O’Donnell Abu!

#amwriting #amsinging #irishmusic

One of the best of the rebel songs, O’Donnell Abu! was written by Michael Joseph McCann in 1843. “Abu!”, as I understand it, is similar to “Hurrah!”  I recognized this song on the bagpipes long before I knew the words (or even knew it had words!) I subsequently have asked many Irish singers for the song, and found but few of them also know there are words. A version by tenor Michael O’Duffy can be found here.


O’Donnell Abu!

Proudly the note of the trumpet is sounding,
Loudly the war cries arise on the gale,
Fleetly the steed by Lough Swilly is bounding,
To join the thick squadrons in Saimer’s green vale.

On every mountaineer, strangers to flight or fear,
Rush to the standard of dauntless Red Hugh!
Bonnaught and Gallowglass, throng from each mountain pass,
Onward for Erin, O’Donnell Abu!

Princely O’Neill to our aid is advancing
With many a chieftain and warrior clan.
A thousand proud steeds in his vanguard are prancing
‘Neath the borderers brave from the Banks of the Bann.

Many a heart shall quail under its coat of mail.
Deeply the merciless foeman shall rue,
When on his ears shall ring, bourne on the breeze’s wing
Tyr Connail’s dread war cry, O’Donnell Abu!

Sacred the cause that Clan Connell’s defending,
The altars we kneel at, the homes of our sires.
Ruthless the ruin the foe is extending,
Midnight is red with the plunderer’s fires.

On with O’Donnell then, fight the old fight again,
Sons of Tyr Connail all valiant and true!
Make the proud saxon feel Erin’s avenging steel
Strike for your country, O’Donnell Abu!


Wildly o’er Desmond the war wolf is howling,
Fearless the eagle sweeps over the plain,
The fox in the streets of the city is prowling,
And all who would scare them are banished or slain!

On every mountaineer, strangers to flight or fear,
Rush to the standard of dauntless Red Hugh!
Bonnaught and Gallowglass, throng from each mountain pass,
Onward for Erin, O’Donnell Abu!


Special thanks to Stair Na Héireann Blog for this article about Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell that reminded me of this song.

The Valley of Knockanure

#irishmusic #irishhistory #amwriting

Stemming from an incident in Gortagleanna during the War of Indepence (1921), there are several versions of this song extant. These lyrics are based on a poem by Bryan MacMahon, which in turn is based on oral histories and older poems, some of which are lost today. A haunting version of this song is presented by Mary O’Dowd here.


You may sing and speak about Easter Week
And the heroes of Ninety Eight,
Or bold Fenian Men who roamed the glen
In victory or defeat.
Their names on history’s pages told,
Their memories will endure,
Not a song is sung of our darling sons,
In the Valley of Knockanure.

There was Walsh and Lyons and the Dalton boy,
They were young and in their prime.
They rambled to a lonely spot
Where the Black and Tans did hide.
The Republic bold they did uphold,
Tho’ outlawed on the moor,
And side by side they fought and died
In the Valley of Knockanure.

It was on a neighbouring hillside,
We listened in hushed dismay.
In every house, in every town,
A young girl knelt to pray.
They’re closing in around them now,
With rifle fire so sure,
And Lyons is dead and young Dalton’s down
In the Valley of Knockanure.

But ere the guns could seal his fate,
Young Walsh had spoken thro’.
With a prayer to God he spurned the sod,
As against the hill he flew.
The bullets tore his flesh in two,
Yet he cried with voice so sure,
“Revenge I’ll get for my comrade’s death,
In the Valley of Knockanure.”

The summer sun is sinking low
Behind the field and lea.
The pale moonlight is shining bright
Far off beyond Tralee.
The dismus star and clouds afar
Are darkening o’er the moor,
And the banshee cried when young Dalton died,
In the Valley of Knockanure.

May God guard and keep the place they sleep
In the Valley of Knockanure.

Oft In The Stilly Night

#IrishMusic #amwriting

This poem, written in the early 19th century by Irishman Thomas Moore, was set to music by Scottish composer Sir John Stevenson. It was perhaps most famously played at the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002. I also feature it in my manuscript WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, as the favorite song of Katie Donovan, the clan matriarch. A version of it by the inimitable Sarah Brightman can be found here.


