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O’Brien of Tipperary
(Roud 3105)
Michael ‘Straighty’ Flanagan
Recorded in Clancy’s Bar, Miltown Malbay during the Willie Clancy Summer School July 1978

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

Michael 'Straighty' Flanagan

You loyal-hearted Irishmen, attend unto my tale.
Those lines are true, you may depend, I'm now going to reveal.
It’s of an Irish immigrant, from the town of Templemore,
Like many seeking her [his] employment, went to Columbia's shore.

William O'Brien of Tipperary is the subject of my tale.
Before this cruel war broke out, to America he came.
He was of good character, with spirits light and free,
Forced by a draft, to aid the North, against his enemy.

In a Philadelphia regiment, I mean to let you know.
O'Brien many a battle fought against the Southern foe.
The major's daughter fell in love with him, as you may plainly see,
Her father then, he was resolved, to prove his destiny.

On March the fifth in New Orleans, the major he did swear,
And did insult that soldier brave, all on the barracks square.
‘You may thank your daughter’, said O'Brien, ‘or else I'd end your strife’.
The major then, a sword he drew, and thought to take his life.

O'Brien then a pistol drew with eye both sharp and keen.
And like a gallant soldier, he quickly took his aim.
In order to defend his life, he fired the fatal ball,
And lodged it in the major's breast, that made the tyrant fall.

When this report was heard of him the guards did him surround.
And he was taken prisoner and, in irons firmly bound.
‘No matter,’ said O'Brien, ‘by me he met his end.
I killed him less that he’d kill me, my life for to defend.’

A court marshal on O’Brien was held immediately,
And he was sentenced to be shot, far from his friends and country.
‘No matter,’ said O'Brien, ‘for that I will not grieve.
I know the major’s daughter will grant me my reprieve.’

When O'Brien received his sentence, no fear of death did show.
Into the execution place, he manfully did go.
By a holy priest from Clonmel Town, he was prepared to die,
In hopes for to gain pardon from the Lord who rules on high.

His coffin was got ready, he was ordered to kneel down.
The sergeant with the handkerchief, his eyes he firmly bound.
The firing party in the front, twelve guns they did prepare;
And many a soldier for O'Brien shed many a silent tear.

They were ordered to fix bayonets, made ready, present and fire.
Before they drew a trigger, the major's daughter did appear.
With a voice as loud as thunder, ‘Come let my true love free!
Here is a letter of his reprieve, was granted unto me.’

She quickly seized O'Brien and she caught him by the hand.
Saying, ‘Rise up my bold Tipperary boy, you're now at my command.
It's true I am in love with you, though you took my father's life.
He had vengeance sworn against you that I’d never be your wife.’

Now to conclude and finish and see what love can do.
She got married to O'Brien and was both loyal and true.
She freed him from that fateful ball, her dear and only joy.
And she's now in New York City with her gallant Tipperary boy.


“We recorded this during a singing session in a crowded bar in Miltown Malbay during the 1978 Willie Clancy Summer School; the end of the last line was obscured by enthusiastic response from the audience: ‘She’s now in New York city with her gallant Tipperary boy.’ ‘Straighty’s’ version of this song, along with one recorded from Joe Heaney in the early 1960s, seem to be the only two examples from traditional singers. It was published in James N. Healy’s, ‘Old Irish Street Ballads’ in 1967, there are no other versions available.

Irishmen fleeing the Famine faced a major challenge in the United States - racism. Prejudice against the Irish, for their race and religion, followed them to the New World. American politicians, fearful of the Irish, sought to marginalise them and created a political party, the Know-Nothing Party, whose major focus was anti-immigration xenophobia. This party believed that the Irish could not be trusted because of their "allegiance" to the Pope in Rome and because of their insular "clannish" tendencies to look after each other. While thousands of Irish were looking for work, many places would put up signs looking for help that read ‘Help Wanted. No Irish Need Apply’. This, coupled with the religious persecution on the part of their Protestant neighbours, made the Irish community more insular. As a new political powerhouse of Irish voters began to coalesce around the machinery of Tammany Hall, many Irishmen looked for another path to acceptance in their new country, military service, only to find in many cases that it thrived there also. This street ballad may be a comment on racism rather than just on social misalliance.”
Jim Carroll

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