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The Long Song Singer: Martin Reidy of Tullaghaboy 1901-1985
by Tom Munnelly

Martin Reidy's songs in the Carroll Mackenzie Collection

Photo: Liam McNulty.


Martin Reidy lived in Tullaghaboy, a few miles up into the slopes of Mount Callan near Doolough Lake. His spartan cottage is just off the road from Connolly to Lisroe in West Clare. In this cottage he was born and reared. He spent all his long life there, a solitary bachelor eking out a living on his mountain farm after his parents had departed this world and the other members of the family had scattered to the four winds. Not that Martin was discontented with such a life, for he had little inclination to travel beyond his immediate environs except perhaps to walk his cattle to the fairs in Ennis or maybe go for a pint and do some shopping in Connolly. His disinterest in the world beyond his mountain was such that he never even travelled the twenty-odd miles to the mating Mecca of Lisdoonvarna in all his years. In 1982 when he came with me to sing at the Cork Folk Festival he confessed to me as we passed through Limerick that that city was the furthest he had ever been before, and that was for a day-trip half a century before.

This is not to imply that Martin’s life was unhappy or that he felt deprived in any way, for in his old age he was as philosophically serene and as content with his lot as anyone I have ever met. Whatever hardships he may have undergone, these were part of the trials which were also the lot of his neighbours, a factor which frequently lightened the harsher aspects of life on a poor farm. He often recalled with genuine emotion the neighbours and friends of bygone years who made every night of cuaird; sometimes nights of singing and dancing, but more often they took the form of a local parliament where their world was debated at length. Such evenings did more than merely pass the time, they delineated the community and reinforced each participant’s perception of his place in the world of his ken, a world which Martin frequently stated had much happiness and one which he would live through again if he could.

It was not only time and death which took their toll on the inhabitants of Tullaghaboy, there was also the supporating sore of emigration which left many ruined and derelict houses dotting the area. Kinturk school overlooks this harsh and beautiful landscape with an air of melancholy and neglect. It is a good many years since its yard resounded to the shouts of young scholars at play.

Long Song Seller
A very high proportion of Martin’s song repertoire consisted of narrative ballads reminiscent of 19th century broadsheets, and indeed he was a willing purchaser of such ballad sheets when he attended local fairs and gatherings. Pedlars were another source of these “penny ballads” for he said that they almost always had a stock of song sheets when they would call to his door selling a variety of nick-nacks. All his life he had the habit of singing continually while going around his chores on the farm. Considering the lack of social contact in his later life, this habit contributed to his perfect retention of the old songs, for he never had difficulty in recalling them, and in fifteen years I never knew him to lose his place while singing.

Nowadays many of Martin’s songs would be considered to be of great length, but he never tailored his versions of dropped verses to suit the impatience of the average listener today. A few years ago we were at a singing session in Marrinan’s pub in Miltown Malbay and he congratulated the Dublin singer, Frank Harte, on singing a fine Napoleonic song. “It’s a very long song,” said Frank, modestly demurring. “I wouldn’t give you tuppence for a short one,” Martin replied, with conviction.

Not only was he a repository of traditional song, Martin was also possessed of a wealth of folklore, particularly in relation to his own area. He patiently answered many hundreds of questions on cures, cattle, tillage, the otherworld and myriad other subjects for the archives of the Department of Irish Folklore in University College, Dublin. [Link to] It always struck me as odd that a man with such a fondness of narrative songs seemed to have none of the longer folk tales among the countless fascinating artifacts in the attic of his memory, but then, there was much else.

After a friendship of many years it is funny the things that lodge in the memory. Like, Martin getting out of the car on our arrival in Cork. He looks at the enormous flow of traffic. His eyes cross the Lee, first to Connolly Hall and then to the splendour of City Hall. “Faith, ‘tis a fine village!” Or, entering Martin’s house and seeing a large bunch of stinging nettles on the table. Being aware of their use in some areas I ask:

“Have you brought them in to keep out the flies?”
“No. They’re for the rheumatism.”
“Aye, I do lash myself on the back with them before getting into bed at night and the heat gives me great relief.”

Anyone would agree that it’s a drastic type of treatment, but it would appear to work on precisely the same principle as Sloan’s Linement or Deep Heat. And then there is Martin, in his 70s, pushing a waking-frame around the kitchen as a result of falling off his bicycle and breaking his hip. Two years later and he is striding through Miltown, erect as a ramrod, with his walking-stick under his arm like a drill sergeant-major. May 1981, Martin’s 80th birthday. We brought him to our house and his simple pleasure at a few candles on a cake and a few paper hats left a warmth among the entire family which the years will never entirely dissipate. But my most enduring memory of Martin springs from a fairly ordinary event one winter’s evening in 1983. We were walking over the humpy hills of Tullaghaboy searching for his two cows which had strayed. Martin was then in his eighties. He clambered over walls and ditches, stopped occasionally to ask was he going too fast for me? I was puffing and wheezing and trying to manouver a beer-belly like a reversed rucksack through hedges and over thorny wire, and vowing I would never touch a cigarette again. When we located the errant beasts in a hollow I sat down to get my breath back while Martin stood beneath a hawthorn tree to survey his animals. Silhouetted against the weak winter sun his gaunt frame and features merged with the knotted boughs of the hawthorn and he became as one with the sentinel of the bleak hills. A defiant, proud man at once standing against the landscape and at the same time seeming, like the tree itself, to be rooted in the very soil. Not merely an inhabitant of the mountain, but part of the mountain itself, his traditional heritage, his taproots.

