While working on his play, Henry V, Shakespeare took a few days to visit his older sister, Judith and her family. He brought his work with him on this holiday and often worked late into the night, sometimes requesting refreshments from his sister’s maid, Irish-born Ailbe O’Roarke. Miss O’Roarke, something of a story-teller herself, found herself acting as a sounding board for Mr. Shakespeare’s work.
Late one evening, Ailbe took tea and biscuits to the playwright, and found him wringing his hands in frustration – the pivotal moment in his play had arrived and the Bard had no words to adequately convey the scene. Miss O’Roarke offered a memory from her childhood in Ireland – an afternoon of play with her siblings, re-enacting the famous Celtic Battle of Axona against Julius Caesar. She recalled how her brother Brogan rallied his brothers and sisters against the children from the neighboring farm (who were portraying the Roman army) with words of encouragement and pride. “Those who are not here with us on this day will forever be ashamed!“ he had cried. “My band of brothers and sisters that shed blood with me and will show our scars with pride, remembering our valiant deeds!” “Oh, that Brogan,“ she said fondly, “he’s a silver tongue in his head. Always quick with a story or a speech to fit the occasion.” She laughingly recounted the lot of them running into imagined battle, shaking stick-swords and holding shields of tree bark in front of them, shrieking like banshees as they charged the ‘enemy’. She then left Shakespeare to his work, telling him she had confidence he would find the right words to complete his story.
Some months later, she attended a performance of Henry V and was surprised and pleased to hear her brother’s words that she had shared with the author, uttered from the stage. After the play ended she sought out Mr. Shakespeare and congratulated him on the piece, mentioning that she was glad to have provided him with the material for the pivotal scene. Shakespeare pretended he had no idea to what she referred and quickly slunk away without so much as a by-your-leave.
Not one to be silent when slighted, Miss O’Roarke took every opportunity to share Shakespeare’s thievery and slight. However, because of her Irish heritage, she was most often disregarded and assumed to be an embittered ex-consort of the writer. She never stopped telling the true story of the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech, though, sadly, history remains shamefully occluded about the true origin and once again, denies the Irish due credit for a great literary achievement.