this day, Nora Burke, that it was on the path below
Patch Darcy would be passing up and passing down, and I heard
them say he'ld never past it night or morning without speaking
NORA [In a low voice.]
It was no lie you heard, Micheal Dara.
I'm thinking it's a power of men you're after knowing if it's in
a lonesome place you live itself.
NORA [Giving him his tea.]
It's in a lonesome place you do have to be talking with some one,
and looking for some one, in the evening of the day, and if it's
a power of men I'm after knowing they were fine men, for I was a
hard child to please, and a hard girl to please [she looks at him
a little sternly], and it's a hard woman I am to please this day,
Micheal Dara, and it's no lie I'm telling you.
MICHEAL [Looking over to see that the tramp is asleep, and then pointing
to the dead man.]
Was it a hard woman to please you were when you took himself for
What way would I live and I an old woman if I didn't marry a man
with a bit of a farm, and cows on it, and sheep on the back
That's true, Nora, and maybe it's no fool
you were, for there's good grazing on it, if
it is a lonesome place, and I'm thinking it's
a good sum he's left behind.
NORA [Taking the stocking with money from her pocket, and putting it
on the table.]
I do be thinking in the long nights it was a big fool I was that
time, Micheal Dara, for what good is a bit of a farm with cows on
it, and sheep on the back hills, when you do be sitting looking
out from a door the like of that door, and seeing nothing but the
mists rolling down the bog, and the mists again, and they rolling
up the bog, and hearing nothing but the wind crying out in the
bits of broken trees were left from the great storm, and the
streams roaring with the rain.
MICHEAL [Looking at her uneasily.]
What is it ails you, this night, Nora Burke? I've heard tell it's
the like of that talk you do hear from men, and they after being
a great while on the back hills.
NORA [Putting out the money on the table.]
It's a bad night, and a wild night, Micheal Dara, and isn't it a
great while I am at the foot of the back hills, sitting up here
boiling food for himself, and food for the brood sow, and baking
a cake when the night falls? [She puts up the money, listlessly,
in little piles on the table.] Isn't it a long while I am
sitting here in the winter and the summer, and the fine spring,
with the young growing behind me and the old passing, saying to
myself one time, to look on Mary Brien who wasn't that height
[holding out her hand], and I a fine girl growing up, and there
she is now with two children, and another coming on her in three
months or four. [She pauses.]
MICHEAL [Moving over three of the piles.]
That's three pounds we have now, Nora Burke.
NORA [Continuing in the same voice.]
And saying to myself another time, to look on Peggy Cavanagh, who
had the lightest hand at milking a cow that wouldn't be easy, or
turning a cake, and there she is now walking round on the roads,
or sitting in a dirty old house, with no teeth in her mouth, and
no sense and no more hair than you'ld see on a bit of a hill and
they after burning the furze from it.
That's five pounds and ten notes, a good sum, surely! . . . It's
not that way you'll be talking when you marry a young man, Nora
Burke, and they were saying in the fair my lambs were the best
lambs, and I got a grand price, for I'm no fool now at making a
bargain when my lambs are good.
Twenty pound for the lot, Nora Burke. . . . We'ld do right to
wait now till himself will be quiet awhile in the Seven Churches,
and then you'll marry me in the chapel of Rathvanna, and I'll
bring the sheep up on the bit of a hill you have on the back
mountain, and we won't have anything we'ld be afeard to let our
minds on when the mist is down.
NORA [Pouring him out some whisky.]
Why would I marry you, Mike Dara? You'll be getting old and I'll
be getting old, and in a little while I'm telling you, you'll be
sitting up in your bed -- the way himself was sitting -- with a
shake in your face, and your teeth falling, and the white hair
sticking out round you like an old bush where sheep do be
leaping a gap.
[Dan Burke sits up noiselessly from under the sheet, with his
hand to his face. His white hair is sticking out round his
NORA [Goes on slowly without hearing him.]
It's a pitiful thing to be getting old, but it's a queer thing
surely. It's a queer thing to see an old man sitting up there in
his bed with no teeth in him, and a rough word in his mouth,
and his chin the way it would take the bark from the edge of an
oak board you'ld have building a door. . . . God forgive me,
Micheal Dara, we'll all be getting old, but it's a queer thing
It's too lonesome you are from living a long time with an old
man, Nora, and you're talking again like a herd that would be
coming down from the thick mist [he puts his arm round her], but
it's a fine life you'll have now with a young man, a fine life
surely. . . .
[Dan sneezes violently. Micheal tries to get to the door, but
before he can do so, Dan jumps out of the bed in queer white
clothes, with his stick in his hand, and goes over and puts his
back against it.]
[Crosses himself, and goes backward across the room.]
DAN [Holding up his hand at him.]
Now you'll not marry her the time I'm rotting below in the Seven
Churches, and you'll see the thing I'll give you will follow you
on the back mountains when the wind is high.