It was in August of 1972 that Pat Joe Burke of Clounlaheen called Martin away from his haymaking and introduced me to him. When I asked him about old songs he affirmed that he had a score of them and added that I was welcome to whatever he had. Covered in hay and soaked with sweat he offered to sing for me there and then. I gratefully accepted. I was to learn that this was typical of the man. He never made the least compliment out of singing. You asked, he sang, that was it. With the advent of the Willie Clancy Summer School he was a frequent visitor to the traditional singing sessions. Such was his continuing interest in the old songs that when he attended these sessions and listened to the performers it is absolutely no exaggeration to say that his face lit up with delight.

Nicholas Adams

Like the man himself, his singing style was undemonstrative, quiet and very melodic. Examining the tunes given with this essay you may conclude that their method of delivery was simple in the extreme, but this would be to deny much of the singer’s art which does not yield itself readily to paper. Martin used his voice and his narrative method in the manner of the pen drawings of Beardsley or Japanese painters who could be far more telling with a few deft strokes than an entire canvas of baroque fussiness from lesser artists.

Always after an evening of recording folklore Martin would sing a couple of songs as we sat staring at the sparks in the turf or looking at the stars visible up the wide chimney. “Now we’ll have a song and a real talk,” he would say when the tape recorder was put away. My visits to him through the year were sporadic, but I looked forward to them and always came away from the old man feeling the better of a few hours of his company. Christmas Eve was one date that I always made sure to call. On that day in 1984 I was greeted by Topsy, Martin’s dog, as usual but as Martin did not come to the door I let myself in. The window was bedecked with laurel and the Christmas candle was alight. Martin sat by the fire and was unusually quiet. We drank a few bottles of stout and talked of Christmasses past and, of course, about songs.

“It’s a bitter winter,” I said, “but we are half way to the next Summer School.”
“I won’t see it,” said Martin.

He then went on to tell me he had bought his grave and headstone in Kilmaley. Though I joked at him for being so morose, when I got home I had to remark that his pale blue eyes, which were always sparkling with animation, now looked as if the flame behind them was flickering down. The lanky old Hillman made me think on “The Old Woman of Beare”:

“Now all I know is how to die.
I’ll do it well.”

In a light flurry of snow we laid Martin Reidy of Tullaghaboy to rest in Kilmaley churchyard on Wednesday, 13th February, 1985.

There follows the music and text of eight songs, accompanied by explanatory notes:
1. MacDonald’s Return to Glencoe
2. The True Lover’s Discussion
3. The Maid of the Moorlough Shore
4. Moorlough Mary
5. The Lismore Turkeys
6. The Youth that belonged to Milltown
7. Father Tom O’Neill
8. Mac and Shanahan

MacDonald’s Return to Glencoe

MacDonald’s Return to Glencoe

As I went a-walking one evening of late,
When Flora’s gay mantle the fields decorate,
I carelessly wandered where I did not know,
By the banks of a fountain that lies near Glencoe.


Like her whom the prize of Mount Ida’s have won,
There approached me a lassie as bright as the sun.
The ribbons and tartans around her did flow,
Which graced poor MacDonald, the pride of Glencoe.


I thought she was enchanted, to her I drew nigh,
The red rose and lily in her cheeks seemed to vie.
I asked her her name and how far she’d to go.
She answered me, ‘Kind sir, I am bound for Glencoe.’


‘Now’, says I, ‘my fair lady, if your enchanting smile
And comely fair features do my heart beguile,
But if your kind affection on me you bestow,
We’ll bless the happy hour we both met in Glencoe.’

‘Kind Sir’, she made answer, ‘your offer I distain,
I once had a sweetheart, MacDonald by name.
And he went to the war about five year ago,
And a maid I’ll remain ‘till he return to Glencoe.’

‘Perhaps that MacDonald regards not your name,
But has placed his affection on some foreign maid,
Or he might have forgotten, for all that you know,
The lovely young damsel he left in Glencoe.’

‘MacDonald in true love will never depart,
For love, truth and honour, is found in his heart,
And if I do not find him ‘tis single I’ll go,
And I’ll mourn for MacDonald, the pride of Glencoe.’

Then, finding her constant, he drew forth a glove,
As a token she gave him, in parting, of love.
And she clung to his arms and the tears down did flow,
Saying: ‘You’re welcome, my Donald, returned to Glencoe.’

Cheer up, my dear Flora, your troubles are o’er,
And ‘till death will depart us we’ll never part more.
The storms of war at a distance may blow,
But in peace and contentment we will live in Glencoe.’

