Mary, the Rose of Tralee... was one of the 'rest'. She lived in Brogue Lane, in the rock, which took its name from the busy hive of brogue-makers who lived and worked there. There, in a thatched cabin, Mary lived with her parents, two sisters Brigid and Ellen, and a young brother Willie. Her father in common with most of the lane was a brogue-maker. Her mother, an O'Sullivan from Green Lane, still worked as a dairymaid in the farm yard at Cloghers House. Mary was a great beauty. She was dark with large lustrous eyes. But good looks or no, only one kind of life awaited girls of her type, that of maid or helper of some kind in the local big house. When she was about seventeen she was employed as a kitchen-maid to the Mulchinock.
Here Michael Mulchinock lived with his wife and family. The Mulchinock family were wealthy merchants having a woollen and linen draper's shop where the Munster Warehouse now stands. Michael married a Margaret McCann of Tralee and continued to live at West Villa. However this Michael died of a violent high fever on the Sunday preceding the 2nd of November 1828' and so when Mary O'Connor was accepted in its kitchen Margaret Mulchinock ruled over West Villa. Here Margaret lived with her sons William Pembroke, Edward and Henry and her married daughter, Maria.
Margaret Mulchinock presided over West Villa with no little ceremony. The family owned a considerable amount of land adjoining the house and in the neighborhood generally as well as considerable house property in the town itself. They kept the usual retinue of servants, coachmen, gardeners and farm hands.
Mary O'Connor was naturally pleased with her employment in the household kitchen. She was not long thus, however, when Margaret's daughter, Maria, seeing she was intelligent and kind to her children chose her as children's maid for little Anne and Margaret.
By this time Michael's sons William Pembroke and Edward had grown to be young men. William, however, was becoming a dreamer, a good-for-nothing and what was worse in the eyes of the family, a poet.
In November 1840 sorrow came to William's life: Henry, his younger brother, died. William was inconsolable. He lost his companion to whom he told many a secret, things he would never breathe to the more practical brother Edward.
His Mother and Uncle John became worried at the way he had taken Henry's death, but, after a time, William gradually returned to his old self and was soon partaking in the usual pastimes that occupied wealthy young gentlemen of the time. One such pastime was the October fair of Ballinasloe. It was there at a Ball that he met Alice Keogh.
Despite his protestations of love to Alice, however, William soon returned back home again. His native town with its Lee called him. He had travelled far and seen much, from Shannon to Slaney and Barrow to Bann but:
Fairer than all and dearer
Was the sweet and gentle Lee
And far fairer too perhaps
Were the colleens of sweet Tralee.
Back then he came to West Villa. Maria, his sister, received him. They talked for a while. Then she suggested that perhaps he would like to see the children. Yes, they were with their nursemaid. She had got rather a good little girl from the town to mind dear Anne and Margaret. So William was ushered into the nursery. There they were, little Anne and Margaret. And how they ran to him and tugged at his coattails and wanted to be lifted up. But somehow William was not heeding them. He was gazing instead at a wonderful pair of eyes that had utterly transfixed him. There was some power in them which held him there looking at her. Such lovely dark hair too and skin so delicately white. She was so calm and self-possessed, so graceful, that all he could do was to draw his breath in uneven gasps and stare and wonder. He saw Mary again next day, sitting by the well with the children. This well was in a field a little distance to the west of the house in a great open space with a splendid view of the mountains and the sea. Day after day he met her there. Sometimes he waited for her outside West Villa and they would walk down lover's lane and cross the fields . It was children's recreation time they loved to play about the well. And as the weeks went on they would wander to the dance platform in Clahane at the top of the glen. Mary, though modest and retiring, had innumerable friends who smiled on the happy couple and wished them well. Then amid many a cheer and many a deferential nod they would take the floor and go up the middle and down again. Then the winter came and with it the snow. The whole mountain would be white or nearly so. Often in those winter evenings she brought him back with her to her own little cabin in Brogue Lane. There he met her hardworking father; her mother, bustling and efficient as usual; little Willie who was ailing; and her two sisters both of whom were almost as beautiful as Mary herself. The only cloud on the horizon of their love was that his family disapproved of the relationship after all Mary was a papist peasant, and the Mulchinock's were staunch members of the Established church. One night beneath a palish silvery moon in a dark-gray bluish sky the lovers paused for a few moments to gaze at each other, and then suddenly taking her in his arms he asked her to marry him. She told him however that though she loved him very much and would dare all to stand by his side before Dean McEnnery down in the Chapel, yet she knew such a marriage could never be: it would estrange him from all the things of his past and eventually make him rue the day he had ever met her. Thus the months passed. His thoughts were a jumbled mass about nothing in particular, except well - Mary; wondering if he could make her see sense and marry him. Then on a particular evening they went forward to the stile by the well. The sun was setting in a blaze of glory beneath the sea; the young moon had just come above the mountain and all the valley was hushed. And then for the first time he sang for her those lovely words.
