The Tinker's Wedding by J. M. Synge

THE drama is made serious -- in the French
sense of the word -- not by the degree in
which it is taken up with problems that are
serious in themselves, but by the degree in
which it gives the nourishment, not very easy
to define, on which our imaginations live. We
should not go to the theatre as we go to a
chemist's, or a dram-shop, but as we go to
a dinner, where the food we need is taken
with pleasure and excitement. This was
nearly always so in Spain and England and
France when the drama was at its richest --
the infancy and decay of the drama tend to
be didactic -- but in these days the playhouse
is too often stocked with the drugs of many
seedy problems, or with the absinthe or ver-
mouth of the last musical comedy.

The drama, like the symphony, does not
teach or prove anything. Analysts with their
problems, and teachers with their systems, are
soon as old-fashioned as the pharmacopœia of
Galen, -- look at Ibsen and the Germans -- but
the best plays of Ben Jonson and Molière can
no more go out of fashion than the black-
berries on the hedges.

Of the things which nourish the imagination
humour is one of the most needful, and it is
dangerous to limit or destroy it. Baudelaire
calls laughter the greatest sign of the Satanic
element in man; and where a country loses
its humor, as some towns in Ireland are doing,
there will be morbidity of mind, as Baude-
laire's mind was morbid.

In the greater part of Ireland, however,
the whole people, from the tinkers to the
clergy, have still a life, and view of life, that
are rich and genial and humorous. I do not
think that these country people, who have so
much humor themselves, will mind being
laughed at without malice, as the people in
every country have been laughed at in their
own comedies.

J. M. S.

December 2nd, 1907


MICHAEL BYRNE, a tinker.
MARY BYRNE, an old woman, his mother.
SARAH CASEY, a young tinker woman.



SCENE: A Village roadside after nightfall.
A fire of sticks is burning near the ditch a
little to the right. Michael is working beside
it. In the background, on the left, a sort of
tent and ragged clothes drying on the hedge.
On the right a chapel-gate.

SARAH CASEY -- coming in on right,
-- We'll see his reverence this place,
Michael Byrne, and he passing backward to
his house to-night.

MICHAEL -- grimly. -- That'll be a sacred
and a sainted joy!

SARAH -- sharply. -- It'll be small joy for
yourself if you aren't ready with my wedding
ring. (She goes over to him.) Is it near
done this time, or what way is it at all?

MICHAEL. A poor way only, Sarah
Casey, for it's the divil's job making a ring,
and you'll be having my hands destroyed in
a short while the way I'll not be able to make
a tin can at all maybe at the dawn of day.

SARAH -- sitting down beside him and
throwing sticks on the fire.
-- If it's the divil's
job, let you mind it, and leave your speeches
that would choke a fool.

MICHAEL -- slowly and glumly. -- And
it's you'll go talking of fools, Sarah Casey,
when no man did ever hear a lying story even
of your like unto this mortal day. You to
be going beside me a great while, and rearing
a lot of them, and then to be setting off with
your talk of getting married, and your driv-
ing me to it, and I not asking it at all.

[Sarah turns her back to him and ar-
ranges something in the ditch.

MICHAEL -- angrily. -- Can't you speak
a word when I'm asking what is it ails you
since the moon did change?

SARAH -- musingly. -- I'm thinking there
isn't anything ails me, Michael Byrne; but
the spring-time is a queer time, and its* queer
thoughts maybe I do think at whiles.

MICHAEL. It's hard set you'd be to think
queerer than welcome, Sarah Casey; but what
will you gain dragging me to the priest this
night, I'm saying, when it's new thoughts
you'll be thinking at the dawn of day?

SARAH -- teasingly. -- It's at the dawn of
day I do be thinking I'd have a right to be
going off to the rich tinker's do be travelling
from Tibradden to the Tara Hill; for it'd be
a fine life to be driving with young Jaunting
Jim, where there wouldn't be any big hills
to break the back of you, with walking up and
walking down.

MICHAEL -- with dismay. -- It's the like
of that you do be thinking!

SARAH. The like of that, Michael Byrne,
when there is a bit of sun in it, and a kind
air, and a great smell coming from the thorn
trees is above your head.

MICHAEL -- looks at her for a moment
with horror, and then hands her the ring.
Will that fit you now?

SARAH -- trying it on. -- It's making it
tight you are, and the edges sharp on the tin.

