26 September 2018
Remembering the Bard of
Thomond, ‘Drunken Thady’
and the ‘Bishop’s Lady’
I was in Limerick today for the Diocesan Schools Service in Saint Mary’s Cathedral. Close to the cathedral, at the other end of Nicholas Street, a statue commemorates the poet Michael Hogan (1828-1899), known popularly as the ‘Bard of Thomond.’
Hogan was born almost 190 years ago on 31 October 1828 in Thomondgate, one of six sons of Arthur Hogan and Mary Nolan, and was baptised in Saint Munchin’s Church. Arthur Hogan was a wheelwright in a brewery and a musician, who also made musical instruments, including flutes and fiddles.
Michael Hogan was educated at the Christian Brothers School, then in Thomondgate, and was only eight when he wrote his first poem. But the family also suffered hardships during the Great Famine in the 1840s.
Hogan first worked in Russell’s Mills, where the clerk, William Doyle, encouraged the young man to develop his passion for writing. While working at the mill he wrote his first epic poem on Kincora and Brian Boru, but he failed to find a publisher and in a fit of rage threw these pages into a fire.
However, Hogan’s first poems were eventually published in the Anglo-Celt, then in the Irishman, the Nation, the Munster News, and the Limerick Leader.
His first book of poetry, The Light of Munster, was published soon afterwards, but did not sell as well, and Hogan returned to his job at Russell’s Mill.
Hogan married Anne Lynch in 1858 in Saint Mary’s Chapel, later replaced by Saint Mary’s Church on Athlunkard Street. The couple moved to Nicholas Street before eventually returning to Saint Mary’s Parish.
A later book, Lays and Legends of Thomond, was published in Limerick in 1861, with a larger edition published in Dublin in 1867 and republished in 1880.
In his satirical writings, Hogan lampooned prominent figures in city life in Limerick, and caused sensations. Unfortunately, he fell out of favour locally after writing a series of poems attacking some local personalities. Hogan’s gruff demeanour was reflected in his poetry, but his writing made an impact at the time.
His best-known epic poem, running to 445 lines, is ‘The Drunken Thady and the Bishop’s Lady,’ which tells the tale of the vengeful wife of the Bishop of Limerick and the night she met the drunk known as Thady.
The ‘Bishop’s Lady’ led a life of vice and while alive she roamed the city streets picking fights. After her death, she continued her malicious ways.
The ‘Drunken Thady’ was a ne’er-do-well from Thomondgate who would drink himself into a stupor while evading the police.
Thady loved intoxication,
In every grog shop he was found,
In every row he fought a round,
The jail received him forty times
For midnight rows and drunken crimes;
He flailed his wife and thumped his brother,
And burned the bed about his mother.
One night, while Thady was on his way home, he met the bishop’s wife who intended to take him to hell. She managed to toss him over the Thomond Bridge and he landed in the river. Thady repented and begged God’s forgiveness, vowing to live peacefully if his life was spared. His life was spared – Thady was no longer the Drunken Thady.
Hogan emigrated to the US in 1886, but he returned to Limerick three years later. He died at 8 Rutland Street in 1899 and was buried in Mount Saint Lawrence Cemetery, Limerick.
The ‘Friends of the Bard’ was founded in 1992 and through the work of this society a new memorial was placed over Hogan’s grave, which included his face in relief. The ‘Friends of the Bard’ erected the life-size statue of Hogan on the plaza outside King John’s Castle in 2005, close to the former Bishop’s Palace.