Thanks to:

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Cllr. Paddy Kilduff Cllr. Paddy Kilduff

Ballad Sheets

A Roscommon Exiles Song

By Peter James Burns (1883 – 1933)

Peter James (Pete) Burns was known in New York entertainment circles as ‘The Boy from Athleague’. He was born in Clooneen in 1883 and immigrated to New York while still in his teens. Blessed with a fine tenor voice, he quickly made a name for himself as an entertainer and, obviously, could compose as well. He wrote ‘A Roscommon Exiles Song’ prior to a return visit to the land of his birth in 1926. Pete Burns died in New York in 1933.

My thoughts today are far away,
With the land that gave me birth,
In the scenes of happy boyhood’s days
Of pleasure, fun and mirth;
By where the River Shannon flows
And the Suck rolls by Coolmeen,
With Ballymurry and Athleague,
And my own beloved Clooneen.

I see again, in fancy,
The dear haunts of long ago –
Sweet Carrowrea and Mote Park,
And the hill of Tullyroe;
The woodlands green around Castlestrange,
Where in childhood I did roam,
And the verdant hillside near old Creggs,
Where stood my father’s home.

I am proud of old Roscommon,
Which was first to lead the van
When Erin called her gallant sons
To crush the Black and Tan;
Knockcroghery, Scramouge, Fourmilehouse,
And the Woodlands of Loughglynn,
Have stood the test with Ireland’s best
‘Neath the Orange, White and Green.

I will honour Ireland’s martyr’d dead
While life with me remains,
Some of them shed their life’s last blood
Upon Roscommon’ plains;
Though they are gone they still live on,
And honoured is each name,
In Green and Gold they are enscrolled
On Ireland’s scroll of fame.


Knockcroghery

By Peadar Kearney (1883 – 1942)

‘Knockcroghery’ was written by Peader Kearney, author of the Irish National Anthem, ‘Amhran na bhFiann’ (The Soldier’s Song). The story goes that it was written for a bet as Kearney claimed he could write any place-name in Ireland into a song. So his colleagues in the Abbey Theatre, where he worked as a stagehand, picked Knockcroghery from a map of Ireland and this was the result. Famed actor, singer and champion whistle player, the late Joe Lynch recorded ‘Knockcroghery’ early in his career.

Were you ever below on the side of Knockcroghery,
Meadows all ripe on a bright summer’s day?
‘Twas there that I first met with sweet Molly Dougherty,
Laughing and singing and making the hay!

Chorus (repeat after each verse):
O Molly come on, I’ll houl’ you now, houl’ you now;
Molly come on, I’ll roul’ you now, roul’ you now;
Molly come on and I’ll bet you a song
‘Twill be better divarsion than saving the hay.
I took her behind a hedge and disported her,
Telling my story so happy and gay,
Sure ‘twould take the whole night to tell how I courted her,
Blinded with hay-seed and smothered with hay.

There’s a sagart aroon below in Knockcroghery,
Quickly we found him one fine summer’s day,
And he tied me up tight to sweet Molly Dougherty,
While finches and linnets were singing away.

‘Tis fifty long years since we came to Knockcroghery,
Our eyes they are dim and our hair it is grey,
And whenever sweet Molly attempts to get cross with me
I just get a hoult and I warble my lay.


Boating on Lough Ree

(Mary Bawn)

by John Keegan Casey (1846 – 1870)

John Keegan Casey was an eighteen-year old schoolteacher in Newtowncashel, Co. Longford, when he fell in love with Mary Hanly. He met her on one of his regular Sunday boating trips with the Costello family on Lough Ree. Mary came from The Black Island on Lough Ree. Sadly, the love affair was short-lived as she was drowned in a boating accident on the lake soon afterwards. Keegan Casey penned this lament to her memory. The original title of Keegan Casey’s poem was ‘Mary Bawn’, but when The McNulty Family set it to music and recorded it in New York on the 11th June 1942, they called it ‘Molly Bawn’. Mary Brennan recorded it as the title track on her album, ‘Boating On Lough Ree’, in 2004. The lyrics as set out here are taken from The McNulty recording.

I am sad and lonely
In this far out west
The happy scenes of bygone days
Each night disturb my rest
For in this faithful heart of mine
Forgotten never shall be
The days I spent with Mary Bawn
A boating on Lough Ree.

She was young and handsome
And gentle as a fawn
Her eyes they shone like diamonds bright
Or stars at early dawn.
Her smiles she had for everyone
Her kisses all for me
In my dreams I gaze on Mary’s face
A boating on Lough Ree.

