What was the epidemic described which made the priest so weary in the poem "The Ballad of Father Gilligan?"It is related to the poem "The Ballad Of Father Gilligan" by William Butler Yeats. It is...

What was the epidemic described which made the priest so weary in the poem "The Ballad of Father Gilligan?"

It is related to the poem "The Ballad Of Father Gilligan" by William Butler Yeats. It is said that the old village priest was weary as he performed last rites and helped the dying people to go to the heaven.

What was the reason behind the death of so many people?

Expert Answers
dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To my understanding, the many people who are dying in the village described in "The Ballad of Father Gilligan" are victims of the Great Potato Famine, or, at least, the lingering effects of that event. The poem was first published around the year 1890, which was forty-five years after the beginning of the Famine; the catastrophe was of such epic proportions that its repercussions were long-lasting, and the Famine itself not soon forgotten. The population of Ireland declined by close to three million during the Famine years; like the stars in the sky,the number of victims "into the millions grew." The people who were lost either emigrated, or died of starvation or disease. For a priest such as Father Gilligan who served in one of Ireland's small, rural villages, the constant presence of death was undoubtedly overwhelming, as in the Catholic Faith, the dying would have wanted the priest to be present to administer the last rites to help ensure that their souls would go to heaven. The death toll in Father Gilligan's parish during the time described was clearly astronomical; the author writes, "...half his flock were in their beds, or under green sods lay."