the unusual Miss Tighe

For years, Ellen Tighe was the undisputed Queen of Odd. After she died, Mary ‘The Feather’ Higgins succeeded and was worthy enough of the crown but didn’t have Ellen’s range or depth of imagination and was not as far gone; Ellen was seriously off with the fairies.
I have my grandmother to thank for the details of Ellen’s life and for her unique voice.


the unusual Miss Tighe

brilliant but as out of place
as a lighthouse in a bog
Ellen Tighe was ten years
before retirement uprooted
by the parish priest manager
of the national school in those days

and re-settled twenty miles
from the classroom she ladied over
and the children who worshipped
from rows of dull forms

binds fray a knot undoes
other and another
wink-and-elbow languages notice
take home reports to tea
you can’t have heard right
don’t malign the teacher

now there’s a strange b-
she’s dead wrong about that
a word father in your ear
and anonymous letters start
piling the creel of complaints

femme fatale in a hamlet
of squinting windows and loose gobs
‘done her learning in Dublin
and got into bad company there’
‘always thought she was above us’
‘full of herself and a scarlet’
‘off her friggin’ head’

with fables invented
as she went through the day

reading ‘riting ‘rithmetic bored her
young minds needed fantasy
the drawing out education should be

history geography poetry
boiled in Irish stew performances

‘child at the back
(she couldn’t hold names)
with the Marie Antoinette tresses
did you know you were married to Henry
the Eighth and had six adorable children
all beheaded by their father
not many are aware of that
and by your expressions none of you

and when that coward fell at Agincourt
he called for an ass not a horse
an ass an ass my kingdom for an ass
an ass is a horse by any other name
and smells just as sweet

and have you heard boy in brown coat
that the Viennese waltz the Danube
on blue oyster shells and in Nanking
the concubines peel and eat mandarins
while playing bamboo flutes

now those are extraordinary things’

on her last day
‘remember fledglings what I said
about sky and garden
God’s face is on every flower
and birdsong is His voice
and the stars that come out at night
are not silly silver twinkles
but the crystal balls of our ancestors’

twenty miles couldn’t separate her
from a reputation and hearsay
of a soured affair with a married man
that followed to a hired room
outside another village where adults
indulged her and smiled sagely
sometimes frowned but forgave her
her personal visions and daily routine

after evening toast and tea
(that’s all she ever took)
of walking in heels and straight seams
to the local watering hole
a wraith regaling who came there
with tales of cravens and disappointed women
playground with an audience
less innocent but captive for all that

‘and I said on the last night
to the divine Sarah Bernhardt
there’s too much thought in your craft
let the acting flow free’

‘when did you meet her Miss Tighe?’
(no one called her Ellen to her face)

‘last month when the Abbey Theatre was in town
weren’t you there to wonder at her Lady Macbeth?’

‘yes yes we were there’

‘I’m glad to hear it’

‘so do you still reckon
Adolf Hitler’ll lose the war?’

‘I have no doubt
the yanks will come and toss him
and his chests of tea in the harbour
like they did to that Paul Revere’

the parish turned out
the expected and compulsory still
prayers for the dead beginning
Ellen entered the church and strode the aisle
slapped my grandfather’s coffin and intoned
‘the foul fiend has met his end
a plague on him and all his houses’


‘I’ll not be silenced
I speak what needs be told
he was a rogue a poxy knave and a mutilator
cut an arm and leg off St Patrick
that blessed man who transported
all the serpents to Van Diemen’s Land’

54 thoughts on “the unusual Miss Tighe

    • Absolutely, Robyn, a lady! And we’re badly I need of more of her kind these days.
      On a personal note, she didn’t like my grandfather for some reason and at his funeral in 1949 she did what she did; my grandmother was upset at the time but didn’t hold it against her and they remained friends. I remember Ellen but rather vaguely, I was about eight when she died in the Fifties.
      Thank You so much for your response.
      Big hugs

  1. a true gem;

    he called for an ass not a horse
    an ass an ass my kingdom for an ass
    an ass is a horse by any other name
    and smells just as sweet

    I don’t know how you do it, but don’t stop. Enjoyed !

  2. Winnie has just remarked that if Ellen were alive today she’d be senior adviser to some media mogul and his spin merchants. Perhaps she wrote the first manual for them. What a larger than life character with a highly individual reading of history. You, Sir, do her justice in outstanding writing.