When she pledged herself to be my bride
How happy then was I
How fleeting then the joys of life
How swiftly they go by.
But the heaven’s light shone in her eyes
She was too good for me
An angel marked her for his bride
And took her from Lough Ree.

I’ve crossed o’er many a thorny path
My hair is silvery hue
A thrilling voice rings in my mind
In tones I can’t subdue
A lonely farmstead haunts my sight
A pleasant face I see
It’s the features of my Mary Bawn
A boating on Lough Ree.

Molly Bawn

The McNulty Family version.

Here I am sad and lonely all in the distant west,
And those pleasant dreams of bygone days at night disturb my rest,
But in this faithful heart of mine forgotten never shall be
The days I spent with Molly Bawn a Boating on Lough Ree.

For she was young and slender, as gentle as a fawn,
Her eyes they shone like diamonds bright o’er the stars of early dawn,
Her smile she had for everyone, but her kisses were all for me,
Entranced I gazed on Molly Bawn a Boating on Lough Ree.

And when I claimed her for my bride how happy then was I,
How pleasant were the hours of love and how quickly they passed by,
A pleasant light shone in her eyes, she was too good for me,
When an angel claimed her for his own and took her from Lough Ree.

Now, I have travelled the stormy world, my hair is silvery hue,
A plaintive voice rings in my ears, - it’s tones I can’t subdue,
A lovely form it haunts me still and a pleasant face I can see,
It is the face of Molly Bawn a Boating on Lough Ree.

For she was young and slender, as gentle as a fawn,
Her eyes they shone like diamonds bright o’er the stars of early dawn,
Her smile she had for everyone, but her kisses were all for me,
Entranced I gazed on Molly Bawn a Boating on Lough Ree.


Ode to Jimmy Murray

By Johnny Johnston


Jimmy Murray

This song is from the heart of a man that knew his subject better than most – it’s about the making of a true gentleman, a sporting hero and Roscommon’s greatest ever ambassador, Jimmy Murray, or as he was known to his friends Jamsie Murray. Johnny Johnston from Creagh, a sporting legend in his own right composed the song in 2004. It features on the South Roscommon Singers Circle’s third album, ‘Ye Ramblin’ Boys’, which was produced in 2005.

Oh! When he was born on a bright May morn’ nearly ninety years ago,
He never cried, but his young eyes spied a bright thing that made him crow,
‘Twas a football shirt and though caked with dirt, as he sat on his mothers knee,
And his father said, “He’s a kicker bred, he’s a gallant true young Murray.”

As a growing boy, there was no grand toy he preferred to an old football,
And the bouncing sphere would dry every tear and silence every sob and squall,
When he went to school, sure he proved no fool and the schoolmaster did decree,
As he lined up the ball, stood proud and tall, “There’s a hero in young Murray.”

As he older grew, oh, he joined the crew who met on The Green each eve’,
And they’d play non-stop ‘til the stars came up and the darkness made them leave,
He learned new tricks and he practiced kicks and the right way to take a free,
‘Til no one there could at all compare with the gallant Jamsie Murray.

Oh! He often dreamed of the County team and soon was their shooting star,
Though it blew a gale, still he never failed to send it across the bar,
Oh! The crowd would roar when they saw him score and the young lads went wild with glee,
While the ladies stared at his shoulders squared and sighed, “That’s Jimmy Murray.”

Oh! He won great fame in the Gaelic Game, his style was a treat to behold,
But his greatest deeds were on summer fields when he togged in the Blue and Gold,
And he slaked our thirst when we won our first in nineteen and forty-three,
Oh! Our captain grand on the Hogan Stand was the gallant Jamsie Murray.

What pride and fire bore the Sam Maguire across the Shannon’s foam,
That gallant team of forty-three who brought the trophy home,
And the bon-fires blazed a glorious trail to St. Pat’s in Knockcroghery,
And he gave an encore in forty-four, our own Jimmy Murray.

When the score is closed and the whistle blows for the last lineout of all,
Then beneath his name, write “He played the game in all things as in football”,
And the one who waits by the Golden Gate will turn with his face full of glee,
Saying, “Come across, you have won the toss, step inside young gallant Murray.”

© Johnny Johnston 2004.