2.4 “Which once graced Mac Donald, the pride of Glencoe.” in John Ord’s “Bothy Songs and Ballads (p. 65). 4.1 The word “if” should be left out. 6.2 Ord prints “foreign dame,”.

A perfect example of the “broken-token” type of ballad in which the returned lover is not recognised by his sweetheart and tests her loyalty. This ballad clearly has happier associations for the Mac Donald clan than the awful calamity which befell them in the same glen in 1692. On Saturday, February 13th of that year they were massacred by the soldiers of Glenlyon who were guests in their home in order to make an example to other Highlanders who were tardy in swearing an oath of allegiance to King William. This ballad is widespread in Scots tradition and is also widespread among Irish traditional singers though infrequently noted in collections.

Recorded July 11th 1977. IFC TM 585/B/6. Martin learned it as a child but could not recall his source. N 39 in the Laws’ catalogue.

The True Lover’s Discussion

The True Lover’s Discussion

One pleasant evening when pinks and daisies
Fold in their bosom a drop of dew,
The feathery warblers of every species
Together chanted their notes so true.
As I did stray wrapped in meditation
- Sure it charmed my heart to hear them sing -
The silent clouds of night were just ready
And the air in concert did sweetly sing.
With joy transported each sight I courted
While gazing ‘round with unsuspective eye.
Two youthful lovers in conversation
Closely engaged I chanced to spy.
This couple spoke with such force of reason,
Their sentiments they expressed quite clear,
And just to listen to their conversation
My inclination was to draw near.
Then he pressed her hand, and he said: ‘My darling,
Tell me the reason you’ve changed your mind,
Or did I love you to be degraded
While youth and innocence were in their prime?
For I am slighted and ill bequitted
For all the favours I did bestow;
And you’ll surely tell me before I leave you
Why you’re inclined for to treat me so.’
With great acuteness she then made answer,
Saying: ‘On your favours I do rely,
But you might contrive to blast my glory,
And our marriage day you might hover by.
For young men in general are fickle minded,
And for to trust you I am afraid,
And as for your favours, if I am indebted,
Both stock and interest you shall be paid.’
‘To blast your glory I ne’er intended,
Nor fickle-minded will I ever be,
And as for my debts you can never pay them
But by true love and loyalty.
Remember, darling, our first engagement
When childish pastimes were all we knew;
Be true and constant – I’ll be thine forever –
I’ll brave all danger and go with you.’
‘Your proffer is good, sir, I thank you for it
But yet your offer I can’t receive;
With soft persuasion and kind endearment
The wily serpent beguiléd Eve.
There are other reasons to be assigned,
The highest tide, love, will ebb and fall;
Another female might suit you better,
So therefore I can’t obey your call.’
‘Yes, I admit that the tide in motion
Is always moving from shore to shore,
But yet its substance it never changes,
Nor never will till time’s no more.
I’ll sound your fame with all royal lovers
And fix their love in whose mind is pure,
Where no existence can ever change it
Or no physician prescribe the cure.’
True Lovers

‘Oh now, my darling, to tell you plainly,
To refrain you I am inclined.
Another young man of birth and fortune
Has gained my favour and changed my mind.
My future welfare I have considered,
In fickle footing I’ll never stand,
Besides, my parents would be offended
To see you walking at my right hand.’

‘What had you darling, when you were born?
What nature gave, love, so had I.
Your haughty parents I do distain them,
Poor ill-got riches I do deny.
An honest heart, love, is far superior,
Your gold and silver will soon decay,
For naked we came unto this world
And much the same we will go away.’

‘You’re haughty when you say you love me
And slight my parents whom I love so dear.
I think its justice to degrade you
If that’s the course you mean to steer.
In wealth or feature or art of nature
Sure you’re not my equal in any line.
Since I conjure you insist no further
For to your wishes I’ll not incline.’

‘Falsehood, love, I do deny it
Your reputation is wrong I swear.
Like Eve I find you a real deceiver,
Your heart is foul as your face is fair.
In the want of riches you vainly slight me
And my complexion you do distain.
Our skin may differ but in true affection
In black and white, sure, it’s all the same.’

‘Oh, curb your passion, sir,’ she made answer,
‘Its not to quarrel I met you here,
But just to discourse you in moderation
And the real intention to make appear.
I speak with candour and I’ll surrender
To what is proper in every way
And if you submit to fair discussion
And reason’s dictates you will obey.’

‘’Tis now too late to ask that question
When you despise me before my friends,
Lebanon’s plains if you could command them
Are not sufficient to make an end.
There is not a tree in the Persian forest
Retains its colour except one,
That is the laurel which I will cherish
And always carry in my right hand.’

‘The blooming laurel you may admire
Because its verdure is always new,
But there is another, you can’t deny it,
It’s just as bright in the gardener’s view.
It’s wisely resting throughout the winter,
Blooms again when the spring draws near.
The pen of Homer has written its praises,
In June and July it does appear.’

