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The Cranbally Farmer
(Roud 6978)
Tom Lenihan
Knockbrack, Miltown Malbay
Recorded in singer’s home, July 1983

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Tom Lenihan

One evening of late as I happened to stray,
To the county Tipp'rary, I straight took my way,
To dig the potatoes and work by the day,
I hired with a Cranbally farmer.
I asked him how far we were bound for to go.
The night it was dark, and the north winds did blow.
I was hungry and tired and my spirits were low,
I had neither whiskey nor porter.

He made me no answer but mounted his steed,
To the Cranbally mountains we posted with speed;
I said to meself that my poor heart would bleed
To be trodging behind that old nagger.
When we entered his kitchen, I entered it first;
It seemed like a kennel or a ruined old church:
Says I to meself, "I am left in the lurch,
Here in the house of old Darby O’Leary."

I well recollect it was Michaelmas night,
To an awful bad supper he did me invite,
A cup of sour milk that would physic a snipe—
Your stomach ‘twould put in disorder.
'Twas in that old miser I looked with a frown,
When the straw was brought in for to make my shakedown.
I wish I had never seen Cranbally town,
Or the sky over Darby O’Leary.

I worked in Kilcolum, I worked in Kilmore,
I worked in Knockbrack and in Shanballymore.
In Pallas-a-Nicker and Sollohodmore,
With decent, respectable farmers.
I worked in Tipperary, the Rag, and Rosegreen,
I worked in Knockainey and the Bridge of Aleen,
But such woeful starvation I’ve never yet seen,
As I got from Darby O’Leary.

Conversation after the song between Tom Lenihan, Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie:
Tom: I never sung that for anyone.
Jim: How long is it since you heard that song?
Tom: Oh, Lord, that’s an old song. It’s years since I heard that first.
Jim: Would that be in the family?
Tom: It was, in the family.
Jim: Where do you think you got this as well, Tom, would you know?
Tom: I wouldn’t know, Jim. Well of course, tis patched up now, I suppose with modern stuff. I suppose tis coming in songbooks or something but tis different from the way that – the old version that we had long ago. That’s an old song too, but they’re patching it up and piecing it up, putting it on to different songs. You’d see bits of it coming in, in the radio and them places, but not the way I have it.

“Joyce’s ‘Old Irish Folk Music and Songs’ has a note to a version almost identical to Tom’s entitled ‘The Spalpeen’s Complaint of the Cranbally Farmer’:

‘I have endeavoured to give representations of all classes of Irish Folk Songs in this collection; and the two following ballads represent well and vigorously from the satirical class. Both have remained in my memory since my boyhood; and I have a copy of ‘The Cranbally Farmer’ on a roughly-printed sheet. This same Cranbally Farmer —the man himself—was well known in the district sixty years ago as a great old skinflint; and the song drew down on him universal ridicule. The air is Fágamaoid súd mar a tá sé, which was published by me for the first time in my Ancient Irish Music, p. 14. Spalpeens were labouring men—reapers, mowers, potato-diggers, etc.—who travelled about in the autumn seeking employment from the farmers, each with his spade, or his scythe, or his reaping-hook. They congregated in the towns on market and fair days, where the farmers of the surrounding districts came to hire them. Each farmer brought home his own men, fed them on good potatoes and milk, and put them to sleep in the barn on dry straw—a bed—as one of them said to me—‘a bed fit for a lord, let alone a spalpeen’."

Reference:
Old Irish Folk Music and Songs, W.P. Joyce, Dublin 1909.
Jim Carroll


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