#amwriting #amquerying #IrishMusic

In honor of my #PitchWars entry, DONOVAN, the first in my Irish family saga, here’s song about the Irish emigration. Made popular in the late 19th century, it is hopeful and upbeat as many of the emigrant songs of the times were, as stories of gold to be found in the streets of America were common. The reference to “many a house besides” is probably a reference to a (ahem!) “cat house”. You can listen to The Dubliner’s version of the song here.

Goodbye, Muirsheen Durkin

In the days I went courtin’, I was never tired resortin’

To the alehouse and the playhouse or many a house beside.

I told me brother Seamus I’d go off and go right famous,

And before I’d return again I’d roam the world wide.



So good-bye Muirsheen Durkin, I’m sick and tired of working,

No more I’ll dig the praties, no longer I’ll be fooled.

For as sure as me name is Carney, I’ll be off to Californey,

where instead of diggin’ praties, I’ll be diggin’ lumps of gold.


I’ve courted girls in Blarney, in Kanturk and in Killarney,

In Passage and in Queenstown, that is the Cobh of Cork.

Good-bye to all this pleasure, for I’m going to take me leisure,

And the next time you will hear from me

Will be a letter from New York.




Good-bye to all the girls at home, I’m sailing far across the foam

To try to make me fortune in far Amerikay,

For there’s gold and money plenty for the poor and gentry,

And when I come back again I never more will stray.



Notes: “Muirsheen” is an often used pet name for Maurice, Mary, or Maureen, Durkin probably being the dedicatee’s last name. This tune is often sung in the US as “Good-bye, Molly Durkin”, and the singer’s name is sometimes recorded as “Kearney”.

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.

Tuesday Trivia #19: The Transatlantic Crossing

In the mid-19th Century, most transatlantic crossings were still done by sailing ship, although steamship passage was available for those who could afford it, primarily through the Cunard Line of Britain and the Inman line of the US.  A steamship would routinely make the voyage in 11 to 13 days, but until 1860, most steamships had no accommodations for steerage (or 3rd class) passengers.

In the 1850s, American sailing ships routinely made the voyage from Cork, Wexford or Liverpool to the East Coast of the US and Canada in about 35 days, while a British sailing ship would take up to 10 weeks for the identical crossing; British captains had a (probably superstitious) habit of not sailing at night.

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.

Tuesday Trivia #16: ELLIS ISLAND

Ellis island

Ellis Island Immigration Station

15-year-old Annie Moore arrived from Ireland on January 1, 1892, and became the first person to enter the United States through Ellis Island.

Over 12 million people entered the United States through the Ellis Island immigration center from 1892 to 1954.

Contrary to what you may think, Ellis Island was only one of many ports of entry for ships; others on the east coast included Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore.

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.

Tuesday Trivia #14: The Quakers and The Great Irish Famine

I’ve mentioned before that The Society of Friends (also known as the Quakers) provided an immense help to the native Irish during the Great Potato Famine in the mid-19th century by running soup kitchens to feed the starving populace. However, once the British Government took over that job, the Quakers continued giving support to those affected most severely by the famine.

Irish Quakers convinced merchants in the coastal areas, which were less affected by the famine, to donate both food and money to the poor, and they distributed clothing and blankets that were donated by their English & American brethren. Thanks to the Friends’ persistent “women’s committees”, other clothing came directly from manufacturers. The Society also created jobs to produce clothing with fabrics donated by both Quakers and Irish immigrants in America.

The Society also established a system to aid Irish fishermen, many of whom had pawned their nets and other equipment for money to buy food; small individual loans to redeem their tackle were usually paid back by the Irish fishermen within a short time, the monies then becoming available to loan to other fishermen. And though it met with little long-term success, the Quakers also set up a program to create fisheries in the hardest-hit inland counties.

