Old Maid in the Garrett, Traditional Irish Song

#IrishMusic #amwriting

A traditional Irish toe-tapper bemoaning the single state, Old Maid in the Garrett introduces an unmarried woman whose fate would probably lead to a dismal life in her brother’s attic. She is extolling her virtues and ready to settle for anyone, even “a wee fat man”, as single women were considered a drain on the family resources and much scorned. For it was children who would grow to keep the family farm thriving. A version of this song by Sweeney’s Men can be found here, so you can tap along with the words if the spirit moves you.


Now I’ve often heard it said from my father and my mother
That going to a wedding was the makings of another.
Well, if this be so, then I’ll go without a biddance.
Oh, kind providence, won’t you send me to a wedding?

And it’s oh, dear me, how would it be
If I die an old maid in the garrett?

I can cook and I can sew, I can keep the house right tidy,
And wake up in the morning to get the breakfast ready.
There’s nothing in this wide world would make me half so cheery,
As a wee, fat man who would call me his own deary.


Well, now there’s my sister Jean, she’s not handsome or good-looking,
Scarcely fifteen and a fellow she was courting.
Now, she’s twenty-four with a son and a daughter;
Here am I at forty-five and I’ve never had an offer.


So come landsman or come kingsman, come tinker or come tailor,
Come fiddler or come dancer, come ploughboy or come sailor,
Come rich man, come poor man, come bore or come witty,
Come any man at all who will marry me for pity.


Well, now I’m on me way home, for nobody’s heeding.
Oh, nobody’s heeding to poor Annie’s bleeding!
So, I’m on me way home to my own pity garret.
If I can’t have a man, then I’ll surely get a parrot!


Brennan on The Moor, Traditional Irish Folk Song

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Another song that’s featured in my Donovan family series, this song tells the story of a bold highwayman of the 1700s in County Cork who, like Robin Hood, stole from the rich to give to the poor. You can hear a live version of it by The Clancy Brothers here.


‘Tis of a brave young highwayman this story I will tell,
His name was Willie Brennan and in Ireland he did dwell.
It was on the Kilwood Mountain he commenced his wild career,
And many a wealthy nobleman before him shook with fear.


It was Brennan on the moor, Brennan on the moor,
Bold, brave and undaunted was young Brennan on the moor.


One day upon the highway as Willie he went down,
He met the mayor of Cashiell a mile outside of town.
The mayor he knew his features and he said, “Young man,” said he,
‘Your name is Willie Brennan, you must come along with me.”


Now Brennan’s wife had gone to town provisions for to buy,
And when she saw her Willie, she commenced to weep and cry,
He said, “Hand to me that ten penny.” As soon as Willie spoke,
She handed him a blunderbuss from underneath her cloak.


Now with this loaded blunderbuss – the truth I will unfold –
He made the mayor to tremble and he robbed him of his gold.
One hundred pounds was offered for his apprehension there,
So he, with horse and saddle to the mountains did repair.


Now Brennan being an outlaw upon the mountains high,
With cavalry and infantry to take him they did try.
He laughed at them with scorn until at last, ’twas said,
By a false-hearted woman he was cruelly betrayed.


Rory O’More, Traditional Irish Tune

One of my favorites! This traditional song is a perfect rendition of the pull-and-tug between a courting couple: a man who’s madly in love, and a woman who’s trying to ‘play it cool’. You can find a version of it by the inimitable Wolfe Tones here.



Young Rory O’More courted Kathleen bawn.
He was bold as a hawk and she soft as the dawn.
He wished in his heart pretty Kathleen to please,
And he thought the best way to do that was to tease.
“Now, Rory, be easy,” sweet Kathleen would cry,
Reproof on her lip but a smile in her eye.
“With your tricks I don’t know in troth what I’m about.
Faith, you’ve teased ’til I’ve put on my cloak inside out!”

“Oh, jewel,” says Rory, “that same is the way
You’ve treated my heart for this many a day.
And ’tis pleased that I am and why not, to be sure?
For ’tis all for good luck,” says bold Rory O’More.
“Indeed then,” says Kathleen, “don’t think of the like,
For I half gave a promise to soothering Mike.
The ground that I walk on he loves, I’ll be bound.”
“Faith,” says Rory, “I’d rather love you than the ground.”

“Now, Rory, I’ll cry if you don’t let me go;
Sure I dream every night that I’m hating you so.”
“Oh,” says Rory, “that same I’m delighted to hear,
For dreams always go by contrairies my dear.
Oh, jewel, keep dreaming that same till you die,
And bright morning will give dirty night the black lie.
And ’tis pleased that I am and why not, to be sure?
Since ’tis all for good luck,” says bold Rory O’More.

“Arrah, Kathleen, my darling you’ve teased me enough!
Sure I’ve thrashed for your sake Dinny Grimes and Jim Duff.
And I’ve made myself drinking your health quite a beast,
So I think after that I may talk to the priest.”
Then Rory, the rogue, stole his arm round her neck,
So soft and so white without freckle or speck,
And he looked in her eyes that were beaming with light,
And he kissed her sweet lips – don’t you think he was right?

“Now, Rory, leave off sir, you’ll hug me no more;
That’s eight times today and you’ve kissed me before!”
“Then here goes another,” says he, “to make sure,
For there’s luck in odd numbers!” says Rory O’More.


#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!

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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.