Oft in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Fond mem’ries bring the light
Of other days around me:
The smiles, the tears of boyhood years,
The words of love then spoken,
The eyes that shone now dimmed and gone,
The cheerful hearts now broken!
Thus in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Sad mem’ry brings the light
Of other days around me.

When I remember all
The friends, so link’d together,
I’ve seen around me fall,
Like leaves in wintry weather;
I feel like one who treads alone
Some banquet-hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled, whose garlands dead,
And all but he departed!
Thus in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Sad mem’ry brings the light
Of other days around me.

Maids, When You’re Young Never Wed an Old Man!


A sassy little ditty with advice for unmarried women. Listen to a recording by The Dubliners here.

Maids, When You’re Young Never Wed an Old Man!

An old man came courting me, hey ding dooram ay!
An old man came courting me, me being young
An old man came courting me, all for to marry me;
Maids when you’re young never wed an old man!


For he’s got no faloorum, fadidledo doorum ay
For he’s got no faloorum, fadidleday
He’s got no faloorum, he’s lost his ding doorum
So maids when you’re young, never wed an old man!

Now when we went to the church, hey ding dooram ay!
When we went to the church, me being young,
When we went to the church, he left me in the lurch.
Maids when you’re young, never wed an old man!


Now when we went to our bed, hey ding dooram ay!
Now when we went to our bed, me being young,
When we went to our bed, he lay like he was dead!
Maids when you’re young never wed an old man!


Now when he went to sleep, hey ding dooram ay!
Now when he went to sleep, me being young,
When he went to sleep, out of bed I did creep,
Into the arms of a handsome young man!


And I found his faloorum, fadidledo doorum ay!
I found his faloorum, fadidleday,
I found his faloorum, he got my dingdoorum!
So, maids, when you’re young never wed an old man!

If I Were a Blackbird

Our song today comes with both male and female verses. Though they are often sung apart, the occasional duet is most beautiful. You can hear a version of it by Silly Wizard here.

If I Were a Blackbird

Begins with the man’s part:

I am a young sailor, my story is sad
For once I was carefree and a bold sailor lad.
I courted a lassie by night and by day,
But now she has left me and gone far away.

Refrain: Oh if I were a blackbird, I’d whistle and sing,
I’d follow the vessel my true love sails in
And in the top rigging, I’d there build my nest
And I’d flutter my wings o’er her lily-white breast.

Or if I were a scholar and could handle a pen,
One secret love letter to my true love I’d send.
And I’d tell of my sorrow, my grief and my pain,
Since she’s gone and left me in yon flowery glen.


I sailed o’er the ocean, my fortune to seek,
Though I missed her caress and her kiss on my cheek.
I returned and I told her my love was still warm,
But she turned away lightly and great was her scorn.


I offered to take her to Donnybrook Fair.
And to buy her fine ribbons to tie up her hair.
I offered to marry and to stay by her side,
But she said in the morning she sailed with the tide.


My parents they chide me, and will not agree,
Say that me and my false love married should never be.
Ah but let them deprive me, let them do as they will,
While there’s breath in my body, she’s the one I love still.



Proceeds to the woman’s part:

I am a young maiden and my story is sad
For once I was courted by a brave sailor lad.
He courted me strongly by night and by day
But now my dear sailor is gone far away.

Refrain: If I were a blackbird I’d whistle and sing
And I’d follow the ship That my true love sails in,
And on the top rigging I’d there build my nest,
And I’d pillow my head on his snowy-white breast.

He promised to take me to Donnybrook fair,
To buy me red ribbons to tie up my hair.
And when he’d return from the ocean so wide,
He’d take me and make me his own loving bride.


His parents they slight me and will not agree
That I and my sailor boy married should be.
But when he comes home I will greet him with joy,
And I’ll take to my bosom my dear sailor boy.


The Hills of Kerry

In keeping with the short story I published in response to the New West Writers prompt, I’m giving you today the complete words to The Hills of Kerry. You can hear a lovely version by Peggy Sweeney here.


