February 8, 2021

The Ballad of Bridget Cleary, By Natalie Huber Rodriguez


Editor’s note: For years, I have hoped that someone would tell the story of Bridget Cleary. I became interested in her story after reading “
The Cooper’s Wife is Missing,” which I recommend. To learn more about the Brigid Cleary story, go here. I know you’ll enjoy Natalie’s vivid, tragic, and absorbing poem. (KW)

Intro: This poem tells the bizarre and tragic story of Bridget Cleary, a real-life woman who lived in Ireland in the late 1800s. After passing through an area believed to be inhabited by fairies, she fell ill and was subsequently believed to be a fairy changeling by her family, who called upon not only the local doctor and priest for assistance, but also a man who was said to be a "fairy doctor," or folk healer, to try to get the real Bridget back from the land of the fairies.


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I was no witch, I was no fairy.

I was just a lass from Tipperary.

A wife, a daughter, an honest wan

Until my flame of life was buried. 


Twas early March in the early morn

When my black stockings I did adorn

Myself with for to make my way

Through yonder glen, past the fairy fort.


Basket in hand, I moved with haste,

For I dared not tarry in this place 

Where fae and demon foul did lurk

In search of souls to lay to waste. 


I hurried on, wind at my back.

Bramble below my feet did crack

When hark! Another sound heard I

Behind me in the shadows black. 


With quivering hands, I turned my head

And lo, my heart did fill with dread. 

For there before me, beaming wide,

A face I knew to long be dead. 


With hair of gold and gown of white,

She walked with gait so feather light.

My Michael's mother, yes it was she,

Gone six years now one autumn night.


"Bridgie, love!" to me she cried.

"Come hither, my dearest son's fair bride!"

And to me, an open hand she held 

And beckoned me gaily to her side. 


With thundering heart, I turned and ran

And threw the basket from my hand.

Back through the glen, and nae once dared I

Look back upon that cursed land. 


At long last, back home I came

And fell upon the old doorframe.

And there I cried to the heavens above,

"God help this poor, unfortunate dame!" 


Out came my Michael, eyes wide with terror

At seeing me trembling, lying there.

Into his arms, he took me hence

To our chamber with greatest care.


There I remained for days in bed,

Struck with fever the doctor said. 

And then one day, to my dark room

The Father came with wine and bread.


"Bridget, child," said he to me.

"I've come to lend God's aid, you see.

For by His hand, you shall be healed."

And thus, my Michael did agree.


For hours and days o'er me he prayed

With Michael and kinfolk lending aid.

But try as they may, I healed not;

No, my affliction with me stayed.  


It was then that cousin Jack did tell 

Of how I’d fallen so unwell 

And called upon the cunning man 

To free me from this dismal spell. 

 

With herbs and piss and poker hot, 

They tormented me, but all for naught. 

And as I weakened more each day, 

With anguish my poor heart was wrought. 


Then one late night, as I lay frail,

In came Michael, his face struck pale.

"Ye are not my wife!" cried he.

"But a changeling who from Hell does hail!" 


Around my neck his hands did wrap.

"Where is my Bridget?! Bring her back!"

I tried to speak, but I could not

As with rough hand, my cheek he slapped. 


Into blinding rage he did descend 

And dragged me shrieking from my bed

To the fireside, unto the floor,

Cursing me as I wept and pled.


And then he took me by the mane

And held my face to burning flames.

"If ye won't bring my Bridget home,

Then back to Hell from whence you came!" 


Into the fire I then did soar

As he hurled me with a frightful roar.

"God in Heaven!" I screamed in vain

As I burned upon the Devil's own floor.


Twas many days hence when at last they found

My charred black form upon the ground

Within the very same fairy fort

Where otherworldly beings abound.


What happened then, no one can say

For sure of the events that day.

But if you go down to Ballyvadlea,

The children still sing as they play,


"Are you a witch or are you a fairy?

Or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?"

Who fifteen years in penance waits

For his bride who far away was carried. 


***

Bio: As a member of the Taino Indian Nation of the Caribbean, storytelling has always been a big part of Natalie's life and culture. This is what first inspired her to go into creative writing. She is also a socio-cultural anthropologist and folklorist and often writes fiction and poetry inspired by and including folkloric themes.  Previous publications include a contribution to the creative fiction anthology, A Multiplicity of Stories, for the University of Toronto and a thesis on Japanese folklore and mythology for George Mason University.  


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Image is from Irish Fairy Tales, illustrated by Arthur Rackham. I think its squirmy madness represents the mood of this twisted tale.


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5 comments:

Kelly Jarvis said...

I never heard this story and can't believe it happened in the 19th century! Love the poem!

Unknown said...

What a wonderful tale! I love the story of Bridget Cleary. Natalie, you made it come to life.

Brigid Levi said...

Whoa! Such a cool story and beautiful told in narrative verse!

Ellie a.Goss said...

Wonderful

Victoria Dixon said...

I've not heard this tale and with woe I am filled. And apparently, with poetry. LOL Great job!

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