In paragraphs 6 and 7 of "The Ballad of Father Gilligan," what did Father Gilligan do and why?

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Here are paragraphs six and seven from "The Ballad of Father Gilligan," by Yeats:

Upon the time of sparrow-chirp
When the moths came once more.
The old priest Peter Gilligan
Stood upright on the floor.

‘Mavrone, mavrone! the man has died
While I slept on the chair’;
He roused his horse out of its sleep,
And rode with little care.

The moths in Ireland come again in the morning, and the sparrows chirp.  Father Gilligan wakes up, startled that he has slept through the night, and jumps up.  He yells that he has missed the man's death, prepares his horse, and rides as fast as he can to the home of the man that sent for him the previous night, before he fell asleep while praying. 

Of course, the Father arrives at the house, and discovers that God, in his mercy, has sent an angel in his place to administer the Last Rites to the dying man. 

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In this poem before the stanzas you cite, Father Gilligan has been called to the bedside of a man who is dying.

But the priest is very tired.  He kneels to pray and falls asleep right there on his knees, flopped on a chair.  He sleeps all night.

In the 6th stanza he wakes up and is horrified.  He realizes that as he has slept, the man must have died already.

So he gets his horse and rides recklessly to the home of the dying man.  When he gets there, the man's wife opens the door and asks why he is there again.

So at that point we know something strange is going on because of course he had not been there yet.

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lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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W.B.Yeats' "The "Ballad of Father Gilligan" is a moving story of how God comes to the rescue of a sincere priest whose only concern is the salvation of the souls of his impoverished parishioners.

Father Gilligan who was exhausted in fulfilling his priestly duties day and night during an epidemic in the Irish countryside,  either  in giving the last communion to his poor parishioners who were dying in large numbers or conducting funeral services for them,  was at home one evening taking a well deserved rest and had dozed off in his chair.

Just as Father Gilligan had dozed he was disturbed from his sleep by the urgent call of another dying parishioner. Wearily, Father Gilligan began to grumble and murmur about his lack of rest:

'I have no rest, nor joy, nor peace,
For people die and die;

But the very next instant he checks himself seeks God's forgiveness and kneels down by the side of his chair and begins to pray:

And after cried he, 'God forgive! My body spake, not I!'

Father Gilligan seeks God's forgiveness for his murmuring and grumbling by saying that it was his weak and fatigued body which complained and not his spirit and mind which were keen to save the souls  of the dying villagers. As he continues to pray he  is completely overwhelmed by sleep. The tired Father Gilligan slept the entire night kneeling down by the side of his chair.

In stanza 6 early in the morning, at dawn he woke up to the cheerful sound of the chirping sparrows:

Upon the time of sparrow-chirp When the moths came once more. The old priest Peter Gilligan Stood upright on the floor.

In the 7th stanza Father Gilligan wakes up from his sleep and realizes that he has fallen asleep even while he was kneeling down and praying - he was so tired and exhausted. He realizes that he has not attended to the dying request for the last communion of one of the villagers and saddles his horse and rushes off in a tearing hurry to administer the last communion to the dying villager and thus hoping to save his soul:

'Mavrone, mavrone! the man has died While I slept on the chair'; He roused his horse out of its sleep, And rode with little care.

Poor Father Gilligan realized his mistake and rushed off to the house of the dying parishioner, only to be greeted by the dead man's widow with the news that he had actually come earlier on and had ministered the last communion to the dying man and by doing so had ensured the salvation of his soul:

The sick man's wife opened the door,
'Father! you come again!'

It is then that he realizes that God the Creator had taken pity on him who had worn himself out completely in His service, had sent an angel to minister the last communion to the dying man:

'He Who is wrapped in purple robes,
With planets in His care
Had pity on the least of things
Asleep upon a chair.'

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sahar01 | eNotes Newbie

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Priest Gillian was very tired and therefore he soon felt asleep . On gaining his conciousness,he remembered about the sick old man who wanted to attain salvation.Priest Gilligan thought that the man was dead.He then rode his horse carelessly,on reaching the sick man's house,he came to know that God had sent one of His angels down to help him in Father Gillian's form.Knowing this he knelt down thanking God to help him in his need.In the 7th para. we come to know about that God too has pity on the least thing present in the EARTH.       

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