The palm trees wave on high all along the fertile shore.
Adieu, the Hills of Kerry, I ne’er will see no more.
Oh, why did I leave my home, why did I cross the sea,
And leave the small birds singing around you, sweet Tralee?

The noble and the brave have departed from our shore,
They’ve gone off to a foreign land where the wild canyons roar.
No more they’ll see the shamrock, or the hills so dear to me,
Or hear the small birds singing around you, sweet Tralee.

No more the sun will shine on that blessed harvest morn,
Or hear our reaper singing in a golden field of corn.
There’s a band for every woe and a cure for every pain,
But the happiness of my darling girl I never will see again.

The Wild Colonial Boy

Probably one of the most popular Irish songs, The Wild Colonial Boy tells the tale of a young man who leaves Ireland and becomes the Australian equivalent of Robin Hood.  The song was featured in the movie “The Quiet Man”, and also in my Donovan family saga.  My favorite version is by Dennis Day and you can hear it here.

There was a wild colonial boy, Jack Duggan was his name.
He was born and bred in Ireland in the town of Castlemaine.
He was his father’s only son, his mother’s only joy,
A credit to old Ireland was the wild colonial boy.

At the early age of sixteen years, Jack left his native home
And to Australia’s sunny shores he was inclined to roam.
He robbed the rich to aid the poor, he shot James MacEvoy;
A terror to Australia was the wild colonial boy.

One morn out on the prairie as Jack, he rode along,
A-listening to the mockingbirds a-singing their sweet song,
There came three troopers fierce and grim – Kelly, Davis, and Fitzroy –
They’d all set out to capture him, the wild colonial boy.

“Surrender now, Jack Duggan, for you see there’s three to one.
Surrender in the King’s name, sir, you daring highwayman.”
Jack drew two pistols from his belt and proudly waved them high.
“I’ll fight, I’ll not surrender,” said the wild colonial boy.

He fired a shot at Kelly that brought him to the ground,
Then fired point-blank at Davis, who received a mortal wound.
A bullet pierced his proud young heart from the pistol of Fitzroy,
And that is how they captured him, the wild colonial boy.

Notes: James MacEvoy is sometimes referred to as Judge MacEvoy. Legend has it he was a “hanging judge”.

There is an Australian version of this song in which Jack Donahue (or Jack Doolan) is a highwayman & bushranger.  Guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

Molly Brannigan


Molly Brannigan is the story of a man who loses not only his heart, but his britches as well, in unrequited love. The third verse is usually left out by singers, yet to me is both the funniest and the most poignant. Click here for a version by the inimitable John McCormack


1.   Mam, dear, did ye never hear of pretty Molly Brannigan?
In troth, then, she’s left me and I’ll never be a man again.
Not a spot on me hide will a summer’s sun e’er tan again
Since Molly’s gone and left me here alone for to die.

The place where me heart was you’d aisy roll a turnip in,
‘Tis large as all Dublin, and from Dublin to the Divil’s glen:
If she’d wish’d to take another, sure she might have left mine back again,
And not have gone and left me here alone for to die.

2.   Mam, dear, I remember when the milking time was past and gone,
We strolled thro’ the meadow, and she swore I was the only one
That ever she could love, but oh! the false and cruel one,
For all that, she’s left me here alone for to die.

Mam, dear, I remember when coming home the rain began,
I wrapt my frieze-coat round her and ne’er a waistcoat had I on.
My shirt was rather fine lawn, but oh! the false and cruel one,
For all that she’s left me here alone for to die.

3.   I went and told me story first to Father Matt McDonnel, Mam,
And then I went and asked advice of Counselor O’Connor, Mam,
He said that promise breaches have been ever since the world began,
But I have only one pair and they’re corduroy.

Alas, what can he mean, Mam? And what would you advise me do?
Must me corduroys to Molly go? I’ faith, I’m bothered what to do.
I can’t afford to lose ‘em both, me heart and then me britches, too!
But what have I left here to do but live for to die?