The Society of Friends established seed banks, where crop seeds other than potatoes could be distributed, as well as an agricultural facility to teach farmers about those “new” crops, with green vegetables and turnips high on the list. It encouraged the farmers to share both seeds and knowledge, comparable to the way Heifer International spreads its seeds of growth today.

In short, the 3,000-member roster of The Society of Friends in Ireland seemed to be more effective at fighting the famine than the entire British government. And for that, we offer our very humble thanks: Buíochas a ghabháil leat go mór!

Tuesday Trivia #13: Irish Dancing

Ever wonder why Irish dancers keep their hands totally still at their sides when they dance?

Many sources attribute this custom to the Traveling Dance Masters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For a fee, this Dance Master would teach Irish children jigs, reels and hornpipes. Accompanied by a fiddler and/or piper, the Dance Master taught a very high standard of dance with emphasis on the steps, and had the children hold the rest of their bodies perfectly still.

But legend has it that the practice was common for two hundred years before that, when the advent of enforced Protestantism included the restraint of dancing. So how were Irish parents going to teach their children traditional dances, a central part of their culture? Well, where dancing was prohibited, jumping was not. A dragoon looking through the window of an Irish cottage could not object to children simply jumping up and down, even if it was done rhythmically.

Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye

Today’s song is an Irish ditty that was borrowed by America during the Civil War. I’m posting both versions here, starting with the American one. The Johnny referred to was Johnny Reb.

The original Irish version follows. It’s traditionally sung with a pause before the last line of both the verses and refrain. It is, for me at least, a much more realistic look at the fortunes of war.

When Johnny Comes Marching Home

When Johnny comes marching home again, Hurrah! Hurrah!
We’ll give him a hearty welcome then, Hurrah! Hurrah!
The men will cheer and the boys will shout,
The ladies they will all turn out,
And we’ll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home.

The old church bell will peal with joy Hurrah! Hurrah!
To welcome home our darling boy, Hurrah! Hurrah!
The village lads and lassies say
With roses they will strew the way,
And we’ll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home.

Get ready for the Jubilee, Hurrah! Hurrah!
We’ll give the hero three times three, Hurrah! Hurrah!
The laurel wreath is ready now
To place upon his loyal brow,
And we’ll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home.

Let love and friendship on that day, Hurrah, hurrah!
Their choicest pleasures then display, Hurrah, hurrah!
And let each one perform some part,
To fill with joy the warrior’s heart,
And we’ll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home!

Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye

When goin’ the road to sweet Athy, haroo, haroo
When goin’ the road to sweet Athy, haroo, haroo
When goin’ the road to sweet Athy,
A stick in me hand and a drop in me eye,
A doleful damsel I heard cry, “Johnny I hardly knew ye!

“With their guns and drums and drums and guns, haroo, haroo
With their guns and drums and drums and guns, haroo, haroo
With their guns and drums and drums and guns,
The enemy nearly slew ye!
Darlin’ dear, ye look so queer, Johnny I hardly knew ye.

“Where are those eyes with which ye smiled, haroo, haroo
Where are those eyes with which ye smiled, haroo, haroo
Where are those eyes with which ye smiled
When my poor heart ye first beguiled?
Why did ye go leave me and the child? Johnny I hardly knew ye!


“Where are those legs with which ye run, haroo, haroo
Where are those legs with which ye run, haroo, haroo
Where are those legs with which ye run
When first ye went to carry a gun?
Indeed yer dancing days are gone, Johnny I hardly knew ye!


“Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, haroo, haroo
Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, haroo, haroo
Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg,
Ye’re an eyeless, noseless, chickenless egg
Ye’ll have to be put with a bowl to beg, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!


“I’m happy for to see ye home, haroo, haroo
I’m happy for to see ye home, haroo, haroo
I’m happy for to see ye home,
Back from the isle of Salam,
So low in flesh, so high in bone, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!


Note: the reference to the isle of Salam probably means the battle of Salamanca in 1812, during the Peninsular War, itself a subset of the Napoleonic Wars.