Australian Folk Songs

songs | books | records | articles | glossary | links | search | responses | home

Street Ballads And Household Songs Of Ireland (1866)

(From the Athenaeum.)

Fenian literature has not attracted its fair share of attention. Whilst the prisoners who profess
to despise and defy British law are occuping the Four Courts on all the technicalities of certiorari,
mandamus, and criminal information, it would be a mistake to imagine that the copious legal arguments
with which the Irish journals abound are the only contributions for which the reading public are
indebted to the Fenians. The Young Ireland party wrote so well that they managed to excite the
interest of all classes except the people of Ireland. In this country we became familiar with the
anti-English ballads of Davis and Duffy. The song beginning Who fears to speak of 'Ninety-eight.'
and the stirring verses of Fergusson M'Carthy and Barry were very generally read here; and they were
criticised as literary efforts,, in no unfriendly spirit, by English writers. But we all fell into the
delusion, as the authors themselves are now ready to acknowledge, that these politi-poems were known
to the masses in Ireland.

The people knew very little about the authors, and less about their works. The mistake that the British
made in giving undue importance to the rebellious literature of the Young Ireland party, and thus
overrating the strength of the agitation, was not, however, greater than, the mistake now universally
made in the opposite direction. The vast mass of our readers will learn with surprise that not only is
there in Ireland a collection of Fenian writings published in 1865 quite equal in point of literary
ability to anything in the same strain published from 1843 to 1848, but (which is far more important
than any question of literary merit) a collection of writings which has found its way into the cabins
and whiskey shops of the lower classes.

In '48 a good many editors of newspapers were arrested, but not one ballad-singer. In '65 only one
disloyal editor, Mr. Clark Luby, has been arrested ; but the arrests of ballad-singers in Cork, Dublin,
Tralee, Limerick, and the country towns of the south have given constant employment to. the police. Not
a fair is held in Ireland now at which the authorities do not take precautions for seizing upon the
ballad-singers, and confiscating their seditious wares. Amongst the most peremptory orders sent from
the Castle to the stipendiary magistrates are those touching the suppression of popular ballads. This
gives to the Fenian conspiracy a character far graver than the affair of '48, and recalls some of the
features of the times of Wolfe Tone. The Wexford insurgents of 1798 never saw a treasonable newspaper ;
but they were familiar with the rebellion-teaching verses of M'Birney, and such ballads as "The Wearing
of the Green." Indeed the latter may be found, even now amongst the street literature reprinted by the
Fenians, and purchased extensively by the people. The Young Irelanders never would have re-published
such lines as these :--

Then forward stepped young Boney,
And took me by the hand,
Saying, "How is old Ireland,
"And how does she stand ?"
"It's as poor distressed a nation
As ever you have seen,
They are hanging men and women
For the wearing the Green !
For the wearing the Green !
For the wearing the Green !
They are hanging men, and women too,
For wearing of the Green !

But that the Fenians should have circulated these verses with their own halfpenny productions shows that
they have had a more correct appreciation of the popular taste. Of their own street ballads, the following
is one which has attained extensive popularity. As a ballad slip it appears anonymously ; but Mr. M'Glashan's
publication gives its authorship to a Fenian with an extraordinary name, Mr. Charles Kickham, of Mullinahone
the same Mr. Charles J.Kickham, we presume, who was arrested with the famous Head Centre and prison-breaker,
Stephens : --

Patrick Sheehan.

My name is Patrick Sheehan,
My years are thirty-four ;
Tipperary is my native place,
Not far from Galtymore ;
I came of hone'st parents,
But now they're lying low ;
And many a pleasant day I spent
In the Glen of Aherlow.

My father died ; I closed his eyes
Outside our cabin door ;
The landlord and the sheriff too
Were there the day before !
And then my loving mother,
And sisters three also,
Were forced to go with broken hearts
From the Glen at Aherlow.

For three long months, in search of work,
I wandered far and near ;
I went then to the poorhouse,
For to see my mother dear,
The news I heard nigh broke my heart ;
But still, in all my woe,
I blessed the friends who made their graves
In the Glen of Aherlow.

