My song today is ‘When The Grass Grows Over Me’. This is a song by George Jones. It was released on the Musicor label in 1968 and rose to Number 2 on the Billboard country singles chart. It was written by Don Chapel, Tammy Wynette’s husband before George. The song is similar in theme to Jones' later comeback hit ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’.
‘When you left, I thought that I would soon be over you
Even told myself that I would find somebody new
Time and tears have come and gone but not your memory
But I'll be over you when the grass grows over me .'
It is sad when after a relationship breakdown between a married couple that the acrimony between them is sometimes carried to their graves. That is essentially the theme of this song by George Jones.
I once heard a tale that my mother used to tell (but cannot testify to its veracity) about an Irish couple who lived in Dublin. They grew up in the same street, attended the same school, had been baptised by the same parish priest, attended the same church and played together daily. Their parents were the closest of neighbours, and their children had been the best of friends all their childhood. As time went on, it only seemed natural for the couple to become girlfriend and boyfriend when they entered their early teens.
Their courting became ‘over passionate’ and the young girl became pregnant three months before her 16th birthday. She and her 16-year-old boyfriend (who my mother told me was called ‘Billy’ like myself), decided to get married in 1917, one year after the ‘Easter Rising’.
This ‘Rising’, also known as the ‘Easter Rebellion’ was an armed insurrection by the southern Irish during the Easter Week of April 1916. Launched by Irish republicans to end British rule in Ireland and establish the independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom was fighting the ‘First World War’, the Easter Rebellion was to be the most significant uprising in Ireland since the rebellion of 1798. Sixteen of the Rising's leaders were executed in May 1916 after General Maxwell assumed the authority to do so under his own declaration of Martial Law. However, the insurrection, the nature of the executions, and subsequent political developments ultimately contributed to an increase in popular support for mounting Irish independence.
One of those Irish rebels was Joseph Plunkett who was executed in Kilmainham Gaol in May 1916. Joseph Plunkett was the father of the young girl in question.
When the young pregnant Plunkett girl married her lifelong neighbour, best friend and father to her unborn child, she walked down the church aisle on the arm of her uncle (her father’s brother). The couple’s early years of marriage witnessed continuous insurrection by the Irish rebels which were rekindled in earnest between 1918 and 1919.
During the three years since their marriage, there was no work to be had in Dublin and her young husband, Billy, joined the insurgents to farther the Irish cause. It was during his time ‘on the run’ as a member of the I.R.A. after the end of the civil war around 1924, when the relationship between Billy and the mother of his children (he’d also fathered a second child) irreparably broke down.
Often Billy would be ‘on the run’ between the south and the north, and it was during this time that his wife and the mother of his children was arrested by the British, interviewed at length in custody and then released. She indicated to her neighbours that the British occupiers wanted to know where her husband Billy was but said she’d sent them on a wild goose chase, telling her interrogators they’d separated and that she’d not seen her husband since the birth of their second child.
According to my mother, it later transpired that Billy’s wife entered into an extramarital relationship with an English soldier, and being ashamed and afraid of what the neighbours would think, and what her husband would do when they found out she had turned traitor, she uprooted and travelled across the Irish Sea to live out the rest of her life. Her father would have ‘turned in his grave’ to learn that not only was his daughter an adulterer but that she was also a traitor to her country, having given the British information about the identity of other insurrectionists she knew of. Once the British had obtained this information, they released her, knowing that she’d be branded an outcast by her own neighbours and the men she’d betrayed.
The young woman’s name became forever blackened in the eyes of the Dubliners and her husband Billy (whom she never divorced) grew to hate and despise her with a venom he never knew was possible. According to my mother, Billy spent the bulk of his remaining life rambling the streets as a town drunk and constantly cursing his wife and damning her eternal soul. Billy would frequently lament whenever her name was mentioned by another, “Will I ever be rid of her?” The shame of her Irish betrayal seemed to taint his character also, and after the troubles had died down and he no longer played a significant role in the I.R.A., his contribution to the Irish Cause would be swiftly forgotten and he’d be constantly referred to as ‘the man whose wife was an Irish collaborator and traitor to the flag’.
Billy reportedly died an unhappy drunk, filled with deep hate and vengeful thoughts about the wife who’d betrayed all he stood for. My mother reported that he’d be frequently heard cursing his wife, saying, “I’ll never know a moment’s peace until I am dead and buried six feet under the grass. Only when I’m dead will I be free of her!” But as with all Irish tales, especially by the ones either told or woven by my late mother, there is a twist in the tale?
Billy seemingly died during the 1960s and his wife (who never remarried) lived in bitter regret for what she’d done until she died in 1980 at the age of 79 years. She had prior to her death arranged to have her body returned to Ireland to be buried in the same cemetery as her husband, Billy. Still being officially married to Billy, she was able to share the same plot and was buried immediately above him! There was also matching headstones, identifying the couple as man and wife and proud parents of two children.
So, it looked that poor Billy couldn’t escape the presence and influence of his wife, even in death. Neither could he have said (if the dead could talk), “I’ll be over you when the grass grows over me” as being beneath his wife’s coffin, there was only soil over him; the grass was over his wife’s coffin!
I cannot tell you for the life in me if that tale of my late mother was true or false, but I can undoubtedly say, it was a good one, and well told!
Love and peace Bill xxx