The pale moon was rising above the green mountains,
The sun was declining beneath the blue sea;
When I strayed with my love by the pure crystal fountain,
That stands in the beautiful Vale of Tralee.
She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer,
Yet 'twas not her beauty alone that won me;
Oh no, 'twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning,
That made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.
'Oh William it's the most beautiful song I've ever heard in my life,' she said at length, 'It's so beautiful that somehow - somehow-,' 'Somehow what my dearest?' he asked. 'It somehow makes me afraid,' she replied. 'Afraid?' he inquired. 'Yes; have you forgotten that music for us, the O'Connor's, is an ill omen? it haunts us like a ghost. That night my grandfather lay dying ghostly music filled the air. 'Twas the same when his father died!' 'Of all the nonsense I've ever listened to that beats it,' blurted out an exasperated William. 'Listen, will you marry me?' he continued. 'I'll give you my answer tomorrow evening after the counselors's meeting,' she replied.
Next evening Dan O'Connell held a tremendous meeting in Denny street on the very doorstep of the County Club. The long monopoly by the Denny's of the parliamentary Borough of Tralee was at last being challenged by O'Connell for the forthcoming election. Maurice O'Connell, Dan's son, was to contest the seat. Tens of thousands came from all parts of Kerry and beyond, some in marching order with many here and there brandishing a pike or rusty sword, Mulchinock was leader of one of the repealer contingents.
On this evening as Mulchinock passed, one of the repealers shouted at a little man called Leggett, 'Leggett, will you be Pope's Legate?' Pope was a leading Repealer of the time who came from Causeway, and was popularly known as Pope o' the Causeway.' Leggett, whose patience was well-nigh exhausted, made a run at his tormentor with a pike. His tormentor to defend himself made a thrust at Leggett with a rusty sword, wounding him seriously.
Mulchinock saw what happened but did not realize its gravity. He was more than astonished however when Captain Fairfield with some of the dragoons approached him later and warned him if Leggett died he, Mulchinock, would be held responsible.
When The meeting was over William made his way to West Villa to see Mary. As soon as Anne and Margaret saw him they rushed to him exclaiming 'Uncle William, Uncle William, tell us a story.' He quietened them with promises of a story a little later. Then, turning to Mary, He took a small red case from his pocket and opened it. Taking out the ring it held he held it up to the light to examine it. 'Do you like it?' he asked Mary. 'It is very beautiful.' she answered. 'Would you like to wear it?'
There was a long pause . Mary looked at the ring and then to William. He held out his arms and almost before she had realized it he had caught her in an embrace. And then putting the ring on her finger he sealed their betrothal with a kiss. They stood thus for a long time looking at the moon come slowly above the mountain........ Suddenly the door burst open and his good friend Bob Blennerhassett rushed in. The lovers moved apart. William threw Bob an anxious look. 'Anything wrong, Bob?' he asked. 'It's Leggett.' said Bob. 'Leggett! Is he bad?' 'Bad,' answered Bob, 'He's dead. You're wanted for murder: there's a warrant out for your arrest,' William turned to Mary. 'I'm sorry to have brought this on you,' he said. 'Don't mind me , William,' she replied, 'Take care of yourself - you'd better go,' 'Yes go,' continued Bob. 'Here's a hundred gold sovereigns for you, they'll bring you a good way. Make for Barrow Harbour if you can. There's a wine ship leaving tonight.'