MICHAEL -- looking at it carefully. --
It's the fat of your own finger, Sarah Casey;
and isn't it a mad thing I'm saying again
that you'd be asking marriage of me, or mak-
ing a talk of going away from me, and you
thriving and getting your good health by the
grace of the Almighty God?

SARAH -- giving it back to him. -- Fix it
now, and it'll do, if you're wary you don't
squeeze it again.

MICHAEL -- moodily, working again. --
It's easy saying be wary; there's many things
easy said, Sarah Casey, you'd wonder a fool
even would be saying at all. (He starts violently.)
The divil mend you, I'm scalded again!

SARAH -- scornfully. -- If you are, it's a
clumsy man you are this night, Michael Byrne
(raising her voice); and let you make haste
now, or herself will be coming with the porter.

MICHAEL -- defiantly, raising his voice.
Let me make haste? I'll be making haste
maybe to hit you a great clout; for I'm think-
ing on the day I got you above at Rathvanna,
and the way you began crying out and say-
ing, "I'll go back to my ma," and I'm thinking
on the way I came behind you that time, and
hit you a great clout in the lug, and how quiet
and easy it was you came along with me from
that hour to this present day.

SARAH -- standing up and throwing all
her sticks into the fire.
-- And a big fool I was
too, maybe; but we'll be seeing Jaunting Jim
to-morrow in Ballinaclash, and he after get-
ting a great price for his white foal in the
horse-fair of Wicklow, the way it'll be a great
sight to see him squandering his share of gold,
and he with a grand eye for a fine horse, and
a grand eye for a woman.

MICHAEL -- working again with impatience.
-- The divil do him good with the two of them.

SARAH -- kicking up the ashes with her
-- Ah, he's a great lad, I'm telling you,
and it's proud and happy I'll be to see him,
and he the first one called me the Beauty of
Ballinacree, a fine name for a woman.

MICHAEL -- with contempt. -- It's the
like of that name they do be putting on the
horses they have below racing in Arklow. It's
easy pleased you are, Sarah Casey, easy
pleased with a big word, or the liar speaks it.

SARAH. Liar!

MICHAEL. Liar, surely.

SARAH -- indignantly. -- Liar, is it?
Didn't you ever hear tell of the peelers fol-
lowed me ten miles along the Glen Malure,
and they talking love to me in the dark night,
or of the children you'll meet coming from
school and they saying one to the other, "It's
this day we seen Sarah Casey, the Beauty of
Ballinacree, a great sight surely."

MICHAEL. God help the lot of them!

SARAH. It's yourself you'll be calling
God to help, in two weeks or three, when
you'll be waking up in the dark night and
thinking you see me coming with the sun on
me, and I driving a high cart with Jaunting
Jim going behind. It's lonesome and cold
you'll be feeling the ditch where you'll be
lying down that night, I'm telling you, and
you hearing the old woman making a great
noise in her sleep, and the bats squeaking in
the trees.

MICHAEL. Whist. I hear some one
coming the road.

SARAH -- looking out right. -- It's some
one coming forward from the doctor's door.

MICHAEL. It's often his reverence does
be in there playing cards, or drinking a sup, or
singing songs, until the dawn of day.

SARAH. It's a big boast of a man with a
long step on him and a trumpeting voice.
It's his reverence surely; and if you have the
ring done, it's a great bargain we'll make now
and he after drinking his glass.

MICHAEL -- going to her and giving her
the ring.
-- There's your ring, Sarah Casey;
but I'm thinking he'll walk by and not stop to
speak with the like of us at all.

SARAH -- tidying herself, in great excite-
-- Let you be sitting here and keeping
a great blaze, the way he can look on my face;
and let you seem to be working, for it's great
love the like of him have to talk of work.

MICHAEL -- moodily, sitting down and
beginning to work at a tin can.
-- Great love

SARAH -- eagerly. -- Make a great blaze
now, Michael Byrne.

[The priest comes in on right; she comes
forward in front of him.

SARAH -- in a very plausible voice. --
Good evening, your reverence. It's a grand
fine night, by the grace of God.

PRIEST. The Lord have mercy on us!
What kind of a living woman is it that you
are at all?

SARAH. It's Sarah Casey I am, your
reverence, the Beauty of Ballinacree, and it's
Michael Byrne is below in the ditch.

PRIEST. A holy pair, surely! Let you
get out of my way. [He tries to pass by.

SARAH -- keeping in front of him. -- We
are wanting a little word with your reverence.

