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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".

"It's down in Graiguenamanagh we're run off our feet,
Our hands they're all blistered, our backs nearly broke,
And divil a minit we get for a smoke."

 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:

"Murtagh Murphy's barn was full
To the door when eve grew dull,
For Phelim Moore, his beautiful
New pipes had brought to charm them,
In the kitchen thronged the gals,
Cheeks of roses, teeth of pearls,
Admiring bows, and braids and curls,
Till Phelim's notes alarmed them.
Quick each maid her hat and shawl
Hung on dresser, bed or wall
Smoothed her hair and smiled at all
As she the bawnoge entered;
Where a shass of straw was laid
On a ladder raised that made
A seat for them as still they stayed,
While dancers by them centred."

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

"Diofainn bo leathsa, a Eileen a ruin,
S'diofainn da bo leathsa, a Eileen a ruin,
Suillainn an saughal mor leat
Acht, cleamnas d'fahgail mo stor
'S ni scaifainn go deor leat, a Eileen a Ruin".

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:

"Then fare thee well, my Molly dear
Thy loss 1 e'er shall moan,
Whilst life remains in this fond heart
T'will beat for thee alone,
Tho' thou are false, may Heaven on thee
Its choicest blessings pour
A gra machree, mo colleen oge
My Molly Asthore".
The ballad is important, not for just the fact that Miss Moore was from Co. Carlow, but it shows that a person of Ogle's position must have had a thorough knowledge of Irish.
In Rowan McCoombe's  "The Pretty Girl of Raheendoran", we find the lines:
"But I shall sing, the maid I love,
The rose that blooms without a thorn,
And gentle as a faithful dove,
My Pretty Girl of Raheendoran".
"The Girl I left behind me" concludes:
"Tis not my love I claim I own
All for our separation
That left me wandering far from home
All in a distant station.
But when e'er I get my liberty
No man shall ever bend me
I'll see my native land once more
And the girl I left behind me".

"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".

"Mount Leinster blue is showing through
The wreathing silvery mist.
Oh, calm and pure the early morn
With birdsong clear and gay,
May glad eyes bright e'er greet that sight
At the Dawning of the Day".

Another example is from Rowan McCoombe's "The Barrow and the Nore"

"Sweet vale of Clashganny, where murmuring sweeps
Thy wild mountain river, down rapid and seeps,
Still winding its course o'er the Scars to the sea
Acushla Macree, rolls on to the sea,
Thy murmuring sounds like some soft lullaby."

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).

"I think the world has all gone mad, I'm moidhered, sick & sore
You never see an ould time crowd as we did in the days of yore
I'm going now to see my son, an ax' him lave to go
Across the broad Atlantic, to the roads around Rathoe".

"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".

"God rest you Father Cullen, in Tinryland's holy shade,
Where I spent my happy schooldays, where my parents are now laid."

We also have

"The house of the Lord in mourning lay,
No light through the windows beaming
The gleaming lamps shed a feeble ray
Like the star at midnight gleaming."

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:

"But woe is me, the sickness came,
Her trembling voice grew faint and weak,
The lilies faded on her breast,
The roses paled upon her cheek,
She drooped and languished day by day,
The grief and fever kept her heart,
And with the old memories, next her heart,
She died far, far 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.

"No priest gave his blessing, no church bell was ringing
No prayers for the faithful were heard for his rest,
But the tears of his mother, his sisters, and brother
Fell down on the green sod, we laid on his breast."

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".

"Early, early, last Thursday night,
The Myshall calvary gave me a fright,
To my misfortune and sad downfall,
I was prisoner taken by Cornwall"

a later verse has the lines

"They well guarded me through Burris town,
The bloody Orangemen did me surround;
The Captain told me he's set me free
If I would bring him, one, two or three,
I'd rather die, or be nailed to a tree,
Than turn traitor to my country".

Burris is not a misprint, as this is how "Borris" is spelled in the version which I obtained.

"Teresa Malone"

The second ballad is "Teresa Malone", which tells of an incident at Kilcummey in June. One of its verses is:

"Then a maiden stepped out from the house, her hair was raven black,
She picked up a trooper's pistol and jumped on a horse's back,
As swift as e'er a racehorse, yet by a jockey rode,
She spurred the noble charger, down the Ballyellen road."

The War of Independence and the Civil War are remembered in, the lines to Thomas Traynor, Tullow, who was executed in April 1921.

"It was early, early, on a Monday morn,
As the birds all sang in the flush of dawn,
On a Monday morning on the gallows high
Brave Thomas Traynor was led forth to die".

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.

"From Flanders plain across the Main,
There came a soldier bold,
who changed his mind, a place to find,
Beneath the Green and Gold,
In England's war he fought till it was o'er,
And his name was Michael Fay
By Barrow banks he joined the ranks,
The ranks of the I.R.A."

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

Carlow Pipe Band

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