What is a character sketch of Peter Gilligan from the poem "The Ballad of Father Gilligan"?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Father Gilligan is a parish priest living and working deep in the Irish countryside. He is a dedicated man, assiduously ministering to his parish, despite the fact that his parishioners keep dying off. Father Gilligan himself is a very old man, and the passing away of half his "flock" is a grim reminder of his own mortality. His duties wear him down, the combination of his own advancing years and the deaths of his parishioners sapping what little energy he has left. And as he is the only available priest in the vicinity, this merely adds to an already burdensome load.

Despite his selflessness and sense of duty, Father Gilligan is only human. And when the pressure gets too much for him one day, he breaks down and cries out in distress:

"I have no rest, nor joy, nor peace,

For people die and die";

And after cried he, "God forgive!

My body spake, not I!'"

The priest's body has given up the ghost. But his spirit is still strong and immediately begs for forgiveness. Despite everything, his faith is unbroken; his commitment to the vocation of a priest remains. The next day, when he goes to visit another sick man, Father Gilligan immediately shows concern for his welfare. For all his weariness, this is a priest who still cares. Unfortunately, the old man has passed away in the night. But he died with a smile on his face. This tells the priest that the Lord answered his prayers and sent down an angel to minister to the old man in his dying hours. Father Gilligan is still committed to his work, but being an old man himself, with his own needs, it's nice to be relieved of the burden once in a while.

Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator
  1. The character sketch of Peter Gilligan from the poem “The Ballad of Father Gilligan” by William Butler Yeats includes the following:
  2. Father Peter Gilligan is elderly.
  3. He is always weary and is also worn down because many of his parishioners are dead.
  4. He is weary from serving his flock as well, in particular handling the needs of the poor.
  5. He is tired, full of anxiety and lacks joy. However, he feels guilty that he has a somewhat bad attitude about his station in life.
  6. In his mind he wants to serve God, but his body, his physical strength is being sapped from him.
  7. He is a devout man and devotes time to prayer.
  8. He carries on in his pastoral duties even though he’s tired physically and suffers mental distress.
  9. He’s dedicated to serving others and worries when he doesn’t perform to the standards he’s set for himself. He feels distress that he fell asleep and didn’t promptly attend to a sick man’s needs. He arrived too late to the man’s home and the man had already passed away.
  10. He’s a man that has, in his heart, deep love for mankind, but the stress of caring for a flock has taken its toll on him.
  11. He has faith and believes that God has and continues to care and protect him.
Read the study guide:
The Lake Isle of Innisfree

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