PRIEST. I haven't a halfpenny at all.
Leave the road I'm saying.

SARAH. It isn't a halfpenny we're asking,
holy father; but we were thinking maybe
we'd have a right to be getting married; and
we were thinking it's yourself would marry
us for not a halfpenny at all; for you're a
kind man, your reverence, a kind man with
the poor.

PRIEST -- with astonishment. -- Is it mar-
ry you for nothing at all?

SARAH. It is, your reverence; and we
were thinking maybe you'd give us a little
small bit of silver to pay for the ring.

PRIEST -- loudly. -- Let you hold your
tongue; let you be quiet, Sarah Casey. I've
no silver at all for the like of you; and if you
want to be married, let you pay your pound.
I'd do it for a pound only, and that's making
it a sight cheaper than I'd make it for one
of my own pairs is living here in the place.

SARAH. Where would the like of us get
a pound, your reverence?

PRIEST. Wouldn't you easy get it with
your selling asses, and making cans, and your
stealing east and west in Wicklow and Wex-
ford and the county Meath? (He tries to
pass her.)
Let you leave the road, and not
be plaguing me more.

SARAH -- pleadingly, taking money from
her pocket.
-- Wouldn't you have a little mercy
on us, your reverence? (Holding out money.)
Wouldn't you marry us for a half a sovereign,
and it a nice shiny one with a view on it of
the living king's mamma?

PRIEST. If it's ten shillings you have,
let you get ten more the same way, and I'll
marry you then.

SARAH -- whining. -- It's two years we
are getting that bit, your reverence, with our
pence and our halfpence and an odd three-
penny bit; and if you don't marry us now,
himself and the old woman, who has a great
drouth, will be drinking it to-morrow in the
fair (she puts her apron to her eyes, half sob-
, and then I won't be married any time,
and I'll be saying till I'm an old woman:
"It's a cruel and a wicked thing to be bred

PRIEST -- turning up towards the fire. --
Let you not be crying, Sarah Casey. It's a
queer woman you are to be crying at the like
of that, and you your whole life walking the

SARAH -- sobbing. -- It's two years we
are getting the gold, your reverence, and now
you won't marry us for that bit, and we
hard-working poor people do be making cans
in the dark night, and blinding our eyes with
the black smoke from the bits of twigs we
do be burning.

[An old woman is heard singing tipsily
on the left.

PRIEST -- looking at the can Michael is
-- When will you have that can done,
Michael Byrne?

MICHAEL. In a short space only, your
reverence, for I'm putting the last dab of
solder on the rim.

PRIEST. Let you get a crown along with
the ten shillings and the gallon can, Sarah
Casey, and I will wed you so.

MARY -- suddenly shouting behind, tip-
-- Larry was a fine lad, I'm saying; Larry
was a fine lad, Sarah Casey --

MICHAEL. Whist, now, the two of you.
There's my mother coming, and she'd have us
destroyed if she heard the like of that talk
the time she's been drinking her fill.

MARY -- comes in singing* --
And when we asked him what way he'd die,
And he hanging unrepented,
"Begob," says Larry, "that's all in my eye,
By the clergy first invented."

SARAH. Give me the jug now, or you'll
have it spilt in the ditch.

MARY -- holding the jug with both her
hands, in a stilted voice.
-- Let you leave me
easy, Sarah Casey. I won't spill it, I'm saying.
God help you; are you thinking it's frothing
full to the brim it is at this hour of the night,
and I after carrying it in my two hands a long
step from Jemmy Neill's?

MICHAEL -- anxiously. -- Is there a sup
left at all?

SARAH -- looking into the jug. -- A little
small sup only I'm thinking.

MARY -- sees the priest, and holds out jug
towards him.
-- God save your reverence. I'm
after bringing down a smart drop; and let
you drink it up now, for it's a middling
drouthy man you are at all times, God forgive
you, and this night is cruel dry.

[She tries to go towards him. Sarah
holds her back.

PRIEST -- waving her away. -- Let you
not be falling to the flames. Keep off, I'm

MARY -- persuasively. -- Let you not be
shy of us, your reverence. Aren't we all
sinners, God help us! Drink a sup now, I'm
telling you; and we won't let on a word about
it till the Judgment Day.

[She takes up a tin mug, pours some
porter into it, and gives it to him.

