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The Grey Mare
(Roud 3039)
Peggy McMahon
Cloonlaheen, Doolough

Recorded in singer's home, date unknown
Carroll Mackenzie Collection


You neighbours all, both great and small, take counsel and be wise.
Attention pay to what I say and do not me despise.
Let patience guide you on every side, of traitors all beware,
There is none but men, who are sound within, can ride my old grey mare.

When you mount this mare with loving care, the almighty you must call.
Her stirrups bare are set so fair, ‘tis easy now to fall.
Find patience, zeal and you won’t fail so watch your post with care,
Lest in the fog, you’ll gain the bog, and drown the old grey mare.

In Erin’s Isle, where beauty smiles, once lived brave Brian Boru.
Phelim O’Neill, Carlinton Mile, Sarsfield and the great Eoghan Ruadh.
Lord Edward you know some time ago, ranged Wexford and Kildare,
Tandy, Sheares and other peers all rode my old grey mare.

Brave Bonaparte, on her did start, he rode too fast ‘tis true.
At Moscow too, she lost a shoe, got lame in Waterloo.
But now she’s back in the shamrock shore she’ll be shod and fed with care,
And the very next chase, she’ll win the race, my sporting old grey mare.

Here’s to the youth of six foot two, an inch to each man’s view.
Who stands up right without effect in the solid leather shoe.
Here’s to the youth of six foot two, who breathes the balmy air.
And to every man in Paddy’s land, who loves the old grey mare.

Here’s to the tree that ne’er decays, and may its leaves so spread.
Let bravery cut slavery and that without effect.
We’ll hoist our flag let no man lag, have courage true and brave,
And Gráinne’s sons, with their pikes and guns, will free the old grey mare.

And now to conclude and make an end, a warning to you all:
Never depend on English men, or in the breed at all.
For if you do, you’ll surely rue, the devil a bit for you they’ll care,
But heaven will guard you left and right, and mind the old grey mare.


“O’Donovan Rossa, who learned this song in his childhood, was certain that the wonderful horse meant Ireland (Rossa’s ‘Recollections’), but, as Georges Zimmermann points out, ‘this does not stand the reading of the whole song. The different texts would rather evoke confused ideas of glory, victory, perhaps justice or liberty. In fact, the song has probably no emblematic meaning.’ It was said to have been a great favourite of Irish revolutionary leader Padraig Pearse. Napper Tandy and John and Henry Sheares were leaders of the United Irishmen. Phelim O’Neill was a rebel leader executed in 1653. Eoghan Ruadh O’Neill was one of the Earls of Ulster who left Ireland in ‘The Flight of the Earls’ and returned with 300 veterans to aid the Irish Rebellion of 1641. Lord Edward FitzGerald was an Irish aristocrat and revolutionary who died in Newgate Prison, Dublin of wounds received while resisting arrest on a charge of treason in during the 1798 rebellion.”

Songs of Irish Rebellion, Georges-Denis Zimmermann, Figgis, Dublin 1967.
Jim Carroll

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