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Anne O’Brien
(Laws P38; Roud 1412)
Nora Cleary
The Hand, near Miltown Malbay
Recorded in singer’s home, July 1976

Carroll Mackenzie Collection


Nora Cleary

At the dark and bitter hour of night, we both set off alone.
We both set off alone, across the country.
But little I thought, I would have brought, to prove her destiny.

When I was going to murder her I made her disemployed.
Saying, “Anne you’ll go no further for, it’s here you are to die.”
“Oh James, think on your infancy, and don’t give me a fright.
Do not commit a murder, this dark and dreary night.”

“I want no talk at-all from you but kneel down and pray.
There was never a maid upon this earth that my favour ever gained.”
“I promise God here on my knees, that if you spare me my life,
I will never come to trouble you, or ask to be your wife.”

Now all she said, it was in vain, I gave her dreadful sores.
And with the heavy laurel bush, I left her in her gores.
Her blood in streams, flew like the rain, her moans would pierce your heart.
I was sure I had her murdered, before I did her part.

But she was alive next morning, just by the break of day.
When a shepherd’s daughter by chance did go that way.
And seeing her lying in her blood, she came to her relief.
“Oh I was murdered here last night, will you bring me a priest?”

The priest and doctor was sent for, and policemen likewise.
And when they got information, they took me in disguise.
They selected all the old men, and young men of the place.
But when I, James O’Brien stepped over her, she dashed blood in my face.

They rode me off to Omagh jail until my trial day.
The jury found me guilty and the judge to me did say:
“For the murdering of Anne O’Brien, and an orphan as you see.
On the twenty-fifth of February upon the scaffold tree.”

When I received my sentence passed no mercy did I crave.
I’d rather die in the scaffold high, no better I deserve.
I ask all judge and jury men, as you’re now standing by -
To pray for the soul of James O’Brien, who’s now condemned to die.

“Also known as ‘The Longford Murder’, this song appeared as a broadside at the beginning of the 19th century with the title ‘James McDonald who was executed in Longford for the murder of Anne O’Brien’. Its moralising nature seems to indicate that it was based on an actual case. It was popular in Ireland and Scotland and also turned up in England, Canada and America. In the U.S. it was found as ‘The Lonsport Murder’ and it was claimed by some to have been of American origin, but it was generally agreed that it was native Irish. Collector Cecil Sharp commented on the ‘Irish tune’ of an English version. The song was said to have been introduced into Scotland by Irish harvesters shortly after the possible events took place. The reference to the corpse bleeding in the presence of the murderer is found in numerous ballads; it was said to be an indication of guilt (see ‘The Old Oak Tree’).
Jim Carroll


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