MARY -- singing, and holding the jug in
her hand*
A lonesome ditch in Ballygan
The day you're beating a tenpenny can;
A lonesome bank in Ballyduff
The time . . . [She breaks off.
It's a bad, wicked song, Sarah Casey; and
let you put me down now in the ditch, and I
won't sing it till himself will be gone; for
it's bad enough he is, I'm thinking, without
ourselves making him worse.

SARAH -- putting her down, to the priest,
half laughing.
-- Don't mind her at all, your
reverence. She's no shame the time she's a
drop taken; and if it was the Holy Father
from Rome was in it, she'd give him a little
sup out of her mug, and say the same as she'd
say to yourself.

MARY -- to the priest. -- Let you drink it
up, holy father. Let you drink it up, I'm say-
ing, and not be letting on you wouldn't do
the like of it, and you with a stack of pint
bottles above, reaching the sky.

PRIEST -- with resignation. -- Well, here's
to your good health, and God forgive us all.
[He drinks.

MARY. That's right now, your reverence,
and the blessing of God be on you. Isn't it
a grand thing to see you sitting down, with
no pride in you, and drinking a sup with the
like of us, and we the poorest, wretched,
starving creatures you'd see any place on the

PRIEST. If it's starving you are itself,
I'm thinking it's well for the like of you that
do be drinking when there's drouth on you,
and lying down to sleep when your legs are
stiff. (He sighs gloomily.) What would
you do if it was the like of myself you were,
saying Mass with your mouth dry, and run-
ning east and west for a sick call maybe, and
hearing the rural people again and they saying
their sins?

MARY -- with compassion. -- It's destroy-
ed you must be hearing the sins of the rural
people on a fine spring.

PRIEST -- with despondency. -- It's a hard
life, I'm telling you, a hard life, Mary Byrne;
and there's the bishop coming in the morning,
and he an old man, would have you destroyed
if he seen a thing at all.

MARY -- with great sympathy. -- It'd
break my heart to hear you talking and sigh-
ing the like of that, your reverence. (She
pats him on the knee.)
Let you rouse up,
now, if it's a poor, single man you are itself,
and I'll be singing you songs unto the dawn
of day.

PRIEST -- interrupting her. -- What is it
I want with your songs when it'd be better
for the like of you, that'll soon die, to be down
on your two knees saying prayers to the
Almighty God?

MARY. If it's prayers I want, you'd have
a right to say one yourself, holy father; for
we don't have them at all, and I've heard tell
a power of times it's that you're for. Say
one now, your reverence, for I've heard a
power of queer things and I walking the
world, but there's one thing I never heard any
time, and that's a real priest saying a prayer.

PRIEST. The Lord protect us!

MARY. It's no lie, holy father. I often
heard the rural people making a queer noise
and they going to rest; but who'd mind the
like of them? And I'm thinking it should be
great game to hear a scholar, the like of you,
speaking Latin to the saints above.

PRIEST -- scandalized. -- Stop your talk-
ing, Mary Byrne; you're an old flagrant
heathen, and I'll stay no more with the lot of
you. [He rises.

MARY -- catching hold of him. -- Stop till
you say a prayer, your reverence; stop till you
say a little prayer, I'm telling you, and I'll
give you my blessing and the last sup from the

PRIEST -- breaking away. -- Leave me go,
Mary Byrne; for I have never met your like
for hard abominations the score and two years
I'm living in the place.

MARY -- innocently. -- Is that the truth?

PRIEST. --* It is, then, and God have mercy
on your soul.
[The priest goes towards the left, and
Sarah follows him.

SARAH -- in a low voice. -- And what
time will you do the thing I'm asking, holy
father? for I'm thinking you'll do it surely,
and not have me growing into an old wicked
heathen like herself.

MARY -- calling out shrilly. -- Let you be
walking back here, Sarah Casey, and not be
talking whisper-talk with the like of him in the
face of the Almighty God.

SARAH -- to the priest. -- Do you hear her
now, your reverence? Isn't it true, surely,
she's an old, flagrant heathen, would destroy
the world?

PRIEST -- to Sarah, moving off. -- Well,
I'll be coming down early to the chapel, and let
you come to me a while after you see me pas-
sing, and bring the bit of gold along with you,
and the tin can. I'll marry you for them two,
though it's a pitiful small sum; for I wouldn't
be easy in my soul if I left you growing into
an old, wicked heathen the like of her.

SARAH -- following him out. -- The bles-
sing of the Almighty God be on you, holy
father, and that He may reward and watch
you from this present day.