Bereft of home and kith and kin,
With plenty all around,
I starved within my cabin,
And slept upon the ground ;
But cruel as my lot was,
Ne'er did I hardship know,
'Til I joined the English army,
Far away from Aherlow.

"Rouse up there," says the Corporal,
"You lazy Hirish hound ;
Why don't you hear, you sleepy dog,
The call to arms' sound ?
Alas. I had been dreaming
Of days long long ago ;
I awoke before Sebastopol, And not in Aherlow.

How dark I thought the night !
O blessed God, it was not dark,
It was the broad daylight !
And when I found that I was blind,
My tears began to flow ;
I longed for even a pauper's grave
In the Glen of Aherlow.

O blessed Virgin Mary,
Mine is a mournful tale ;
A poor blind prisoner here I am,
In Dublin's dreary jail ;
Struck blind within the trenches,
Where I never feared the foe ;
And now I'll never see again,
My own sweet Aherlow.

There is a touch of genius in the shadowy way in which the author announces the death, of the three
sisters in the lines beginning

The news I heard nigh broke my heart.

As to the political effect of such a ballad, we have no hesitation in declaring our conviction that
there is more danger in the disaffection that this artfully told story of Patrick Sheehan may produce
than in all the writings of the Young Ireland party, and all the contemptible blusterings of the Nation
and the Irishman. In this ballad Mr. Kickham undoubtedly constructs his verses so as to touch the hearts
of the class to which, we believe, he himself belongs. Of an apparently ruder stamp, but composed with
equal cunning, is a street ballad called "By Memory Inspired." It is copied from a broadsheet which was
found hawking about the country, headed with a rude woodcut of two men leaning pensively on a table, and
a standing cavalier, with a glass in one hand and bottle in the other, supposed to be engaged singing to
them. Its anonymous author has boldly mixed up the moral force tribune with Mitchell and the men of '98 : --

By Memory imspired,
And love of country fired,
The deeds of MEN I love to dwell upon ;
And the patriotic glow
Of my spirit must bestow.
A tribute to O'Connell that is gone, boys, gone !
Here's a memory to the friends that are gone.

]n October, 'Ninety-seven --
May his soul find rest in Heaven--
William Orr to execution was led on ;
The jury, drunk, agreed
That IRISH was his creed ;
For perjury and throats drove them on, boys, on ;
Here's the memory of John Mitchell that is gone !

In 'Ninety-eight--the month July--
The informer's pay was high ;
When Reynolds gave the gallows brave MacCann ;
But MacCann was Reynold's first--
One could not allay his thirst ;
So he brought up Bond and Byrne, that are gone ! boys, gone ;
Here's the memory o the frends that are gone !

We saw a nation's tears
Shod for John and Henry Shears ;
Betrayed by Judas, Captain Armstrong ;
We never can forget
The poisoning of Macguire that is gone, boys, gone--
Our high Star and true Apostle that is gone !

How did Lord Edward die ?
Like man without a sigh ;
But he left his handiwork on Major Swan !
But Sirr, with steel-clad breast,
And coward heart at bast,
Left us cause to mourn Lord Edward that is gone, boys, gone :
Here's the memory of our friends that are gone !

September, Eighteen-three,
Closed this cruel history,
When Emmets blood the scaffold flowed upon ;
Oh, had their spirits been wise,
They might then realise
Their freedom- but we drink to Mitchell that is gone, boys, gone :
Here's the memory of the friends that are gone !

This ballad is a key to the historical knowledge or historical ignorance of the multitude by whom it
is eagerly read. The leaders of the Young Ireland party--Smith O'Brien, Meagher, Gavan Duffy-- are all
(with the suggestive exception of Mitchell) totally ignored. No reference is made to Grattan,
Charlemont, or Flood. The only real popular heroes appear to be O'Connell and a set of uncompromising
rebels. There are some lines in it which show that the author has thoroughly grasped the genius of his
countrymen : for example, that episode in the death of Lord Edward

But he left his handiwork on Major Swan !

That line conveys no small amount of consolation to the Irish mind.

[Street Ballads, Popular Poetry, and Household Songs of Ireland.
Collected arid arranged by Duncathall. Dublin : M'Glashan arid Gill.]


From the Sydney newspaper Freeman's Journal Saturday 14 April 1866


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory