William Pembroke Mulchinock was born in Tralee, County Kerry. His exact date of birth is not recorded, but he was baptised on the 5th of March 1820.
His father was Michael Mulchinock, a successful woollen and linen merchant who owned several properties in the Tralee area. His mother was Margaret McCann.
His unusual second Christian name, Pembroke, was the surname of his Godfather, who was the husband of one of his aunts.
William and his two brothers and two sisters enjoyed the usual childhood of a family which had all the trappings of wealth -coachmen, gardeners, farmhands and servants.
One of these servants was Mary O’Connor, who was born in a thatched cottage in Brogue in Tralee. Her father was a shoemaker, and her mother was a dairymaid.
Originally, she had been taken on as a kitchen maid by the Mulctinocks when she was aged seventeen, but, she was soon promoted to nursery maid, looking after the two nieces of William. And it was while visiting his nieces that William first set eyes on Mary O’Connor, with whom he fell immediately in love.
But, when his family discovered that he was paying attention to a servant and writing poems to her they were furious! More problems for the Muichinocks followed when they found out that William had contributed poems to “The Nation”. This was the newspaper of the Young Irelanders who advocated armed rebellion against British rule (to which the Mulchinocks were intensely loyal).
THEN, IN l843 William led a contingent of marching men, some of whom were armed with pikes and swords, to an election meeting. A confrontation broke out between two rival supporters, one of whom was armed with a pike, the other with a sword.
William intervened, one of the men later died and, curiously, it was William who was blamed.
He was with Mary, placing an engagement ring on her finger, when he learned of this, and of the fact that a warrant had been issued for his arrest for murder! He immediately had to clear out of Ireland, and made his way to India where he worked as a War Correspondent on the North-West Frontier.
His despatches so impressed the Military Authorities that they intervened on his behalf. They used their influence with Dublin Castle and the warrant for his arrest for murder was cancelled.
This enabled William to return to Ireland in the spring of 1849. But, unfortunately, the day on which he returned to his native Tralee was exactly the same day as the funeral of his beloved Mary O’connor.
Broken-hearted, he married a woman whom he had known many years previously. Almost from the start, the marriage was a disaster. He travelled with his new wife to America in the autumn of 1849 where they had two children. However, he left America and his wife and two children and returned to Ireland in 1855.
He suffered severe unhappiness caused by the failure of his marriage and the death of Mary O’connor. He sought consolation in drink, and this led to his death, at the early age of forty four, on the 13th of October 1864, nearly one hundred and fifty years ago!
WILLIAM PEMBROKE Mulchinock wrote countless poems and in 1851, while in America, he published a collection of his poems. It is not clear when he wrote “The Rose of Tralee” to his beloved Mary O’connor. But, as “The Rose of Tralee” was Mary O’Connor’s nickname while Mulchinock was in India in the 1840s, it is safe to assume that he wrote it before leaving for India in 1843.
It was set to music by Charles William Glover, a London born violinist and composer (who died in 1863, one year before Mulchinock). It became known internationally when John McCormack sang it in the 1930 film, Song 0’ My Heart’; and, in the same year, he made a record of “The Rose of Tralee”.
It is the County Anthem of Kerry for the purposes of GAA matches in Croke Park. But, most importantly, the competition to become a modern “Rose of Tralee” is the centrepiece of the annual Festival of Kerry. It attracts entries from around the world.