I’ll Tell Me Ma

#AmWriting #IrishMusic

A happy little ditty about courtin’. There’s some discussion between the cities as to whether this song belongs to Dublin or Belfast. Though known as a drinking song today, it was originally a playground chant for children, accompanied by a game that was a cross between tag and “Ring Around the Rosie”. Suffice it to say it’s of Irish origin. In the interest of fairness, I’ve included Dublin below, but Sinéad O’Connor prefers Belfast, and her version is here.



I'll tell me ma, when I go home,
The boys won't leave the girls alone.
They pull my hair, they stole my comb,
And that's all right till I go home.
She is handsome, she is pretty,
She's the belle of Dublin city,
She is courtin', one, two, three,
Please won't you tell me who is she?

Albert Mooney says he loves her,
All the boys are fighting for her.
They rap at the door and they ring at the bell,
Saying 'Oh, my true-love are you well?'
Out she comes as white as snow,
Rings on her fingers, bells on her toes,
Old Jenny Murphy says she'll die,
If she doesn't get the fellow with the roving eye.


Let the wind and the rain and the hail blow high
And the snow come tumblin' from the sky
She's as sweet as apple pie
And she'll get her own lad by and by.
When she gets a lad of her own
She won't tell her ma when she gets home
Let them all come as they will,
For it's Albert Mooney she loves still.


 Notes: There’s a parody of this song by Marc Gunn titled “I’ll Tell Me Cat” on his album “Irish Drinking Songs for Cat Lovers”, and a Serbian folk group, The Orthodox Celts, sing it as “The Belle of Belgrade City” (but that’s beyond the pale!)

The Valley of Knockanure

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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

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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.


#irishmusic #music

A traditional Irish tune. The rhythm of the words actually invokes the spin of the wheel, as the young girl tries to convince her grandmother there are no sounds from outside the window but those made by nature. There’s a lovely version of the song by Catherine McKinnon with the Jubilee Singers here.


Mellow the moonlight to shine is beginning,
Close by the window young Eileen is spinning.
Bent o’er the fire, her blind grandmother sitting,
Crooning and moaning and drowsily knitting.

Chorus: Merrily, cheerily, noiselessly whirring,
Spins the wheel, rings the wheel while the foot’s stirring.
Sprightly and lightly and merrily ringing
Sounds the sweet voice of the young maiden singing.

“Eileen, a chara, I hear someone tapping.”
“Tis the ivy, dear mother, against the glass flapping.”
“Eileen, I surely hear somebody sighing.”
“’Tis the sound, mother dear, of the autumn winds dying.”

“What’s the noise I hear at the window I wonder?”
“’Tis the little birds chirping, the holly-bush under.”
“What makes you shoving and moving your stool on,
And singing all wrong the old song of The Coolin?”


There’s a form at the casement, the form of her true love,
And he whispers with face bent, “I’m waiting for you, love.
Get up from the stool, through the lattice step lightly,
And we’ll rove in the grove while the moon’s shining brightly.”

The maid shakes her head, on her lips lays her fingers,
Steps up from the stool, longs to go and yet lingers.
A frightened glance turns to her drowsy grandmother,
Puts her foot on the stool, spins the wheel with the other.


Lazily, easily, now swings the wheel round,
Slowly and lowly is heard now the reel’s sound.
Noiseless and light to the lattice above her,
The maid steps, then leaps to the arms of her lover.

Slower and slower and slower the wheel turns,
Lower and lower and lower the reel rings,
Ere the reel and the wheel stop their spinning and moving,
Through the grove the young lovers by moonlight are roving.

Paddy on the Railway

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A crisp, easy-to sing tune about an Irishman who comes to the US to work on the railroads. So many Irish worked on the railway that, in the Eastern States in the 19th century, there was a popular saying: “an Irishman was buried under every tie.”  This song is actually very long, with at least one original verse for each year between 1841 and 1848, and many in between. In a vastly abridged form, I present “Paddy on the Railway”. You can hear a version of it by The Wolfe Tones here.


To work upon the railway

In eighteen hundred and forty-one,
Me cord’roy breeches I put on.
Me cord’roy breeches I put on,
To work upon the railway.


In eighteen hundred and forty-two,
I left the Old World for the new.
Bad cess to the luck that brought me through
To work upon the railway.


When we left Ireland to come here,
And spend our latter days in cheer.
Our bosses, they did drink strong beer,
And Pat worked on the railway.


It’s “Pat do this” and “Pat do that”,
Without a stocking or cravat,
And nothing but an old straw hat,
While Pat works on the railway.


Our boss’s name, it was Tom King,
He kept a store to rob the men,
A Yankee clerk with ink and pen,
To cheat Pat on the railway.


One Monday morning to our surprise,
Just a half an hour before sunrise,
The dirty divil went to the skies,
And Pat worked on the railway.


And when Pat lays him down to sleep,
The wirey bugs around him creep,
And divil a bit can poor Pat sleep,
While he works on the railway.


In eighteen hundred and forty-three,
‘Twas then I met Miss Biddy MacGhee,
And an elegant wife she’s been to me,
While workin’ on the railway.


In eighteen hundred and forty seven,
Sweet Biddy MacGhee, she went to heaven,
If she left one child, she left seven,
To work upon the railway.


In eighteen hundred and forty eight,
I learned to take my whiskey straight;
‘Tis an elegant wife that can’t be bate,
For working on the railway.