Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)
Ballads of Co. Carlow
© Artwork by M. Brennan 2012 copyright - All rights reserved
Ballads of Co. Carlow
By Seamus Murphy
In this article, I will use the term "ballad" in the broadest sense thus enabling me to dispense with other terms used i.e., "song" or "recitation".
A ballad is a narrative poem, in short stanzas, telling a popular story and plays a very important role in the preservation of local heritage. The main reasons why local ballads are important are local dialects are used, customs, work practices, people, events and places are mentioned and local reactions to national problems are given.
In the use of local dialects, and its mention of local custom and work practices, the ballad contributes much to our heritage. Dialect and work methods are well shown in the "Beet Song".
This is the first verse of a ballad which I got from the late Micky Whelan of Graiguenamanagh, in the late Jimmy Hughes' premises in that town. I was told that this is only one of many ballads which Eddie Power of Tinnahinch composed. The song describes the work involved during the sugar beet season, and the local accent and pronunciation are used in singing this song.
"Dance at Marley"
In "The Dance at Marley", P.J. McCall gives an accurate account of the commencement of a house dance. Although written many years ago the practices mentioned could still have been observed at house and threshing dances up to recent times:
The ballad continues to describe the occasion and the tunes played, most of which are popular to the present time.
The ballad form of love songs has many examples in the county. Perhaps the most famous is "Eileen a Ruin". There are many versions of this song but the one which I prefer is the one which contains this verse
Other ballads in this category are "Molly Asthore", "The Pretty Girl of Raheendoran" and "The Girl I left Behind Me".
"Molly Asthore" was written by George Ogle, who was MP for Wexford in the Grattan period and who was prominent in the 1798 period in Wexford. The last verse of this song is:
"Dawning of the Day"
Place names are also featured in ballads of the county. One example is from Kate O'Leary's "Dawning of the Day".
Another example is from Rowan McCoombe's "The Barrow and the Nore"
Songs of exile are not forgotten in the county. One of the better known is Peter deary's "The Roads around Rathoe". This ballad was one of the favourites of the Carlow entertainer Val Vousden (William McNevin).
"A Thousand Leagues from Carlow Town", is another ballad in this category.
The clergy are not forgotten, Fr. Mullen, CC, Clonmore is still remember in song as is Fr. John Cullen, PP, Tinryland, whose memory is preserved in John Foley's "In Memorian".
We also have
The lines quoted are from a poem written when the composer attended the lying in state of Dr. James Doyle (J.K.L.) in 1834.
"A thousand leagues from Carlow Town"
Another aspect of local ballads' importance is that it gives a local reaction to national problems. On the problem of emigration we have these lines from John Locke's "A Thousand Leagues from Carlow Town:
The verse from the ballad of Miley Carroll, who died following an engagement in 1922, displays an additional cause of grief to the families of supporters of the anti-Treaty force in the Civil War.
These two examples are ballads reflecting local reaction to national problems.
The involvement of the county in various freedom movements is shown in a number of ballads. "Kevin Barry" is perhaps the most popular of this class but we have at least two ballads referring to incidents in the county in 1798. This connection is shown in two verses of the "Croppy Boy".
a later verse has the lines
Burris is not a misprint, as this is how "Borris" is spelled in the version which I obtained.
The second ballad is "Teresa Malone", which tells of an incident at Kilcummey in June. One of its verses is:
The War of Independence and the Civil War are remembered in, the lines to Thomas Traynor, Tullow, who was executed in April 1921.
And to Michael Fay, who grew up in the county and who was killed near Ballymurphy on 18th April, 1921 and who had served in the British Army 1914-1918 had these lines written concerning him.
This article does not claim to be in any way a comprehensive example of the ballads in the county. There are many ballads on sporting and local events which have yet to appear in a county collection. The purpose of the writer is to arouse interest in our ballad heritage and this interest could lead to a complete collection of ballads of the county.
This interest exists in the county as will be noted from the list of people to whom I am especially indebted. Unfortunately some of these people are no longer with us. These include Jim Clarke,Graiguenaspidogue; John Deegan, Palatine; Owen O'Neill, Bennekerry; Micky Whelan, Graiguenamanagh; Mrs. Healy, Clonmore and Mick Walsh, Ardristan. Luckily we still have Andy Jordan, Myshall; Andy Dooley, Johnstown, Bennekerry; Mrs. Betty Murphy, Ardattin; Mick Fitzpatrick, Rutland; Luke Morrissey, Ballycurry and a special thanks to Pat Curran, Connaberry, who gave me the air of "Teresa Malone" and "Michael Fay".
Source: Carloviana 1994/1995