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The Rocks of Bawn
(Roud 3024)
Tom Lenihan
Knockbrack, Miltown Malbay
Recorded in singer's home, July 1976

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Tom Lenihan

Come all you loyal heroes, wherever you may be.
Don’t hire with any farmer till you know the kind he is:
You’ll get up there in the morning – from the clear daylight of dawn,
And ‘tis then you’ll have to tackle up and plough the rocks of Bawn.

‘Rise up, rise up young Sweeney, and give the horses hay.
Go give them a good feed of oats before you start the day.
Don’t feed them in mash turnip, let them out in yon green lawn,
And ‘tis then you might be able for to plough the rocks of Bawn.’

My shoes they are all worn and my stockings are getting thin,
And my heart is always trembling, what fear I would give in.
My heart is always trembling for the clear daylight of dawn.
I’m afraid I won’t be able for to plough the rocks of Bawn.

I wish that Patrick Sarsfield would write to me in time,
And place me in some reg’ment while in my youth and prime.
I would fight for Ireland’s glory from the clear daylights of dawn,
But I never would return again to plough the rocks of Bawn.

My curse upon you Sweeney and you have me nearly robbed,
You’re sitting by the fireside with your dúidín* in you gob.
You’re sitting by the fireside from the clear daylight till dawn
And I know you won’t be able for to plough the rocks of Bawn.

It is true that I must ramble, it is true that I must go.
It is true that I must ramble from my dear old Irish home.
My poor ould heart is breaking for the clear daylight of dawn,
For I know I won’t return no more to plough the rocks of Bawn.

*pipe

Tom Lenihan talks to Jim Carroll about 'The Rocks of Bawn' and singing techniques



“For many of us coming to traditional song for the first time in the early 1960s, Joe Heaney’s magnificent rendition of this song played a major part in making us life-long adherents. Ewan MacColl’s introduction to Joe’s singing of it in the BBC radio series, ‘The Song Carriers’ sums up perfectly this, and all songs, of the hardships of manual labour:

‘The early 19th-century seamen working on the packet ships, clippers and East-India tea-wagons did not see themselves as jolly jack tars - that is a landsman's concept. For them, it was hard-tack and bluenosed mates, long voyages and short rations. In the same way, songs made up by farm labourers often reflect the countryman's love-hate relationship with the land. This is particularly true of the West of Ireland songs. To the hired farm-labourer working the submarginal lands of the west coast where they had learned to subsist on rocks, bogs, salt-water and sea-weed, the land was an enemy compared with which even the British army appeared as a refuge. ‘The Rocks of Bawn’ expresses this attitude perfectly.’

The BBC recorded this song from Liam Clancy’s mother ‘Mamo’ Clancy of Ballinafad in Co. Galway in 1954; she said she had heard it as a young woman, but had been prompted to re-learn it from the singing of Seamus Ennis. Tom Lenihan learned it from local ballad seller, ‘Bully’ Nevin, and Willie Clancy’s aunt, Mary Haren of Clooneyogan; several people have told us that they recall Bully bawling out the song at Miltown cattle fairs. Tom strongly disapproved of the line ‘I wish the Queen of England’ and said he much preferred Bully’s ‘Patrick Sarsfield’, but the comparison of the British army being preferable to ploughing rocks stands as a powerful indictment of the hardships of West of Ireland life in the 19th century. Dominic Behan claimed the ‘Bawn’ referred to was in Cavan, the home of Martin Swiney, to whom he attributed the song. Tom Munnelly said there were eleven townlands in Ireland bearing the name ‘Bawn’ and that he had been frequently told that the rocky field referred to was on the outskirts of Granard in County Longford.”

Reference:
The Song Carriers, 10 BBC radio programmes on the British and Irish singing tradition broadcast Feb-March 1965
Mount Callan Garland: Songs of Tom Lenihan, Tom Munnelly (ed.), Comhairle Bhéaloideas Éireann, 1994
Jim Carroll


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