‘You speaks exceedingly but not correctly
With words supporting your cause in vain.
Had you the tongue of a Syrian goddess
Your exhortation I would distain.
It was your love I did require,
But since you placed it in golden store
I’ll strike my string and my heart shall murmur:
‘Farewell, my true love, forever more.’

She seemed affected, with eyes distracted,
And with loud exclaiming she thus gave way,
Saying: ‘My denial was but a trial,
You God, be witness to what I say.
And I say, ‘My darling if you don’t forgive me
And quite forget my uncordiality,
A single virgin, for your sake I’ll wander
While the green leaf grows on yon laurel tree.’

So all fair maids I pray take warning,
Let love and virtue be still your aim.
Where no earthly pleasure should shield your treasure
With those whose person you do distain.
And all royal lovers will then respect you
And to your memory will have a sigh.
The blooming rose and evergreen laurel
Shall mark the spot where your body lies.

Near Ballinahinch about two miles distant
Where blackbirds whistle and thrushes sing,
With hills surrounding and valleys bounding,
Enchanting prospects all in the spring.
Where female beauty is never wanted,
The lonely stranger a refuge finds.
Near Magheratimpany, if you require,
You’ll find the author of these simple lines.

2.1 inspective eye. 3.5 ill requited. 4.2 I won’t rely. 6.1 offer is good. 11.1 MR sings “Falsely, love …”. 13.3 MR sings “Lebanon’s plans …”. 13.4 make amends. 15.1 MR sings “not corrective”. 16.6 MR sings “uncor’ality”. 17.6 MR sings “have a sigh”. 18.5 wanting? wanton? 18.7 if you enquire.

If we are to believe the last verse of this song, it was written in Magheratimpany which is in the County Down. However, its popularity is by no means confined to that county. In spite of its extreme length (or because of it?) it is not a very rare song either north or south of the border. Naturally it is found more frequently with elderly singers, for those growing up after the era of house dances and American Wakes had neither the social opportunity nor, it must be said, the inclination, to sing it.

One reason for its survival to date and its popularity in the past is the practice which obtained at social gatherings of singing it as a duet, a girl and a boy alternating relevant verses in the same manner one finds utilised for courting songs in other countries. Undoubtedly another reason for its survival in Irish tradition is the extremely florid construction of its verses. This would be guaranteed to delight the listeners, for it cannot be overstressed that delight in language for its own sake was by no means confined to poets who wrote in the Irish language. Goldsmith’s schoolteacher in “The Deserted Village” impressed his listeners; “While words of learned length and thundering sound / Amazed the gazing rustics ranging around” and indeed many of the songs of this type are ascribed to hedge schoolmasters by way of explaining their grandiloquent phraseology and classical allusions.

“The True Lover’s Discussion” has long circulated on broadsheets (there are some examples in the National Library of Ireland) and Sam Henry published it in his Ulster collection (no. 164). It has also appeared in the columns of “Ireland’s Own” a long established popular weekly magazine which has played an important part in the dissemination of song in this country by publishing texts weekly. (For this song see, e.g., May 23 1917, p. 342, and March 30 1935, p. 421.) It can also be found on the very first page of the American “617 Irish Songs and Ballads”, a songster which had some circulation and influence in West Clare.

Martin’s tune is repeated every four lines. Some singers raise the pitch slightly on lines 5-8, but Martin’s parlando style carries the text well without doing so. For a fuller air see Shield’s “Shamrock, Rose and Thistle”, pp. 153-5.

Learned from a namesake, Pat Reidy of Connolly. Recorded 10th August 1973. IFC TM 204/3 & 205/1.

The Maid of the Moorlock Shore

The Maid of the Moorlock Shore

You hills and dells and flowery vales that lies near the Moorlough shore;
You winds that blows on the Baltic shore, will I ever see you more?
Where the primrose grows and the violet blows and the trout and the salmon play;
With my line and hook delight I took with the friends of my youthful days.

As I roved out to see my love, to hear what she might say,
Or to see if she'd take pity on me before I go away;
She said: “I loved an Irish lad and he was my only joy,
And ever since I saw his face I loved that soldier boy.”

“Perhaps your soldier boy is lost while on the raging main,
Or perhaps he's gone with another maid; you may never see him again.”
“Oh, if my soldier boy is, he's the one I do adore;
Seven years I’ll wait for him on the banks of the Moorlough shore.”

Farewell to Sewell's Castle grand, farewell to Collett’s hill,
Where the linnet wades the sparkling streams and the falling Shannon runs still.
'Twas there I spent my youthful days, but alas they are no more,
For cruélty has banished me far away from the Moorlough shore.


4.2 Martin actually sings “… the falling Shan’ runs …” Sam Henry, in “Songs of the People” (p. 103) gives: “Where the linen webs lie clean and white, pure flows the crystal stream.”