The Groves of Kilteevan

By James Hickey (Circa 1868)

‘The Groves of Kilteevan’ was written by a schoolteacher, Master James Hickey who came from Cloonara, a few miles outside Roscommon town. Master Hickey resigned from his teaching post in 1868 and immigrated to America soon afterwards. He may have been forced to resign, as he previously got into trouble with the school authorities, in 1851, for a breach of the school’s code of practice, which required him to ‘avoid fairs, markets and meetings – but above all, political meetings of every kind’. Master Hickey was not shy about expressing his political preferences.

It is said that he wrote the ‘Groves of Kilteevan’ as he sailed to the New World, leaving his wife Anne, his large family and Kilteevan behind. The McNulty Family recorded it on the 2nd April 1940.

It’s hard to bid farewell to the land of my fathers,
Endeared to my spirit by many a tie
And the feelings of friendship, which memory gathers,
And sorrow’s mementoes of days long gone by,
When we carelessly rambled alone by the wild wood,
Blithe as the song birds that carol at even’,
But now I must leave the dear scenes of my childhood,
Forever farewell to the Groves of Kilteevan.

Though far, far away o’er the western ocean,
Where broad rivers role down their tides to the main,
I will still think on thee with a patriot’s devotion,
In dreams I’ll behold thee Kilteevan again,
For the sun it will rise in the glories of morn’
And set in the dark waning splendour at even’,
But I’ll never more see it’s bright beams adorn
The scenes of my childhood, the Groves of Kilteevan.

So far, far away still Kilteevan I’ll cherish
One thought in my mind that time will not efface,
The years rolling onward my fond heart will nourish,
And that is the thought of my own native place,
For I’m crossing the seas and I ne’er shall return,
Strange thoughts cloud my mind like the dark groves at even’,
But still in whatever strange land I’ll sojourn
My heart will come back to the Groves of Kilteevan.

Here are a few extra lines that have survived in the folk memory of the region, but never featured on any sound recordings.

Kilteevan farewell, and farewell forever,
Farewell to my friends and farewell to my foes;
My friends to preserve, I did always endeavour,
And yet I know not why I e’er should have foes.

Then, - farewell to the boys of Kilteevan,
Kilmaine, Killenvoy, and St. John’s,
And likewise to the girls around the same borders,
Oh! That their days may be happy and long.


Ballinasloe

(Old Ballymoe)

In October 1940 Pete McNulty of the McNulty Family in New York took this very old ballad and changed a few of the verses, renamed it and recorded it as ‘Old Ballymoe’. The original author is unknown and ‘Ballinasloe’ is rarely, if ever, sung anymore, while ‘Old Ballymoe’ has been recorded and sung by numerous singers down through the years to the present day.

In the county Roscommon in sunshine and rain,
My pockets were empty, my stomach the same,
I met a colleen and says she, “Do you know
The shortest short cut into Ballinasloe?

Says I, “Colleen óg who led you astray?
I think I’ll walk with you and show you the way.”
Says she, “I’m afraid because you I don’t know.
You might kiss me between here and Ballinasloe.”

Says I, “Colleen óg, I’ve seldom been kissed.”
Says she, “You poor cod there’s a lot you have missed.”
Says I, “I am willing to learn, you know.
We could practice between here and Ballinasloe.”

“So you’d like for to practice on me you red rogue,
I don’t like your looks or your sootherin’ brogue.
You’re young and you’re handsome, but God knows you’re slow,
And they don’t like a dead one in Ballinasloe.”

She started to laugh ‘till I thought she would choke.
Said she, “You poor cloosey, I’ll tell you a joke.
I’ll give you one smathogue, but then I must go,
I’ve a husband and six kids in Ballinasloe.”

The roads they were long and the roads they were narrow.
I loaded this cuckoo into a wheel-barrow.
The wheel-barrow broke and she stubbed her big toe,
So, I carried her home into Ballinasloe.

Old Ballymoe

In the County Roscommon in hail stones and rain
I was crossing the fields on my way to the train,
I met a colleen and says she, “Do you know
The shortest short cut into Old Ballymoe?”

Says I, “Colleen Óg, who led you astray?
I think I’ll go with you and show you the way.”
Says she, “I’m afraid because you I don’t know,
You might kiss me between here and Old Ballymoe.”

Says I, “Colleen Óg, I’ve seldom been kissed.”
Says she, “You poor lad, sure a lot you have missed.”
Says I, “I am willing to learn you know,
We can practice between here and Old Ballymoe.”

