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The Tale of the Pilot's Daughter

Ah yes, I remember it well, the first time I seen him, and the last time too.

I was only a girseach of a girl the first time, standing on the old quay wall, waiting for Daddy to bring a boat into safe harbour. Sure those days the harbour was filled with boats, boats coming and going. Galway and Derry, Greenock and Glasgow, Swansea and Cardiff, Vilno and Danzig, far away Boston and the Port of Quebec, their names were as familiar to me as Kildoney and Coolmore, Muckish and Trosc Mor.

That was the great thing having a Dad like mine. Our talk at teatime was filled with the names of faraway places. At geography I could beat the boys any day. Master Nyhan knew it well.

But there I go rambling.

That first time he took my breath away. Handsome? Oh yes, my handsome, winsome Willy. You should have seen him in his navy serge jacket with its silver buttons, and just a touch of braid at the collar and cuffs. A noble brow, a fine nose, lovely, just lovely sideburns all the way down the sides of his jaw, and a hint of moustache on his upper lip. But it was his eyes that really touched me. When he looked at me, and he did look at me, not once, not twice, but half a dozen times, and all about us nothing but hustle and bustle, getting ready to dock the boat and drop the anchor, his eyes saw me as no one on this earth ever saw me before.

Merciful Mary, I knew even then that I'd see him, again and again! No matter what divide I had to cross, no matter what my father and mother might say, I'd see him, and see him.

He was not one of us. Anyone who wasn't blind could see that straight away. When I learned his name, and of his family, seed, breed and generation, right well did I know he was not one of us. His father a banker, and his family owning fields in the valley since the time of Lizbeth--don't they own the Big Meadow to this very day!--no, he was not one of us. But the young heart's a wonder, and a young girl's fancy isn't bound by rhyme or reason.

In no time he came calling at our cottage door and, whatever my parents' misgivings, custom dictated he must be welcomed in. He tried to put them at ease. They tried to put him at ease. And it wasn't easy.

My heart was throbbing, my ears ringing, my cheeks reddening, and I was ashamed, ashamed for the first time in my life of our poor kitchen, of the draggy old curtain on the window, and the smoke from the peat fire drifting down the chimney.

After that day it's many the day we met, unbeknownst to my parents. And we talked. No, that's not right. He talked. He talked about everything under the sun, about his family, about his sense of loneliness, his sense that he didn't belong. About his father, and about his mother dying young. About standing at his bedroom window at night, watching the dark river below, listening to the sound of the Falls and the booming of the ocean at the bar.

And walk. We would walk everywhere. Up the mountain early, down the rush-filled glen, by Brecey's loughs and the abbey's grey walls. Sometimes we would wander by the Erne, sit among wildflowers, listen to the call of the thrush, follow the flight of the hawk, lying on our backs looking at a blue sky and white clouds.

Sometimes he would have his notebook with him and, when the notion struck, in it he would write, lovely things, wild things, things I couldn't understand, and other times funny things to make a child laugh. He was a gentle man.

Learning his craft, he called it. A wordsmith. A poet. That's what he wanted to be. And he would read his poems, to me.

That summer was the happiest of my life. And I knew I made him happy. It was to me he came dashing, a letter in his hand, to tell me of his acceptance, of his name in print, and with a note of encouragement from a man by the name of Dickens, Charles Dickens.

"He's not one of us," my father said.

"No," said my mother.

"Indeed he's not," said my brother Seamus.

Then it was September, to me the loveliest month of the year, to me the saddest month of the year. He was leaving, for London. There he hoped to find people who would appreciate him, people who would welcome him, people who would love him for what he was, a poet.

Little did he realize the true love he was leaving behind, his first love, the one who would outlast all the rest, the one he would never forget. He could write of others, of lovely Mary Donnelly, of Molly of the Mountain, and Kate of Ballyshannon, but I am the first, and the last, and the only one who appears in all his books. For I am the pilot's daughter.