MICHEAL [To Nora.]
Get me out of it, Nora, for the love of God. He always did what
you bid him, and I'm thinking he would do it now.
NORA [Looking at the Tramp.]
Is it dead he is or living?
DAN [Turning towards her.]
It's little you care if it's dead or living I am, but there'll be
an end now of your fine times, and all the talk you have of young
men and old men, and of the mist coming up or going down. [He
opens the door.] You'll walk out now from that door, Nora Burke,
and it's not to-morrow, or the next day, or any day of your life,
that you'll put in your foot through it again.
TRAMP [Standing up.]
It's a hard thing you're saying for an old man, master of the
house, and what would the like of her do if you put her out on
Let her walk round the like of Peggy Cavanagh below, and be
begging money at the cross-road, or selling songs to the men.
[To Nora.] Walk out now, Nora Burke, and it's soon you'll be
getting old with that life, I'm telling you; it's soon your
teeth'll be falling and your head'll be the like of a bush where
sheep do be leaping a gap.
There's a fine Union below in Rathdrum.
The like of her would never go there. . . . It's lonesome roads
she'll be going and hiding herself away till the end will come,
and they find her stretched like a dead sheep with the frost on
her, or the big spiders, maybe, and they putting their webs on
her, in the butt of a ditch.
What way will yourself be that day, Daniel Burke? What way will
you be that day and you lying down a long while in your grave?
For it's bad you are living, and it's bad you'll be when you're
dead. [She looks at him a moment fiercely, then half turns away
and speaks plaintively again.] Yet, if it is itself, Daniel
Burke, who can help it at all, and let you be getting up into
your bed, and not be taking your death with the wind blowing on
you, and the rain with it, and you half in your skin.
It's proud and happy you'ld be if I was getting my death the day
I was shut of yourself. [Pointing to the door.] Let you walk out
through that door, I'm telling you, and let you not be passing
this way if it's hungry you are, or wanting a bed.
TRAMP [Pointing to Micheal.]
Maybe himself would take her.
Give you the half of a dry bed, and good food in your mouth.
Is it a fool you think him, stranger, or is it a fool you were
born yourself? Let her walk out of that door, and let you go
along with her, stranger -- if it's raining itself -- for it's
too much talk you have surely.
TRAMP [Going over to Nora.]
We'll be going now, lady of the house -- the rain is falling, but
the air is kind and maybe it'll be a grand morning by the grace
What good is a grand morning when I'm destroyed surely, and I
going out to get my death walking the roads?
You'll not be getting your death with myself, lady of the house,
and I knowing all the ways a man can put food in his mouth. . . .
We'll be going now, I'm telling you, and the time you'll be
feeling the cold, and the frost, and the great rain, and the sun
again, and the south wind blowing in the glens, you'll not be
sitting up on a wet ditch, the way you're after sitting in the
place, making yourself old with looking on each day, and it
passing you by. You'll be saying one time, "It's a grand evening,
by the grace of God," and another time, "It's a wild night, God
help us, but it'll pass surely." You'll be saying--
DAN [Goes over to them crying out impatiently.]
Go out of that door, I'm telling you, and do your blathering
below in the glen.
TRAMP [At the door.]
Come along with me now, lady of the house, and it's not my
blather you'll be hearing only, but you'll be hearing the herons
crying out over the black lakes, and you'll be hearing the grouse
and the owls with them, and the larks and the big thrushes when
the days are warm, and it's not from the like of them you'll be
hearing a talk of getting old like Peggy Cavanagh, and losing the
hair off you, and the light of your eyes, but it's fine songs
you'll be hearing when the sun goes up, and there'll be no old
fellow wheezing, the like of a sick sheep, close to your ear.
I'm thinking it's myself will be wheezing that time with lying
down under the Heavens when the night is cold; but you've a fine
bit of talk, stranger, and it's with yourself I'll go.
[She goes towards the door, then turns to Dan.] You think it's a
grand thing you're after doing with your letting on to be dead,
but what is it at all? What way would a woman live in a lonesome
place the like of this place, and she not making a talk with the
men passing? And what way will yourself live from this day, with
none to care for you? What is it you'll have now but a black
life, Daniel Burke, and it's not long I'm telling you, till
you'll be lying again under that sheet, and you dead surely.
[She goes out with the Tramp. Micheal is slinking after them, but
Dan stops him.]
Sit down now and take a little taste of the stuff, Micheal Dara.
There's a great drouth on me, and the night is young.
MICHEAL [Coming back to the table.]
And it's very dry I am, surely, with the fear of death you put on
me, and I after driving mountain ewes since the turn of the day.
DAN [Throwing away his stick.]
I was thinking to strike you, Micheal Dara, but you're a quiet
man, God help you, and I don't mind you at all.
[He pours out two glasses of whisky, and gives one to Micheal.]