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The Kilkenny Louse House
(Roud 12933)
John Lyons
Carroll Mackenzie Collection

John Lyons

Well the first of me downfall ‘tis now I am sure,
When going the road to sweet Carrick-on-Suir.
Going into Kilkenny ‘twas late in the night,
‘Twas there that I’m sure I first saw the gas light.
With me fol-a-diddle-aro; fol-daro-fol-day.

And there in the city I saw a gas lamp,
And under it sitting a man called a tramp.
He asked me for a penny to him I did say,
‘You’ll get it if you show me a place for to stay.’
With me fol-a-diddle-aro; fol-daro-fol-day.

He directed me down to Sweet Lovers' Lane
To a place called the Refuge, I think that’s the name.
I opened the door, put me back to the wall
‘Twas then I found out ‘twas a cobbler’s hall.
With me fol-a-diddle-aro; fol-daro-fol-day.

And there in a room sat a man mending brógs
His hammer and pincers going ‘round like ciarógs.
When up came a woman, to me she did say,
‘If you’ve got a shilling sir, here you can stay.’
With me fol-a-diddle-aro; fol-daro-fol-day.

Well we went up the stairs and we put out the light,
Sure in less than five minutes, I had to show fight.
For the fleas and the bugs they collected to march,
And over me stomach they formed a great arch.
And one old campaigner gave me such a nick,
I thought I was loosing the use of me hip!
With me fol-a-diddle-aro; fol-daro-fol-day.

I sat up on the bed and demanded fair play,
Sure if I had me stick I’d have beat them away.
Jumped out through the window and gathered some stones,
If they gave me sore sides I’d give them broken bones.
With me fol-a-diddle-aro; fol-daro-fol-day.

So come all you young fellows wherever you be,
And whether you travel by land or by sea.
If you’re going to Kilkenny and thinking of staying,
Beware of the louse house in Sweet Lovers' Lane.
With me fol-a-diddle-aro; fol-daro-fol-day.


“Surprisingly, there are few documented versions of this very popular song having been recorded from traditional singers. Those that have include Kerry Traveller Christie Purcell (1952), Tommy and Gemma McGrath, Waterford (1965) and Kilkenny Traveller Mary Delaney (1976). A degree of confusion has arisen because of the song having been listed under three distinct titles: Christie Purcell’s appeared as ‘Carrick on Suir’ and Mary Delaney’s as ‘The Kilkenny Louse House’. The McGrath version was given the somewhat strange title ‘Burke’s Engine’ due to a mishearing of the name ‘Buck St John’ - the song is occasionally known as ‘Buck St John’s Black Army’. It was introduced to traditional song enthusiasts in the 1960s by Fermanagh singer Paddy Tunney, and was widely popularised by the Dubliners during the ‘Ballad Boom’. The notes to the Purcell version, recorded by the BBC in 1952, describe it as ‘A tinker composition to the Villikens tune, concerning fleas in a lodging house’ although there is no explanation of why it should be Traveller-made.”
Jim Carroll

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