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Michael O’Dwyer
(Roud 5219)
Tom Lenihan
Knockbrack, Miltown Malbay
Recorded 1982

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

Tom Lenihan

At length brave Captain O’Dwyer, you and your trusty men,
Are hunted o’er the mountains and tracked into the glen.
Sleep not, but watch and listen, keep ready blade and ball,
For the soldiers know your hiding place tonight in wild Imaal.

They searched the valley all that night and towards the dawn of day,
Discovered where the outlawed and the dauntless rebel lay.
Oh, around that little cottage, they formed in a ring,
And called on Captain O’Dwyer: ‘Surrender to the King.’

Thus answered Captain O’Dwyer, ‘Into this house we came,
Unasked by those good people they cannot be to blame.
But let those helpless parents and children pass you through,
And when they are placed in safety then, I’ll tell you what we’ll do.’

‘Tis done, and said bold O’Dwyer, ‘Now let this work begin,
You are a hundred outside and we’re only four within.
We have heard your haughty summons and this is our reply:
Oh, we’re true United Irishmen, we’ll fight until we die’

Then burst the war’s red lightning and poured the leaden hail.
The hills around re-echoed and the thunder pealed again.
And many a soldier falling, O’Dwyer saw with pride,
But alas, one gallant comerade is wounded by his side.

But still there’s three remaining good battle for to do.
Their arms are strong and steady and their aim is quick and true.
But hark, what furious shouting the savage soldiers raise.
Oh, the house is fired about their heads, the roof is in a blaze.

Then higher every moment the lurid flames arose.
And louder still the laughter and the cheering of the foes.
When up spoke brave McAllister, the weak and wounded man,
‘Ah, ye shall escape, my comerades and this will be your plan.'

‘Place in my hand a rifle and lie ye on the floor.
I’ll stand before the foemen and open wide the door.
Oh , they’ll pour into my bosom the fire of their arrays,
And when their guns are empty then dash through them and away.’

He stood before the foemen, revealed amidst the flames.
Out of their levelled pieces the wished-for volleys came.
Up sprang the three survivors, for whom our hero died,
Oh, but only Captain O’Dwyer got through the ranks outside.


"Tom couldn’t remember where he learned this but, as with several of his songs, it appeared in a songbook he owned - ‘671 Irish Songs and Ballads’ (N.Y. 1899). It was a song that obviously impressed him greatly – on the couple of occasions that he sang it for us, he ended by saying 'That’s a true song'. It was written by Corkman, Timothy Daniel O’Sullivan in 1867, the year of the Fenian uprising and tells of Michael O'Dwyer and his miraculous escape from capture at Derrynamuck, Co. Wicklow. He was an outlaw who remained in the field after the fall of the 1798 rising by hiding out in his native Wicklow Mountains, especially around the Glen of Imaal near Donard. One cold snowy night, he had taken refuge in a group of cottages with his companions. Spies loyal to the government had informed the yeomen of his movements, and they quickly made their way to where the band of outlaws lay at rest. O'Dwyer's cottage was surrounded and a vicious exchange of gunfire ensued. One of O'Dwyer's men, Sam McAllister, was badly wounded. In the end, with the thatched roof in flames, and unable to reload their muskets due to the falling sparks, Sam urged his companions to make a break for freedom. He volunteered to throw open the door, take the full brunt of the first volley, and while the soldiers took valuable seconds to reload their barrel-loaded muskets, the gang could 'dart through them, and away!' This daring plan was carried out. McAllister was killed instantly, but only O'Dwyer succeeded in the escape. All others with him that fateful night were captured and later shot or hanged. The cottage is still preserved and is now open to the public. A statue in the town of Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, commemorates Sam McAllister's unselfish valour."
Jim Carroll

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