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Spancil Hill
Michael ‘Straighty’ Flanagan
Inagh
Recorded in Marrinan’s Bar, Miltown Malbay during the Willie Clancy Summer School July 1975

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Michael 'Straighty' Flanagan

Last night as I lay dreaming of the pleasant days gone by.
My mind being bent in travelling to Ireland I did fly.
I stepped on board a vision and followed with the will,
Till next I came to anchor at the Cross of Spancil Hill.

It was on the twenty third of June, the day before the fair,
When Ireland’s sons and daughters, and friends assembled there.
The young, the old, the brave and bold, their duty to fulfil,
At the parish church of Clooney a mile from Spancil Hill.

I went to see my neighbours, to see what they might say.
The old ones were all dead and gone, the young were turning grey.
I met the tailor Quigley, he's as bould as ever still.
He used to make my breeches when I lived in Spancil Hill.

I pay a flying visit to my first and only love.
She's as fair as any lily, she’s as gentle as a dove.
She threw her arms around my neck, saying, ‘Johnnie I love you still.’
She’s Ned the farmer’s daughter, and the pride of Spancil Hill.

I dreamt I held and kissed her, ‘twas in days of yore,
Saying, ‘Johnnie you're only fooling as you oft-times were before.’
The cock he crew in the morning, he crew both loud and shrill;
I awoke in California, many miles from Spancil Hill.

“The composer of this song was Michael Considine from Spancilhill, who was born around 1850 and emigrated to the USA at around 1870. Considine went with the intention of bringing his sweetheart over and for them to be married when he had made enough money for the passage. She was Mary MacNamara, known as ‘Matt the Ranger's daughter’; the ranger's house was within sight from the Considine home as was the tailor Quigley's, mentioned in the song. At the age of 23, he began to suffer ill health, and after some time, realising he hadn't long to live, he wrote the poem ‘Spancilhill’, to be sent home in remembrance of his love, It was kept safe by his six-year old nephew, John Considine. It is said that Michael Considine died sometime in 1873 and may have been buried in the Spancilhill graveyard, though these dates are disputed, not least because Mary MacNamara (usually referred to as ‘Matt, the Ranger’s daughter’, but in Straighty’s version, ‘Nell, the farmer’s daughter’), who is said to have remained faithful to his memory and never married, would only have been 8 years old when Michael died. The story goes that, in the late 1930s or early '40s, Robbie McMahon announced he was going to sing ‘Spancilhill’, when the woman of the house, Moira Keane, a relative of Michael Considine, handed Robbie McMahon the original text of the song saying "If ye are going to sing that song ye might as well sing it right." This text was confirmed some time later, around 1953, at another session, when Robbie was asked to sing it and a local man first resisted him, saying: ‘Don't sing that song’. When asked why not, the old man replied, ‘because ye don't know it’. Robbie sang the song anyway using the version given to him by Moira Keane. As he got into the song, he noticed the old man paying more attention, fiddling with his cap and looking a little flustered. When the song was finished the old man asked: ‘Where did you get that song?’ McMahon told him and the old man seemed both perturbed and pleased at the same time. The old man was John Considine, the nephew of the songs’ composer. John was seventy-six at that time and had kept his uncle's song safe for seventy years. He gave his approval to Robbie’s performance after hearing that he had sung the original version. Straighty’s air is different to the one usually associated with the song, suggesting that he learned it from print rather than from another singer; he uses the same one for several of his songs.”
Jim Carroll


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