    • Thank You, Winnie, for that observation, I didn’t think of it in that way but now that you mention it…
      And Thank You, Harry, for the more than kind words.
      Love to you both

  3. Certainly an amazing character, John. Tell you what, though, it does make you think about little pieces of ‘mis-information’ that we glean at an early age and accept as fact.
    As for the desire to impart creativity and freedom in thought, well I’m all for it!
    A great read, John.

    • Absolutely so, Chris, a spin doctor in her own right without meaning to be and valuable in this day and age, but highly amusing and ever so charming..and unforgettable.
      Best to You

  4. Hello John – Hope all is well with you – I added earlier a comment on this post, I haven’t saw yet. Please let me know if there was any technical matter. Thank you

    • A gremlin or two in the works today,
      Mihran, three or four comments appeared briefly and then vanished, I’ve had notes, too, from other readers. Perhaps the ghost of Ellen, lol!
      Thank You anyway for the support

  5. Brother John – Entranced by the story of Ellen Tighe. Her words lift me up and carry me on a magical journey. Then I come back to earth and realize that they’re your words not hers. That’s poetry. Love it.

  6. She certainly lived in her own world, and a very entertaining world it must have been. What a scene at your grandfather’s funeral! Very well done, John, with humor and affection.

  7. Lived in her own world she certainly did and shared it generously much to the amusement of most, the bewilderment of some and the disapproval of
    ‘authority’..poor Ellen!
    Thank You, My Friend
    for reading and for liking.
    Big hugs

    • You’d have loved her, Ry, she was worth loving..and I regret I was too young to appreciate her but am thankful my gran shared her with me in sufficient detail for me to get to know her
      Take the best care

  8. “Ellen Tighe was the undisputed Queen of Odd”, what a great opener. John, this is fabulous writing, and wonderfully entertaining! Brilliant, what an original, she really must have been something special. Why not be “off with the fairies” while “walking in heels and straight seams”? I loved her approach to education, and the fact that the names escaped her! She seemed to certainly have a mind of her own and not afraid to show it! What great memories, time surely sweetens everything. I adore your words, and have a fondness for you as well. Please be well, glad to hear that you are eating regular meals, you know I am concerned, as friend would be.


  9. Pepperanne,
    This is such a kind response both to me and to the beloved and dare I say often misunderstood Ellen..her likes are rare nowadays and probably locked up in some institution instead of being taken care of properly and cherished for their differences and originality.
    Thank You for caring, I do have severe bouts of the blues but writing keeps me ‘sane’…whatever ‘sane’ is!
    You take good care, you are valuable.
    A big hug

  10. Oh John! I’m sorry to read about your bouts with the blues…I understand that…though writing has helped me so much and I have not had too many of those dangerously down periods of late.

    I simply love Miss Tighe…and so agree that she was an incredible “character” and your words about her counterparts being locked up nowadays are so true…and so sad!! Just love that your Grandmother was able to forgive her after “expressing” herself at your Grandfather’s funeral! 🙂 Wonderful writing John!! ❤

    • Lorrie,
      What a heart you have!
      An open, compassionate unconditional heart and that is certainly rare in this day and age, as rare as if not rarer than the Ellens of the world. My grandmother was one of the few friends Ellen had, many shunned her but not gran, gran genuinely liked her and i suppose took pity on her in a way..


      for your wonderful support.
      Big hugs

      ps: the blues come and go and i’m sort of used to them now they’re part of the furniture

  11. From the south side of unique perspectives many humorous and many more near and far reaching opinions arise. For that position in your grandparent’s hamlet the inimitable Miss Tighe was granted or more likely was the self appointed one. Loved this John you’ve written it perfectly and I enjoyed it.

  12. John Ms. Ellen sounds amazing. What a brave woman to speak what she knows. What a stellar imagination. I wish I could have known her, I would have liked for her to be my teacher. Wonderful characterization. When you write this way I feel I know your characters.

    Love, Belle

    • They certainly don’t make them like Ellen any more that’s for sure or if they do as I said earlier they lock them up and we’re denied the privilege of their company and their world.
      Thank You, Don, for enjoying her world and her character.
      Best Wishes

  13. As with Lord Dunsany and others of clearer vision, she journeyed “beyond the fields we know”. No doubt a sensitive intelligent & creative woman who pulled against the tethers of male dominated society.

    Excellent poetic portrait that conveys the unique independent person -her spirit can now roam the internet. 🙂

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