The Reverend Charles Bunworth was rector of Buttevant, in
the county of Cork, about the middle of the last century. He was a man of
unaffected piety, and of sound learning; pure in heart, and benevolent in
intention. By the rich he was respected, and by the poor beloved; nor did a
difference of creed prevent their looking up to " the minister
"(so was Mr. Bunworth called by them) in matters of difficulty and in
seasons of distress, confident of receiving from him the advice and assistance
that a father would afford to his children. He was the friend and the
benefactor of the surrounding country - to him, from the neighbouring town of
Newmarket, came both Curran and Yelverton for advice and instruction, previous
to their entrance at Dublin College. Young, indigent and inexperienced, these
afterwards eminent men received from him, in addition to the advice they
sought, pecuniary aid; and the brilliant career which was theirs, justified
the discrimination of the giver.
But what extended the fame of Mr. Bunworth far beyond the
limits of the parishes adjacent to his own, was his performance on the Irish
harp, and his hospitable reception and entertainment of the poor harpers who
travelled from house to house about the country. Grateful to their patron,
these itinerant minstrels sang his praises to the tingling accompaniment of
their harps, invoking in return for his bounty abundant blessings on his white
head, and celebrating in their rude verses the blooming charms of his
daughters, Elizabeth and Mary.
It was all these poor fellows could do; but who can
doubt that their gratitude was sincere, when, at the time of Mr. Bunworth's
death, no less than fifteen harps were deposited on the loft of his granary,
bequeathed to him by the last members of a race which has now ceased to exist.
Trifling, no doubt, in intrinsic value were these relics, yet there is
something in gifts of the heart that merits preservation; and it is to be
regretted that, when he died, these harps were broken up one after the other,
and used as fire-wood by an ignorant follower of the family, who, on their
remove to Cork for a temporary change of scene; was left in charge of the
The circumstances attending the death of Mr. Bunworth may
be doubted by some; but there are still living credible witnesses who declare
their authenticity, and who can be produced to attest most, if not all of the
About a week previous to his dissolution, and early in
the evening, a noise was heard at the hall-door resembling the shearing of
sheep; but at the time no particular attention was paid to it. It was nearly
eleven o'clock the same night, when Kavanagh, the herdsman, returned from
Mallow, whither he had been sent in the afternoon for some medicine, and was
observed by Miss Bunworth, to whom he delivered the parcel, to be much
agitated. At this time, it must be observed, her father was by no means
considered in danger.
"What is the matter, Kavanagh?" asked Miss
Bunworth: but the poor fellow, with a bewildered look, only uttered, "The
master, Miss - the master - he is going from us;" and, overcome with real
grief, he burst into a flood of tears.
Miss Bunworth, who was a woman of strong nerve, enquired
if any thing he had learned in Mallow induced him to suppose that her father
" No, Miss," said Kavanagh; "it was not in
"Kavanagh," said Miss Bunworth, with that
stateliness of manner for which she is said to have been remarkable, "I
fear you have been drinking, which, I must say, I did not expect at such a
time as the present, when it was your duty to have kept yourself sober ; - I
thought you might have been trusted: - what should we have done if you had
broken the medicine. bottle, or lost it? for the doctor said it was of the
greatest consequence that your master should take the medicine to-night.
But I will speak to you in the morning, when you are in a fitter state to
understand what I say."
Kavanagh looked up with a stupidity of aspect which did
not serve to remove the impression of his being drunk, as his eyes appeared
heavy and dull after the flood of tears - but his voice was not that of an
Miss," said he," as I hope to receive mercy
hereafter, neither bit nor sup has passed my lips since I left this house: but
the master ----"
"Speak softly," said Miss Bunworth; "he
sleeps, and is going on as well as we could expect."
Praise be to God for that, any way," replied
Kavanagh; " but oh! Miss, he is going from us surely - we will lose
him-the master - we will lose him, we will lose him!" and he wrung his
"What is it you mean, Kavanagh?" asked Miss
"Is it I mean?" said Kavanagh: "the
Banshee has come for him, Miss; and 'tis not I alone who have heard her."
" 'Tis an idle superstition," said Miss
"May be so," replied Kavanagh, as if the words
idle superstition only sounded upon his ear without reaching his mind -
"May be so," he continued; "but as I came through the glen of
Ballybeg, she was along with me keening, and screeching, and clapping her
hands, by my side, every step of the way, with her long white hair failing
about her shoulders, and I could hear her repeat the master's name every now
and then, as plain as ever I heard it.
When I came to the old abbey, she parted from me there,
and turned into the pigeon-field next the berrin
ground, and folding her cloak about her, down she sat under the
tree that was struck by the lightning, and began keening so bitterly, that it
went through one's heart to hear it."
" Kavanagh," said Miss Bunworth, who had,
however, listened attentively to this remarkable relation, " my father
is, I believe, better; and I hope will himself soon be up and able to convince
you that all this is but your own fancy; nevertheless, I charge you not to
mention what you have told me, for there is no occasion to frighten your
fellow servants with the story."
Mr. Bunworth gradually declined; but nothing particular
occurred until the night previous to his death: that night both his daughters,
exhausted with continued attendance and watching, were prevailed upon to seek
some repose; and an elderly lady, a near relative and friend of the family,
remained by the bedside of their father.
The old gentleman then lay in the parlour, where he had
been in the morning removed at his own request, fancying the change would
afford him relief; and the head of his bed was placed close to the window. In
a room adjoining sat some male friends, and, as usual on like occasions of
illness, in the kitchen many of the followers of the family had assembled.
The night was serene and moonlit, the sick man slept -
and nothing broke the stillness of their melancholy watch, when the little
party in the room adjoining the parlour, the door of which stood open, was
suddenly roused by a sound. at the window near the bed: a rose-tree grew
out-side the window, so close as to touch the glass; this was forced aside
with some noise, and a low moaning was heard, accompanied by clapping. of
hands, as if of a female in deep affliction.
It seemed as if the sound proceeded from a person holding
her mouth close to the window. The lady who sat by the bedside of Mr. Bunworth
went into the adjoining room, and in the tone of alarm, enquired of the
gentlemen there, if they had heard the Banshee? Sceptical of super
natural appearances, two of them rose hastily and went out to discover the
cause of these sounds, which they also had distinctly heard.
They walked all round the house, examining every spot of
ground, particularly near the window from the voice had proceeded; the bed of
earth beneath, in which the rose tree was planted, had been recently dug, and
the print of a footstep - if the tree had been forced aside by mortal hand -
would have inevitably remained; but they could perceive no such impression;
and an unbroken stillness reigned without.
Hoping to dispel the mystery, they continued their
search anxiously along the road, from the straightness of which and the
lightness of the night, they were enabled to see some distance around them;
but all was silent and deserted, and they returned surprised and disappointed.
How much more then were they astonished at learning
that the whole time of their absence, those who remained within the house had
heard the moaning and clapping of hands even louder and more distinct than
before they had gone out; and no sooner was the door of the room closed on
them, than they again heard the same mournful sounds! Every succeeding hour
the sick man became worse, and as the first glimpse of the morning appeared,
Mr. Bunworth expired.
Crofton Croker - Fairy Legends and Traditions, first published 1825.
republished, Collins Press, Cork, 1998.
from Arthur Rackham