Mulchinock took Mary in his arms once more to kiss her good bye. 'Good bye my own,' he said, 'and don't grieve. I'll be back soon.' Tears welled up in her eyes but she kept brave to the last. Not a flickering of an eyelid did she betray her breaking heart. With that Bob rushed in to hasten William's departure with news that two policemen where approaching up the lane. William fled taking Bob's horse as transport.
Mulchinock at length made his way to India where he worked as a war correspondent mainly on the northwest frontier region. The British were then - 1843 - having a difficult time in the northwest frontier. But amidst all the shot and shell and blinding heat Mulchinock would imagine a soft June day in Ireland, lush June of the roses. The Fuchsia too. It came always about St. John's day, the buds bobbing up and down against their background of dark green - fairy bells with their exquisite purple chiming for far, faraway things like bonfires of St. John's eve:
After one particular battle, upon nightfall, during an attempt to bring in the wounded and collect and bury the dead, William recognized a fellow Tralee man among the fallen,a Lt. Collis. He requested an interview with the Commander-in-Chief, known as 'Old Gough', to request that William be allowed to take possession of the young Lt. Collis's personal belongings to return them home , if William ever returned there. 'Of course you may,' the old man replied to the request. He then went on to enquire what a Mulchinock was doing so far from home. To which William told Old Gough the story of Leggett and how William was held responsible for the assault. Old Gough saw the injustice of it all and since the Gough's hailed from Limerick He had some influence and would see what he could do. So this was how William Pembroke Mulchinock returned to His native Tralee.
So one afternoon in early spring in the year 1849 a distinguished-looking stranger descended from the mail coach that had arrived in Tralee. The coach had deposited him outside The Kings Arms in the Rock and just a little further up was Brogue Lane. But first William needed to shake off the dust from that interminable journey, and entered the hostelry. 'Landlord,' he called going to the door way. George Cameron, presently appeared to do services. Of course, George Cameron did not recognize a returned native having not been the landlord for very long and only taking over the Kings Arms on marrying into the family. 'How may I serve you Sir?' 'A cognac my good man,' replied William, 'The old place has not changed much,' he added. 'You know of it of old then Sir?' Cameron asked. 'I was born here and I've come back for a very special purpose. To marry a girl whose lovely eyes held my soul captive during six long years in India. We pledged that we would be true, and I know she has been as true to me as I have been to her.' 'Indeed, it must be true love for it to span the years till now good Sir, But now if you'll excuse me I'll have to pull across the curtains for a few moments as there is a funeral coming down the street.' the landlord said. 'A funeral , Landlord?' asked Mulchinock. 'Yes, but don't let it disturb you: I'll bring you your drink and you can sit here.' 'By all means, Landlord, said William, but it seems a bad omen , a funeral on the day of my return.' The landlord returned quickly with the cognac and William gulped deeply at the brandy and went over to where George Cameron stood. 'May she rest in peace' murmured the Landlord. William felt a chill run up his back and turned to the Landlord 'Who is the funeral being held for? Landlord.' 'Why a local girl from Brogue Lane.' replied George. William's heart sank but he held himself up and finally asked the landlord 'What was the girls name?' 'Mary, Sir, Mary O'Connor, The Rose of Tralee.
There was nothing left for him now but Mary's grave at Clogherbrien. The neighbours wondered if he would ever come back to himself: was this to be the end of it all? At this time the famine was raging. Up to then most of the eight million inhabitants lived on potato and on little else. The corn of course went to pay the rent. Now the potato crop failed. In his despair his friends saw to it that he was re-aquainted with a girl he met in Ballinasloe Alicia Keogh. In time while she cared for him he grew to think that he loved Alicia and eventually married her. But it was not long before he discovered his mistake. To escape the place of so many painful memories he and Alicia took the boat to the land of the free - America. In 1849 they reached New York.
America suited him and soon he was well again and even took up writing again. He stayed with Alicia and had two little girls Alice and Bernadette. But in the end the inevitable happened and William and Alicia separated, and William returned to Ireland in 1855. This was not quite the end of William Pembroke Mulchinock, But he did begin to find solace in alcohol and the habit did not decrease. He did however never forget his one true love and in his misery one of the last things he penned was another verse to a song he had sung many years before.
William spent the rest of his life in a lodging house in Ashe street run by old Biddy from the County Club. Alas there was not much time left to William and on October 13 1864, He breathed his last at the age of forty four. His last wish