Hugh Shields (“Shamrock, Rose and Thistle”, p. 124) relates a traditional story about this song in which the girl, Mary McKeown, has her fortune foretold by a “spayman” who writes his prophesy out and seals it. When Mary loses her lover by drowning the day before her marriage on her 21st birthday she opens the prophesy to discover that all has come tragically true. The tune is a version of “The Sally Gardens” which is also been used to the 1916 song, “The Foggy Dew” which begins:
“As down the Glen one Easter morn to a city fair rode I.”

Recorded August 10th 1973. IFC TM 206/1.

Moorlough Mary

Moorlough Mary

The first time I saw my Moorlough Mary
'Twas in the market of sweet Strabane.
Her smiling countenance was so engaging,
The hearts of young men she did trepan.
Her killing glances bereaved my senses
Of peace and comfort both night and day.
While in gentle slumber I start with wonder,
O, Moorlough Mary, will you come away?

To see my darling on a Summer morning,
When Flora's fragrance bedecked the lawn,
Her neat deportment and manner courteous,
Around her sporting the lamb and fawn.
On her I ponder where'er I wander,
And still grow fonder, sweet maid, of thee.
By matchless charms I am alarmed,
O, Moorlough Mary, will you come away?

Were I a man of great education,
All Erin's Isla to my own command,
I'd lay my head on your snowy bosom,
In wedlock's bands, love, we’d join hands.
I'd entertain you both night and morning,
In robes I'd deck you both bright and gay.
With jewels rare, love, I would adorn you.
O, Moorlough Mary, will you come away?

Now I’m away to my situation,
For recreation is all in vain.
On the river Mourne I’ll sing you praises
‘Till the rocks re-echo my plaintive strain.
I’ll press my cheese while the wool’s a-teasing,
My ewes I’ll milk at the peep of day
When the willowy moorcock and the larks alarm me
Oh Moorlough Mary will you come away?
Moorlock Mary image

On Moorlough banks I will never wander,
Where heifers graze on a pleasant soil,
Where lambkins sporting, fair maids resorting,
The timorous hare and blue heather’s smile,
Where the thrush and blackbird all sing harmonious
Their notes melodious on the Liskea Brae,
And the pretty small birds all join in chorus:
“Oh, Moorlough Mary, won’t you come away?”

Farewell to my charming Moorlough Mary,
Ten thousand times I bid you adieu.
While life remains in my glowing bosom,
I’ll never cease, love, to think of you.
And I’m away to some lonely valley
With tears bewailing both night and day,
To some silent arbour, where none hear me
Since Moorlough Mary would not come away.

Attributed to the 19th century Tyrone poet, James Devine of Loughash, near Donemana. Martin’s version is longer than those found in either Seán O’Boyle’s “The Irish Song Tradition” or in Colm Ó Lochlainn’s “Irish Street Ballads,” being more akin to Paddy Tunney’s version which may be heard on the L.P. “Lough Erne Shore” (Sruthán/Mulligan, LUN A334). O’Boyle’ tells us that: “Local tradition has it that, though they never married, the poet remained in love with her until both were very old.” (p. 75).

Recorded August 10th 1973. IFC TM 203/3.

The Lismore Turkeys

The Lismore Turkeys

One morning I chanced to go roving,
It being in the sweet month of May,
When flowers they were blooming most charming
And pleasant and blooming (ar)ray.

I chanced for to meet with this fair one,
Her aspects so free and so rare,
And she making her way to Dungarvan
At the very first dawn of day.

She hastened her paces before me,
I told her to take her ease.
But the more I advanced to discourse her
The quicker she took to her heels.

I quickly stepped up to this fair maid,
I asked her how far was she going
Or did she belong to Dungarvan,
Or where was her native home?

Lismore image

She said: “I belong to Lismore, sir,
Some turkeys I have for sale,
And I'm going to the town of Dungarvan,
For this is our market day”.

I asked her if she'd want a driver,
As her donkey was going too slow,
And she'd be in full time for Dungarvan
And her turkeys would all be sold.

In sweet Cappoquin I embraced her
And we called for a cruiscín lán.
If I drank up a barrel of porter
This damsel she paid for all.

When I found her so civil and jovial
I thought I might make her my own.
I told her I owned a large farm,
As long as the lease would hold.

“Besides, I have cattle and corn,
I have money that nobody knows,
And I'll have you as snug and as warm
As if you got all in Lismore.”

While Kathy and I were discoursing
She used look at me now and again.
Her apron belt she kept folding
And twisting it up in a ring.

We called for another full jorum
Till Kathy and I were pleased
And we slept till the market was over
And the turkeys by and by got cheap.

But as soon as our slumber was over
I told her I should retreat,
“I’ll go and consult with my master
From my farm I couldn’t be late.

Besides last week I was cautioned
To pay up old arrears without fail
And I fear that he’ll give me no quarters
Without paying him out on the nail.”

With tears in her eyes she reproached me
And called me a thousand rogues,
And she said that I was a deceiver
In every word that I spoke.

“With flattering speeches you coaxed me
And boasting of all your stores,
But now when my hopes you have smothered
You’ll leave me to lie here alone.

