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The Boys of Mullaghbawn
(Roud 2362)
John Lyons
Carroll Mackenzie Collection

John Lyons

On a Monday morning early, as my wandering steps did lead me;
Down by a farmer’s station through meadows and green lawn.
I heard a great commotion as the small birds they were warbling,
Saying, ‘We’ll have no more engagements with the boys of Mullaghbawn.’

Squire Jackson he’s unequalled, for honour and for reasoning.
He never turned a traitor or deny the rights of man.
But now we are endangered by a vile deceiving stranger,
Who has ordered transportation, for the boys of Mullaghbawn.

As these fellows crossed the ocean, sure I’m told the ship in motion
Would start in wild commotion, as if the seas ran dry.
The trout and salmon gaping as the cuckoo left its station,
Saying, ‘Farewell to old Killeavey and the hills of Mullaghbawn.’

So to end my lamentation, we are all in consternation,
For want of education I now must end my song.
No cares for recreation, but without consideration,
We were sent for transportation from the hills of Mullaghbawn.


“This seems to have originated in Ulster, and is an account of events there towards the end of the 18th century. Sean O’Boyle wrote of the song:

‘Mullaghbawn is a mountainy parish in South Armagh between Slieve Gullion and Forkhill. In the eighteenth century it was part of the Forkhill Estate, owned by Richard Jackson who was the local Squire. In an era of absentee landlordism, Jackson lived on his Estate, tilled his land and encouraged his tenants to do the same. In his will he provided for the poorest and oldest of his tenants, and to this day people in the district benefit from his bequests. He died in 1787, and his authority passed over to someone less acceptable to the people of Mullaghbawn. Four years after the death of Squire Jackson the Society of United Irishmen was founded in Belfast by Wolfe Tone and "Trouble" broke out in South Armagh. The "heroes" mentioned in the song are popularly believed to have taken part in Wolfe Tone's struggle for the Rights of Man — "the greatest happiness of the greatest number in this island". In an article in ‘Ceol’ Magazine (Vol. III, No.2, April 1968) Thomas Wall suggested that the men may have been transported for the attempted abduction of an heiress.

I prefer to think with the people of Mullaghbawn, that their boys were transported for taking part in the Rising of 1798. I got the song from a Forkhill farmer, Nicholas Hughes, who regarded it, rightly, as a living historical document. He knew all about Squire Jackson and like everyone in the district, had the greatest regard for his memory. He gave me a long disquisition on The Rights of Man, and on the Rising of 1798, and like all the Gaelic poets from whom this song undoubtedly derived, he took for granted the Stupefaction of all Nature at the disaster which had overtaken the Boys of Mullaghbawn. One surprising bit of false information, however, he gave me with great assurance: "There's no air to the Boys of Mullaghbawn," he said, "It's just sung by brute force." One glance at the music will assure you it is not. The air is one of the most beautiful melodies that ever Ulster produced.’”

The Irish Song Tradition, Sean O’Boyle, Dublin, 1976.
Jim Carroll


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