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The Melrose
(Roud 2794)
Mikey Kelleher
Quilty and Depford, London
Recorded in London, 1977

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

Mikey Kelleher

So my name is Pat O’Donnell, I come from Donegal.
To round up all them farmers, both traitors one and all.
For the murder of James Carey, I’ll be tried in London Town,
And there upon the scaffold, my life I will lay down.

I sailed on board of the ship, 'Melrose', in August ’83.
I wasn’t but travel a day or two, when he was made known to me.
And when I found out it was Carey, we had angry words and blows,
And the villain thought to take my life on board of the ship 'Melrose'.

I stood upon my own defence to fight before I die,
My pocket pistol I drew out, at Carey I let fly.
I gave him the first reveille and pierced him through the heart,
I let him have the second one, before we did depart.

His wife and son came running to the cabin where he lay.
She seemed to be excited, and looked in deep despair.
Saying, ‘O’Donnell, you shot my husband’, Mrs Carey loud did cry,
‘Oh, yes, I did in my own defence, kind madam’, I did reply.

I then was placed in handcuffs, in strong irons I was bound.
They gave me up as a prisoner, when I landed in Cape Town.
The jury found me guilty, and the judge, my verdict try,
For wilful murder of James Carey, O’Donnell you must die.

So vengeance all on you I call, from this world I must go.
Let no man say that Carey fell by a cowardly Christian’s blow.
The man who knocked down Carey, he would surely knock down more,
And we banish all informers from our sainted Irish shore.
Like St Patrick did to the serpent, when he banished him underground.
I’d make them fly before I die, like the hare before a hound.


“Patrick O'Donnell was tried and executed for the murder of James Carey in 1883. The case was a celebrated one with international repercussions. Carey was an informer; he had given the British information concerning the Irish revolutionaries (Fenians). Fearing that his life would be endangered, the English authorities sent him and his family to South Africa on board the 'S.S. Melrose' bound from Ireland to Cape Town. O'Donnell, an Irish patriot and Fenian was said to have been commissioned to kill Carey. On the July 29th 1883, O'Donnell shot Carey claiming that the dead man fired the first shot and that he was acting in self-defence. He was arrested in South Africa; it was generally believed that England insisted that O'Donnell be returned there for trial so that he would certainly be found guilty. He faced a trial lasting two days and was convicted of the murder. Protests came from America and Europe at O’Donnell’s conviction; the president of the U.S. called for an investigation; the U.S. Ambassador tried to intervene; a number of Congressmen and several U.S. Governors made protestations. French author, Victor Hugo, wrote to the Queen asking that O'Donnell be spared. Reverend George W. Pepper of Philadelphia wrote a fiery pamphlet in defence of O'Donnell. ‘What America's own immortal John Brown was in the question of slavery, that, in the main part, is O'Donnell… His fame will live long in the memories of his countrymen.’ A Pennsylvanian, John McGroarty, wrote a laudatory ballad, 'O'Donnell Aboo'; it was later set to music and sung at Irish rallies. O’Donnell was executed on December 17th 1883.”
Jim Carroll

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