“The curse of the crows may await you,
You tricked me, you naughty rogue!
Or how will I go home to my father?
Or how will I face Lismore?”

“I'll have you before the recorder
At Waterford Town next March,
And I'll have you hung or transported
For trespassing against the law!”

2.4 [recté 3.4] MR sings something like “… she squeft to her heels”. Verses 12-15 from a broadsheet in James N. Healy’s “The Mercier Book of Old Irish Ballads” Vol. 1 (pp. 250-2). Healy gives no source. 13.1 Healy gives “… I was customed”. 14.1 “…she approached me”, Healy. Healy’s text is in 8-line verses.

This ballad of seduction was popular around Waterford in the ‘thirties, if one is to judge by the number of times it appears in the Main Manuscript Collection of the Dept. of Irish Folklore in U.C.D. (e.g: vol 245 p. 328, vol. 249 pp. 473-6, vol. 259 pp. 325, 672-3 and 318, vol 318 pp. 9-11.) However, in my brief collecting experience around Cappoquin and Lismore I have not come across the song even though I requested it specifically from informants. Consequently I was more than a little surprised when Martin sang me his version which he learned as a child from his father. Aside from this West Clare version I have not come across the song since in the field. When I asked martin about the verses which his text lacks he told me he had never heard them.

Recorded August 10th 1973. IFC TM 205/3.

The Youth that Belonged to Milltown

The Youth that Belonged to Milltown

Last week, as the newspaper tells us,
An Irishman did sail away
In hopes for to seek for employment,
As thousands long before him did stray.
He resolved for to travel through England
For labour to seek up and down,
And he never denied where he came from;
In Kerry; a place called Milltown.

As he passed, the other day, down through London.
He met with John Bull on his way.
As the youth stepped along by the corner
John stopped, and here’s what he did say:
“Good evening, Pat, where are you bound for?
Or when did you land on our shore?
Or do you belong to the Fenians
That we had in the year ’sixty-four?”

Said the youth, “Do not speak about Fenians,”
- As he looked on John Bull with surprise -
“But remember the last words of Emmet,
For that was the cause of great noise.
And is it because I’m from Ireland
That you’re larking on me with a frown?
But remember you met the wrong hero!”
Said the youth that belonged to Milltown.

Says John Bull, “Why don’t you remain in your own country,
And sometimes make a home of your own
Like those you see here all around you
That ne’er went a mile from their home?
Or why don’t you be sometimes contented?
Like wild geese you are flying away
To America, Queensland and New Zealand.
You’re never tired of crossing the séa!”

The Youth that Belonged to Milltown image

Said the youth, “How can I remain in my own country
While oppression rolls over us all?
Will you tell me who is the right owner
Of the land where the green shamrock grows?
But as long as the green flag is waving
An Irishman won’t be cut down,
For Charles Stewart Parnell is our leader,”
Said the youth that belonged to Milltown.

Said John Bull, “I am now tired of speaking,
To give over I think ‘tis near time;
And we had a man here from your country,
And that was the year ’twenty-nine.
Whether right or wrong was the question
He would try for to jink out the game;
And Daniel O’Connell they called him,
I remember ‘tis from Kerry he came.”

Said the youth, ‘He was born in Carhen,
The old ruins today can be seen
Enclosed by the brink of the water
Convenient to Caherciveen.
He was the brave King of our country,
The harp and the shamrock crown.
And may God rest his soul, he’s in Heaven,”
Said the youth that belonged to Milltown.

6.6 “jink out”: To solve. 6.8 MR sings “… And remember … 7.1 O’Connell was born in Carhen House, Cahersiveen in 1775.

This was the first song I recorded from Martin in 1972. Such political debates are found in Irish and in English. For an excellent new study of the folklore surrounding O’Connell see Ríonach Uí Ógáin’s “An Rí gan Choróin”. This study includes a lengthy examination of the many songs concerning O’Connell (pp. 62-114).
The air is repeated every four lines.

Recorded July 21st 1972. IFC TM 82/B/1.

Father Tom O’Neill

Oh, there was a widow 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 grew up a man
At the age of twenty-one.

One night he discoursed his mother
These words to her did say:
“I fear ‘twill fall on one of us
To go far, far away.
Our farm is too small to maintain us all,
And if you will agree,
I am fully bent and well content,
A clergyman to be.”

And the mother being glad to hear such thoughts
Roll into this young man’s mind,
She said: “I’ll do all I can to help you,
My darling little child.”
She speaks unto his brothers
And they did soon agree,
To send him off to college
A clergyman to be.

An’ he was not long into college
When Reverend Bishop Browne
Came to examine the collegians
And viewed them all around.
He espied our clever young hero’s head,
And he marked him above them all,
An’ he was the first he did discourse
And on him he did call.

He said: “Young man, where are you from?
Come tell to me your name.”
“I am from the County Armagh,
They call me Thomas O’Neill,
My mother she’s a widow
And of a low degree.
She has done her whole endeavour
To make a priest of me.”