MARY -- nudging Michael. -- Did you see
that, Michael Byrne? Didn't you hear me
telling you she's flighty a while back since the
change of the moon? With her fussing for
marriage, and she making whisper-talk with
one man or another man along by the road.

MICHAEL. -- Whist now, or she'll knock
the head of you the time she comes back.

MARY. -- Ah, it's a bad, wicked way the
world is this night, if there's a fine air in it
itself. You'd never have seen me, and I a
young woman, making whisper-talk with the
like of him, and he the fearfullest old fellow
you'd see any place walking the world.
[Sarah comes back quickly.

MARY -- calling out to her. -- What is it
you're after whispering above with himself?

SARAH -- exultingly. -- Lie down, and
leave us in peace. She whispers with Michael.

MARY -- poking out her pipe with a straw,
She'd whisper with one, and she'd whisper
with two --
She breaks off coughing. -- My singing voice
is gone for this night, Sarah Casey. (She
lights her pipe.)
But if it's flighty you are
itself, you're a grand handsome woman, the
glory of tinkers, the pride of Wicklow, the
Beauty of Ballinacree. I wouldn't have you
lying down and you lonesome to sleep this
night in a dark ditch when the spring is coming
in the trees; so let you sit down there by the
big bough, and I'll be telling you the finest
story you'd hear any place from Dundalk to
Ballinacree, with great queens in it, making
themselves matches from the start to the end,
and they with shiny silks on them the length
of the day, and white shifts for the night.

MICHAEL -- standing up with the tin can
in his hand.
-- Let you go asleep, and not have
us destroyed.

MARY -- lying back sleepily. -- Don't mind
him, Sarah Casey. Sit down now, and I'll be
telling you a story would be fit to tell a woman
the like of you in the springtime of the year.

SARAH -- taking the can from Michael,
and tying it up in a piece of sacking.
-- That'll
not be rusting now in the dews of night. I'll
put it up in the ditch the way it will be handy
in the morning; and now we've that done,
Michael Byrne, I'll go along with you and
welcome for Tim Flaherty's hens.
[She puts the can in the ditch.

MARY -- sleepily. -- I've a grand story of
the great queens of Ireland with white necks
on them the like of Sarah Casey, and fine
arms would hit you a slap the way Sarah
Casey would hit you.

SARAH -- beckoning on the left. -- Come
along now, Michael, while she's falling asleep.
[He goes towards left. Mary sees that they are
going, starts up suddenly, and turns over on her
hands and knees.

MARY -- piteously. -- Where is it you're
going? Let you walk back here, and not be
leaving me lonesome when the night is fine.

SARAH. Don't be waking the world with
your talk when we're going up through the
back wood to get two of Tim Flaherty's hens
are roosting in the ash-tree above at the well.

MARY. And it's leaving me lone you are?
Come back here, Sarah Casey. Come back
here, I'm saying; or if it's off you must go,
leave me the two little coppers you have, the
way I can walk up in a short while, and get
another pint for my sleep.

SARAH. It's too much you have taken.
Let you stretch yourself out and take a long
sleep; for isn't that the best thing any woman
can do, and she an old drinking heathen like
[She and Michael go out left.

MARY -- standing up slowly. -- It's gone
they are, and I with my feet that weak under
me you'd knock me down with a rush, and
my head with a noise in it the like of what
you'd hear in a stream and it running between
two rocks and rain falling. (She goes over to
the ditch where the can is tied in sacking, and
takes it down.)
What good am I this night,
God help me? What good are the grand
stories I have when it's few would listen to
an old woman, few but a girl maybe would
be in great fear the time her hour was come,
or a little child wouldn't be sleeping with the
hunger on a cold night? (She takes the can
from the sacking and fits in three empty bottles
and straw in its place, and ties them up.)

Maybe the two of them have a good right to
be walking out the little short while they'd be
young; but if they have itself, they'll not
keep Mary Byrne from her full pint when
the night's fine, and there's a dry moon in the
sky. (She takes up the can, and puts the
package back in the ditch.)
Jemmy Neill's a
decent lad; and he'll give me a good drop for
the can; and maybe if I keep near the peelers
to-morrow for the first bit of the fair, herself
won't strike me at all; and if she does itself,
what's a little stroke on your head beside
sitting lonesome on a fine night, hearing the
dogs barking, and the bats squeaking, and you
saying over, it's a short while only till you die.

[She goes out singing "The night before
Larry was stretched."

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