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Father Tom O’Neill
(Laws Q25; Roud 1013)

Michael ‘Straighty’ Flanagan
Inagh
Recorded in a bar in Inagh, July 1976
Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Michael 'Straighty' Flanagan

There was a widow lived in this place, she had three darling sons.
Their father died and left them when they were very young.
A long time she endeavoured to maintain their darling sons,
Till the youngest one, became a man at the age of twenty one.

One night he discussed with his mother, these words to her did say:
‘I think it will fall on one of us to go far away,
Your land is too small to support us all and if you will agree,
I’m fully bent, and well content, a clergyman to be.’

His mother being glad to hear such a thought come in his mind,
She says, ‘I will do all I can to help my darling child,’
She spoke unto his brothers and they did soon agree,
They sent him off to college a clergyman to be.

He was not long in college when the Reverend Bishop Browne
Came to examine his collegians, and to view them all around.
He saw this clever young man, marked him above them all,
He was the first he did discuss when on them he did call.

He says ‘Young man, where are you from, come tell me now your name,’
‘I’m from the County Armagh, they call me Tom O’Neill,
My mother is a widow and of a low degree,
She has done her full endeavours to make a priest of me.’

‘Now Tom O’Neill then is your name’, the bishop he did say,
‘Go and study hard both night and day, I’ll have you soon ordained.
To help your tender mother who did so well for thee,
I’ll send you home a credit, your country boys to see.’

Well this young man came home ordained, the neighbours were glad to hear.
And all that came to welcome him, they came in twos and threes,
Particularly his own dear friends, to welcome him thereon,
And you never saw such welcome as was for the widow’s son.

There was a man lived in this place, he was as rich as a duke or knight.
He had an only daughter, she was a beauty bright.
She says unto her father ‘I’ll go this young man to see,
For before he went to college he was a schoolboy along with me.’

She was brought into the parlour where she drank some ale and wine.
She says ‘You are a clever young man, I would have you resign.
What made you be a clergyman, you know you are astray,
For a clergyman must rise by night and travel hard by day.

Come take some noble lady, whose fortune will be grand,
You will have men to wait on you and be a gentleman.
Come take myself now as I stand, you know my fortune is great,
I have a thousand pounds a year and, at death, a whole estate.'

He says ‘My noble lady don’t not explain your mind,
For if you offer ten times more, sure I would not resign,
For in this holy station, I mean to lead my life,
So say no more, my dearest dear, I’ll never take a wife.’

It’s when he did deny her this villain she came home,
And then some week’s time after, her secret she let known.
She swore before the magistrate, that he did her beguile,
And for four long weeks before she came, she was with child.

The morning of the trial, it grieved their hearts full sore.
To see his tender mother, sure it grieved her ten times more.
Her son, a fine young clergyman, his age but twenty three,
To be cut down, in youth and bloom, by cruel perjury.

‘Now Tom what is the reason you don’t marry this fair maid?
I think she’s a companion for a duke I do declare.
You are but a widow’s son, that is both poor and mean.
You should think it a great honour such a lady to obtain.’

Now Father Tom stood up and said, ‘I have no witness here.
I call on the Almighty, and he will make me clear.
I never said I’d marry her, or take her for my wife,
For I never knew a female from a man in all my life.’

‘Now Tom as you won’t marry her, I’ll give you to understand,
Seven long years transported, into Van Diemen’s land.’
‘That is bad but it could be worse,’ then Father Tom did say,
‘Our Saviour suffered more than that, when he died in Calvary.’

These words were hardly spoken when a horse came like the wind,
And on her came a rider saying, ‘I was not here in time.
I call the trial o’er again I’m here who can reply,
She wants two fathers for her child, that’s Father Tom and I.

I can tell the very moment, likewise the very spot,
She gave to me a thousand pounds the night the child was got,
She said she’d give me a thousand more, if I would not let on,
She wants to make a husband of the Reverend Father Tom.’

Now Father Tom put on his hat, and then began to smile.
He says unto his mother, ‘You'll see, how God assists your child.’
They looked at one another when they found her perjury.
The villain she was found guilty and his Reverence came home free.


"Despite its popularity in Ireland, this song does not seem to have made its way in print very often here. The only Irish versions we were able to find are one in the 'Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society' of 1912 which is a single verse only and was taken down from Mr Joseph Dyer of Boston Mass, and one from Inishowen, Co Donegal. Collector Tom Munnelly said that he has recorded a version from every county in Ireland he has worked in. It is one of the English language songs that can also be found in Irish.

We got it three times in Clare, from Michael ‘Straighty’ Flanagan of Inagh, from Mikey Kelleher of Quilty and from Martin Reidy and a substantial part-version of it from Tipperary Traveller Mary Delaney. Charles O’Boyle of Belfast, father of collector Sean, described it as one of the songs that used to be sung by the young girls working in the factories. He said,

'In their spare time or when a machine ran down they would sit down and have a sing-song, each contributing a song or a hymn.'

A song entitled 'Pat Maguire', collected by Alfred Williams in Wiltshire, is given as a version of Father Tom O’Neill in the (English) 'Folk Music Journal' in 1969. Though it has a similar story, there are a number of significant differences. A note inserted in the middle of the song states:

'A portion of the song is here missing, probably expurgated by Williams in a fit of pique.
Mary complains to the authorities that Pat has raped her and she is pregnant'."

Reference:
Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society 1912.
Flower of Dunaff Hill, Jimmy McBride (ed.).
The Long Song Singer (obituary article), Tom Munnelly, Dal gCais, 1986.
Alfred Williams and the Folk Songs of the Upper Thames: a symposium, Ivor Clissold, (English) Folk Music Journal, Vol. 1, No. 5, 1969.
Jim Carroll


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