“Now, since Thomas O’Neill has been your name,”
The bishop then did say,
“Study hard both night and day,
I’ll soon have you ordained
To help your tender mother
Who has done so well for thee.
I’ll send you home a credit
Your country boys to see.”

When Thomas O’Neill came home ordained
The neighbours were glad to see,
And all that came to welcome him!
They ran by twos and threes.
Particularly his own dear friends,
To welcome him they ran,
And you never saw such welcome
As was for the widow’s son.

There was a rich man in this place,
As rich as duke or knight.
He had an only daughter,
She was a beauty bright.
She says unto her father:
“I will 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 they drank both ale and wine.
She says: “You are a clever young man,
I’ll have you to resign.
What makes you to be a clergyman?
You know you are going astray,
For clergymen must rise by night
And travel hard by day.

“Ah, take some noble lady,
Whose fortune may be grand,
You will have men wait on you
And be at your command.
Take myself, just as I stand,
You know my fortune is great,
I have ten thousand pounds a year
And, at death, a whole estate.”

He says “My honoured lady,
You need not explain your mind,
For had you ten times more that that,
I never would resign.
For in this holy station,
I mean to lead my life,
So, dearest dear, say no more,
I ne’er will wed a wife.”

And when he did deny her
The villain she came home.
In eight weeks after,
Her secrets all were known.
She swore before the magistrate
That he did her beguile,
And with four weeks before that
With him, she was with child.

The morning of his trial,
Sure it grieved our hearts full sore.
To think of his poor mother,
Sure it grieved us ten times more.
She had reared a son, a clergyman,
His age was twenty-three.
He had been knocked down all in his prime
By cursed perjury.

The cruel judge says: “Father Tom,
Why don’t you marry this maid?
I’m sure she is an equal
For either knight or squire.
What are you but a widow’s son,
I believe both poor and mean?
You may think it a great honour
Such a lady to obtain.”

Now Fr Tom stood up and said:
“I have no witness here.
I call upon Almighty God
To show myself quite clear.
I never said I’d marry her,
Nor take her for my wife,
For I never knew a female,
From a man in all my life.”

‘Now Tom, since you won’t marry her,
We’ll give you to understand
For seven years transportation,
Unto Van Diamond’s Land.”
“It’s bad sir, it could be worse,”
Brave Father Tom did say.
“Our Saviour suffered more than that
He died upon a tree.”

Those words were hardly spoken
When a horse came, swift as wind,
And on it was a rider
Saying: ‘I was not here in time.
I call this trial over again,
I am here who can reply.
This girl wants two fathers for her child,
That’s Fr Tom and I!

“I can tell the very moment,
Likewise the very spot,
She offered me ten thousand pounds
The night the child was got.
She offered me a thousand more,
If I would not let on,
She wants to make a husband
Of this Reverend Father Tom.”

Then Father Tom put on his hat,
And then began to smile.
He says unto his mother:
“You see how God assists your child.”
They looked at one another
When they saw her perjury,
And the villain was found guilty
And his Reverence came home free.

6.1 Usually “…it is your name”. 10 2-4 and 10 6-8. These lines omitted in this particular recording but filled in from subsequently hearing Martin sing them. 12.7 “With” is commonly used in West Clare for “for”; e.g. “he is here with ages”. 14.2 Usually “… marry this fair”, e.g. Wehman P. 42. 19.5 Martin actually sings: “You and God assist your child”, the line I subsitiute is from Wehman, p. 42.
Proinsías Ó Conlúain, a man with great experience of collecting for RTÉ, tells me that he has recorded a version of this song, in Irish, in Connemara. Allowing that so few ballads have crossed the barrier from English into Irish, this is ample testimony of the grip which this tale has on the imagination of traditional singers in Ireland. It still survives throughout the country and I have recorded texts in many countries. Some older singers were a bit reluctant to sing it in public because of its sexual reference, even though the general tone is highly moral. Certainly the priest’s chastity emerges unsullied and the villainess is soundly defeated in her attempt on his purity. This brazen hussy is not merely filthy rich, but (in most versions) a Protestant to boot. No wonder the ballad is popular!

Hugh Shields (in Jahrbuch, p. 110) noted that the late Eddie Butcher of Magilligan told that the father of the child was shaving when he heard of the trial. He rushed straightaway to the courtroom and burst into the trial with his face still half-lathered. Another belief, noted in Kerry in 1939, stated that the man who made such a dramatic entry was actually dead, but the priest’s impassioned cry to the Almighty for aid resulted in the child’s real father being raised from the grave in order to go to the court to vindicate Father Tom. (IFC Ms. No. 608 pp. 404-5).

Martin was about seventeen or eighteen years of age when he learned this ballad from Con Queally of Been, Inagh, a shoemaker who died about 1945. Recorded in his home, July 3rd 1975. IFC TM 414/B/3 – 415/A/1. Q 25 in the Laws’ catalogue.

