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The Story Of Mary O'Connor: The Rose Of Tralee

The turnout to see the 1929 film "Song of My Heart" at the last meeting was overwhelming. In Bernie Power's words, "I had no idea that there was so much interest in this great man," (referring to John McCormack, of course!)

The hit song of the film is "The Rose of Tralee" and the background story of this world famous song is so entertaining (and tragic) that I feel it would be of sufficient interest to our members to print it in our newsletter. It exemplifies, par excellence, the genre of tearful ballad which we have come to associate with popular music from the turn of the century up to the 1920's and beyond.

Mary O'Connor, a daughter who lived in named Brogue Lane in Tralee, and William Pembroke (Willie) Mulchinock, the man who immortalised her, came in touch with each other when she was in the bloom of life. Mary was in her late teens and working at the Mulchinock home in Ballyard as children's nurse. Willie Mulchinock became infatuated by the beauty of Mary O'Connor and used to shoemaker's the aptly visit her at her home in Brogue Lane. The wealthy Mulchinocks disapproved of the friendship because of Mary's humble background but Willie asked Mary to marry him. She was deeply. in love with him but rejected his offer of marriage on the grounds that this would estrange him from his family and friends.

Many months later he took Mary out one beautiful evening, just as the sun was setting on a blaze of glory beneath the sea: the young moon had just come above the mountain and all the valley was hushed. There for the first time he uttered the words that have now become world famous:

The pale moon was rising above the green mountain,
The sun was declining beneath the blue sea;
When I strayed with my love to 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.

The cool shades of evening their mantle were spreading,
And Mary all smiling was listening to me;
The moon through the valley her pale rays was shedding,
When I won the heart of the Rose of Tralee.

The following evening Willie Mulchinock led a group of supporters to hear a famous Irish patriot address a meeting in Tralee. There was a scuffle and Willie was wrongfully accused of mortally wounding a man from a rival group. The only course open to him was to flee the country and he successfully eluded the police and eventually made his way to freedom. For a time he worked in India as a War Correspondent and 'midst the shot and shell and blinding heat Willie often found solace in remembering the happy days he spent wandering the little mountain roads around Tralee with Mary.

In the early spring of 1849 Willie Mulchinock, whose name had been cleared in connection with the killing, returned to Tralee after six years in India. He called into The King's Arms to freshen up before calling on Mary's house. As he sipped a drink, the landlord of the inn closed the curtain as a funeral was passing by. Willie enquired who was dead and the landlord's reply were words that Willie would never forget: "Tis Mary O'Connor, sir, the Rose of Tralee."

Willie eventually married, but never found happiness. A broken man, he began to find a great deal of comfort in alcohol. He was often seen walking the fields around Ballyard singing and muttering to himself the words of his song, and of another verse which he had since added:

In the far fields of India 'mid war's dreadful thunder,
Her voice was a solace and comfort to me;
But the chill hand of death has now rent us asunder --
I'm lonely tonight for the Rose of Tralee.

On October 13, 1864 he died. He was then 44. His last wish was that he be buried alongside Mary's lonely grave in Clogherbrien. There they rest in peace.