The Pilot's Daughter

Round her gentle happy face,
Dimpled soft, and freshly fair,
Danced with careless ocean grace
Locks of auburn hair;
As lightly blew the veering wind,
They touched her cheeks, or waved behind,
Unbound, unbraided, and unloop'd;
Or when to tie her shoe she stooped,
Below her chin the half-curls droop'd
And veil'd the Pilot's Daughter.

Rising, she toss'd them gaily back,
With gestures infantine and brief,
To fall around as soft a neck
As the wild-rose's leaf.
Her Sunday frock of lilac shade
(That choicest tint) was neatly made,
And not too long to hide from view
The stout but noway clumsy shoe,
And stocking's smoothly-fitting blue,
That graced the Pilot's Daughter.

With look, half timid and half droll,
And then with slightly downcast eyes,
And blush that outward softly stole,--
Unless it were the skies
Whose sun-ray shifted on her cheek,--
But 'twas a brightness all her own
That in her firm light step was shown,
And the clear cadence of her tone;
The Pilot's lovely Daughter!

Were it my lot, (the sudden wish)--
To hand a pilot's oar and sail,
Or haul the dripping moonlight mesh,
Spangled with herring-scale;
By dying stars, how sweet 'twould be,
And dawn-blow freshening the sea,
With weary, cheery pull to shore,
To gain my cottage-home once more,
And clasp, before I reach the door
My love, the Pilot's Daughter.

A fisher's hut, the scene perforce
Of narrow thoughts and manners coarse,
Coarse as the curtains that beseem
With net-festoons the smokey beam,
Would never lodge my favourite dream,
E'en with my Pilot's Daughter.

But could I sink and call it gain?
Unless a pilot true, 'twere vain
To wed a Pilot's Daughter.

Lift her, perhaps?--but ah! I said,
Much wiser leave such thoughts alone.
So may thy beauty, simple maid,
Be mine, yet all thy own.

Low voiceful wave! hush soon to sleep
The gentle Pilot's Daughter!

William Allingham
When he returned for his father's funeral I stood on the pavement as the cortege passed. Would he recognize me? Alas! I'll never know. His eyes were turned away.


Her Identity Revealed
The identity of the charmer who so bewitched the poet, William Allingham, that he continued to include his poem, "The Pilot's Daughter", under that and other names, e.g. "The Pilot's Pretty Daughter", in published collections of his poetry throughout his lifetime, has been revealed courtesy of a descendant who stumbled on this Number in "The Hawk of the Erne" while surfing the Internet.

From Seattle, Washington, on the U.S. Pacific coast, Mary Ellen McNamee, has written:

"I was surfing the web one evening and came across your web page. I can't tell you how thrilled I was to find all of the chapters on Ballyshannon. My grandfather, John McNamee, was from Ballyshannon, and I go there to visit at every opportunity....

"Every time I go to Ballyshannon I'm told that William Allingham wrote a poem about my great grandmother, Margaret Daly. I've been told this over and over again, and over the years I've searched for the poem....When I saw "The Pilot's Daughter" in "The Hawk of the Erne" I let out a scream you probably could hear in Ottawa!"

Mary Ellen also forwarded an attached family tree document, from which the following paragraph is extracted:

"It is unknown how many children James and Mary Ellen (McNamee) had, but one of them was our great grandfather, Joseph McNamee. He married Margaret Daly, who was from Kildoney, Ballyshannon, two miles from Gibach....

"Margaret Daly, our great grandmother, was one of seven sisters and had two or three brothers. These girls were reputed to be very beautiful and the local poet, William Alllingham, was madly in love with one of them. She rejected him on religious grounds. He was not a Catholic, which in those days was a serious matter. Allingham was inspired by her to write several of his poems."

For Allingham poetry lovers, mark the name, Margaret Daly. Another mystery solved, thanks to the Internet.

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