Mac and Shanahan

Mac and Shanahan

Farewell our gallant patriot boys, a last and fond adieu,
In early age our Irish boys we are bound to part with you.
It breaks our hearts, indeed it does, as everybody knows,
And adieu to you MacNamara, and Shanahan of Doughmore.

‘Twas early dark and evil days to unite our native land,
At every meeting you were there for to lend a helping hand.
With voice and pen you staggered on, you fought with heart and sword;
We have lost two loving Irish boys, brave boys you are no more.

It was the fair day of Doonbeg those two boys marched along,
Onto the village of Newtown where they went to seek a home.
They had not long arrived there and hardly gone asleep
When they heard the tramp of Black and Tans marching through
Reidy’s street.

‘Twas there our boys were captured and that without delay,
And carried off by Black and Tans at the dawning of the day.
First they brought them to Kilrush and those words to them did say:
“Let us know the names of your comrades, and you both may have your way.”

They removed them on to Ennis and they tortured them on the way,
And they shot our Captain MacNamara and beside him Shanahan lay.

At this the news went steadily ‘round that our West Clare boys were laid low,
And they met their death at Ennis where they got their deadly blow.
In Doonbeg graves they were laid to rest that holy Christmas Day,
And for the souls of those brave boys each one of you should pray.

On September 22nd, 1920, Captain Lendrum, a Resident magistrate, was held up by the 4th Battalion of the West Clare Volunteers at Doughmore, near Doonbeg. In the ensuing fracas Lendrum, who was armed, was shot dead. The man who drove Lendrum’s car to Doolough Lake and disposed of the body was Willie Shanahan of Ocean View, Doughmore. As a result of this killing and the ambush which was held the same day at Rineen, Miltown Malbay, an intensive operation was mounted to find I.R.A. leaders and activists.

Shanahan had a number of brushes with the law including an escape when a Sinn Féin court was raided at Cragganock and one man received a serious, and another a fatal, wound. He was on the run with Captain Michael MacNamara of the Doonbeg Company when his luck ran out. According to tradition, an informer tipped the Crown forces that both fugitives could be found at Newtown (also near Doonbeg) in the Reidy home.

Taken to the barracks in Kilrush, they were tortured during interrogation. Five days later they were boarded on lorries to be moved to Ennis. MacNamara never lived to see it. He was removed from the lorry in transit, shot and bayoneted to death, and his body dragged along behind the lorry. When Shanahan got to Ennis Barracks the interrogation and torture continued. On Christmas Eve he was found – shot – in the grounds of the County Infirmary.

A large Celtic cross marks the spot in Doonbeg churchyard where Mac and Shanahan were buried, together, on Christmas Day. Their busts adorn the memorial wall at the entrance to the sports field in Doonbeg and the field itself is named after them.

Another song, also called “Mac and Shanahan”

“Those Christmas times, mavourneen,
Are not like the days of old
When the light of love shone merrily,
And our pulses felt no cold.”

This latter song is perhaps one of the best known and most widely sung songs in recent tradition in West Clare. Martin’s song, which he learned from a broadsheet he bought at the time of the events is unique in my collecting experience as I have not found even another fragmentary text anywhere else. Martin says it was a tinker who sold him the ballad sheet. The tune the song is sung to, “Cailín Deas Crúite na mBó”, is a widely used vehicle for broadsheet ballads. The two lines of verse 5 are sung to the last two lines of the tune.

Recorded in my car while Martin took a break from haymaking, July 21st 1972. IFC TM 82/B/2.

Works referred to in the text
Healy, James N. “The Mericer Book of Irish Street Ballads”, vol. 1. Cork, 1967.
IFC TM: Songs collected by Tom Munnelly in the archive of the Department of Irish Folklore, University College, Dublin.
“Ireland’s Own”. Weekly magazine, Wexford, 1904 -
Laws, G. Malcom, Jr. “American Balladry from British Broadsides.” Philadelphia, 1957.
O Lochlainn, Colm. “Irish Street Ballads.” Dublin, 1939.
O’Boyle, Sean. “The Irish Song Tradition.” Dublin, 1976.
Ógain, Ríonach Uí, “An Rí gan Choróin.” Dublin, 1984.
Ord, John. “Bothy Songs and Ballads.” Edinburgh, 1930.
Shields, Hugh. “Shamrock, Rose and Thistle.” Belfast, 1981.
Shields, Hugh. ‘The Dead Lovers Return in Modern English Ballad Tradition” in “Jahrbuch Für Volksleidforschung,” vol. XVIII, pp. 34-6. Freiburg, 1972.
Wehman. “617 Irish Songs and Ballads.” New York, no date, but circa 1900, published by Wehman Bros.

I wish to thank the head of the Department of Irish Folklore, U.C.D., with whose permission the songs from the Archive are published. Special thanks to Jackie Small for transcribing the tunes and to Janice Murphy for typing them.

Tom Munnelly.


This article was first published in ‘Dal gCais’ No. 8 (1986), pp. 65-90. Clare County Library is grateful to Annette Munnelly for permission to reproduce this article.

Singers and Songs of County Clare