4.   The left side of me carcase is as weak as water gruel, Mam,
There’s not a pick upon me bones, since Molly’s proved so cruel, Mam.
Oh! if I had a blundergun, I’d go and fight a duel, Mam,
For sure I’d better shoot m’self than live here to die.

I’m cool an’ determined as e’er the salamander*, Mam,
Won’t you come to me wake when I go the long meander, Mam?
I’ll think m’self as valiant as the famous Alexander, Mam,
When I hear ye cryin’ o’er me, “Arrah! why did ye die?”

NOTES: Some renderings of these lyrics use “Ma’am” instead of “Mam”, but to my mind, as “Mam” signifies the man’s mother, this is a truer translation. I’ve also noted a wide-spread substitution of “fine-drawn” for “fine lawn”, but as lawn is a delicate cotton fabric, I believe it is the right word to be used here.

* Finally, a “salamander” as referenced here, is a spirit that protects one’s hearth and home, the word coming from the Greek word meaning “fireplace”. As I mentioned before, it was the Irish who kept many scholarly texts from destruction during Europe’s dark ages, so it is not surprising that the language was familiar to the scholars of Ireland.

Tuesday Trivia #18: The History of Potato Crop Failures

I realized this morning that I used “Tuesday Trivia #12” twice — kind of confusing! Rather than renumber the whole kit’n’caboodle and maybe create more confusion, I simply relabled the second #12 as #12a. And so on we go …

Many people consider the Great Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1852 to be an unprecendented occurrence, and believe it caught the country’s government by surprise. However, the failure of the potato crop that began in 1945 was no stranger to Ireland’s inhabitants.

Crop failures had plagued Ireland in both the 18th and 19th centuries prior to An Gorta Mor, or The Great Hunger. In the winter of 1739-1740, the potato crop was ruined by frost: close to half a million Irish died from starvation and related diseases (a number that is statistically higher per capita than The Great Famine).

Another crop failure took place in 1782 and 1783, but at that time laws were enacted to keep Irish food in Ireland to feed its populace, so the death rate was not nearly so high.

In 1816, a widespread general crop failure occurred in most of Europe, due to unusual weather conditions (secondary, we now know, to a volcanic eruption in the Indian Ocean). The English Parliament under Sir Robert Peel created a contingency plan to prevent widespread disaster in the case of another potato crop failure.

In 1822 and in the early 1830s, regional crop failures occurred, but were considered unimportant and unrelated. By the mid-century, the British government had essentially adopted a laissez-faire attitude toward Ireland; when the crop failed again in 1845, only small parts of Peel’s contingency plan were put into effect. The Corn Laws, laws that kept the price of English corn artificially high, were repealed; however, the populace had no money with which to buy the corn even at reduced prices.

Ironically, American ships loaded with donated corn arrived in Ireland – after much ado about who had the authority to accept the corn, the American grain was distributed for free, while English corn rotted away in warehouses, waiting for someone with enough money to buy it.

Shule Aroon

This is an ancient song; it’s been around since at least the 14th century. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it was revived in the 1960s by Peter, Paul & Mary. Though they turned the chorus to nonsense lyrics and retitled it “Gone the Rainbow”, their harmonies are inimitable. You can listen to it here.


I wish I were on yonder hill
‘Tis there I’d sit and cry my fill,
And ev’ry tear would turn a mill,
Is go de mavourneen slawn.

Shule, shule, shule aroon
Shule go succir agus, shule go cuin;
Shule go teir andurrus oggus eli glume,
Is go de mavourneen slawn. *

I’ll sell my rod, I’ll sell my wheel
To buy my love a sword of steel
That it in battle he might wield.
Is go de mavourneen slawn.

But now my love has gone to France
To try his fortune to advance.
If he e’er come back, ’tis but a chance
Is go de mavourneen slawn.


I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
I wish I had my heart again,
And vainly think I’d not complain
Is go de mavourneen slawn.

*Translation of Chorus

Come, come, come O love,
Quickly come to me, softly move,
Come to the door and away we’ll flee,
And safe forever may my darling be.

Presented in the phonetic Irish, not the Gaelic, as was common in the 1880s, the time of the Donovan Family Saga.