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Skibbereen
(Roud 2312)
Pat MacNamara
Kilshanny, near Ennistymon
Recorded in Kilshanny, August 1975

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Pat McNamara

Oh father dear, I oft-times hear you speak of Erin’s Isle,
Her mountains high and beautiful, her valleys deep and wide,
I hear you say it was a land where ere a prince do dwell,
And the reason why you abandoned it, now the reason to me tell.

Dear son, I loved my native land with honour deep, and pride,
Her mountains high and beautiful, her valleys deep and wide,
Her fields I roamed in manhood and I sported when a boy,
And her seamróg and shillelagh was my constant pride and joy.

At length a blight came at my crops, my sheep and cattle died,
The rent too, alas was due, but a payment then I tried,
But the landlord turned me from my cot, where born I had been,
And that’s the reason why, my boy, now I've left old Skibbereen.

Now it’s well I do remember, oh, that dark November day,
When the sheriff and policemen came to turn us all away,
They set that roof on blazing with their demon tyrant spleen,
And when it fell the crash was heard all over Skibbereen.

Your mother too, God rest her soul, fell on that snowy ground
And perished in her anguish at that desolation round,
She never spoke, but passed away from life’s immortal scene,
And found a peaceful grave of rest in dear old Skibbereen.

You scarcely then were two years old, while feeble was your frame,
I could not leave you with your friends, you bore your father’s name,
But I wrapped you in my coat amor, at the dead of night unseen,
I heaved a sigh and bid goodbye to dear old Skibbereen.

Now then father, father, the day shall come when on vengeance we shall call,
And Irishmen from field and glen shall rally one and all,
I’ll be the man to lead that van beneath our flag of green,
Whilst loud and high we’ll raise that cry, revenge for Skibbereen.

“The first known appearance of this song was in a 19th-century publication‘The Wearing of the Green Song Book’ where it was attributed to Patrick Carpenter, a poet and native of Skibbereen. It was later published, in 1915, by Herbert Hughes who wrote that it had been collected in County Tyrone, and that it was a traditional song. Ireland’s Great Famine remains one of history’s worst cases of a natural disaster mismanaged; locked warehouses stuffed with supplies, enough food to feed the population being shipped out of Ireland by the boatload, and a man in charge of famine relief who believed the famine to be God’s punishment on the Irish. In a letter to Thomas Spring-Rice, Lord Mounteagle, Sir Charles Trevelyan described the famine as an ‘effective mechanism for reducing surplus population’ as well as ‘the judgment of God’. From the 'Cork Examiner' of March 19th, 1847, reporting on a court case in which a man had been charged with stealing food:

‘In his defence he said that he was driven to it by what had happened to his wife. The Court was told: the starving woman lay in her hovel next to her dead three-year old son, waiting for her husband to return from begging food. When night fell and his failure to return led her to imagine him dead in a ditch, she lay there in the faint fire's dying embers, caressing with her eyes her dead son's face and tiny fists. With death searching her, and now with her own fists clenched, she made one last effort to stay alive. Crawling as far away from her son's face as she could, as if to preserve his personality, or at least her memory of it, she came to his bare feet and proceeded to eat them.’


The legacy of the famine remains a part of Irish history and folklore, particularly in its long and unbroken record of emigration. Kerry Traveller Mikeen McCarthy once said he met an old woman who had lived during the Famine and told him it was a mortal sin not to eat all your potatoes. We were told several times of the ‘Hungry Grass’, patches of land supposedly containing unmarked Famine graves; it was said that anybody who walks over them is stricken by hunger pains. One such piece of ground is said to be not far from The Hand Cross on the slopes of Mount Callan.”
Jim Carroll


See also
Skibbereen sung by Tom Lenihan


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