“Do you think I’d walk with you, you Mullingar rogue?
I don’t like your looks or your smooth ringing brogue.
You’re young and your handsome, but dear knows you’re slow,
And we don’t like a dead one in Old Ballymoe.”

Says I, “I’ve been noted for strength and for looks,
And my brain’s not so bad for I’ve mastered the books,
So if you say yes, to be married we’ll go,
And for ever be happy in Old Ballymoe.”

She started to laugh ‘till I thought she would choke,
She says, “You poor *cluasán I’ll tell you a joke,
Step out of my way sir, for now I must go,
I’ve a husband and six kids in Old Ballymoe.”

In the County Roscommon in hail stones or rain
If you’re crossing the fields on your way to the train,
Beware of the colleen that you do not know
She just might be married in Old Ballymoe?”

Watch Old Ballymoe performed by Cathy Jordan and a stiring group of musicians here via Livetrad.com


Land of the O’Connor

By Paddy Lohan

Paddy Lohan’s family background lies in the Creggs area of East Galway but as a child he moved with his parents to Mote Park, on the outskirts of Roscommon town. Paddy has long since married and settled on a farm in Bealnamullia, a few miles on the Co. Roscommon side of Athlone. He has always had an interest in writing poems and ballads, while his other abiding passions in life include fishing and sheepdog ‘trialin’. While ‘fishing time’ allows his mind to conjure up ideas for some of his more humorous compositions, it was through the Sheepdog Society that he met Colm O’Donnell, a traditional singer from Co. Sligo, who persuaded him to write a ‘serious’ song about Roscommon – ‘Land of the O’Connor’ was the result.

As I sit here in my rocking chair in the city of New York
And watch the teaming masses as they hurry to their work,
My mind it sometimes slips away back to my native home
And I’m once again by Shannonside where kings sat on their throne.

Oh! Land of the O’Connor, the county of my birth,
Roscommon you mean more to me than any place on earth,
It was within your fond embrace I gave out my first cry
And your warm earth will cradle me when I bid this world goodbye.

It’s well that I recall the days spent in the local school,
The master with his sally rod that helped him keep the rule,
But for this rod there was no need when history came round
And our young hearts would fill with pride as we sat there spellbound.

He taught us of our ancient past and our great history,
He told us we should not forget, or from life’s troubles flee,
And as we made our way through life, be it with pen or hod,
To remember we’re a noble race from the land where kings once trod.

Oh! Land of the O’Connor, the county of my birth,
Roscommon you mean more to me than any place on earth,
It was within your fond embrace I gave out my first cry
And your warm earth will cradle me when I bid this world goodbye.

Well, I travelled all around the world, any place I could find work,
I saw the good times and the bad before settling in New York,
I’m living here this many years with family and friends
And we reminisce on times long past, when the day comes to an end.

And when I finally pass away and go to meet my God,
They’ll carry me across the sea back to my native sod,
We’ll cross the rippling waters wide on to Roscommon soil
For one last drive by Shannon’s side, to end life’s weary toil.

Oh! Land of the O’Connor, the county of my birth,
Roscommon you mean more to me than any place on earth,
It was within your fond embrace I gave out my first cry
And your warm earth will cradle me when I bid this world goodbye.

© Words: Paddy Lohan 2000.
© Air: Johnny Johnston 2000.


Fair County Roscommon

Pat Mulry

When Bridie Gallagher sang the praises of County Armagh in, ‘There’s One Fair County In Ireland’, back in the 1950s or ‘60s, somebody, somewhere, in every other county on this island attempted to reshape the song to suit their own favourite county. So, when Bridie was singing about Armagh, the late Pat Mulry from Corbooly, Knockcroghery, was singing ‘Fair County Roscommon’.

There’s one fair county in Ireland,
Located way down in the west,
It’s known as the county Roscommon,
It’s the county we all love the best.
From Shannonbridge back to Arigna,
From Castlerea down to Coothall,
And no matter what Bridie may sing of,
Roscommon’s the flower of them all.

It’s my own Irish home
Far across the foam;
It’s oft’ times that we leave it
Some foreign lands to roam.
We sometimes come home for Christmas,
In the Spring time or in the Fall;
Roscommon is our native county
And we love her the best of them all.

Now the colleens of county Roscommon,
Are comely and fair for to see,
Since the days of Queen Maedbh of Rathcroghan,
Or Queen Úna Bhán of Lough Key,
And when old Ireland was in need of good soldiers,
To fight with the bravest and best,
She looked in the county Roscommon
For the pride of the men of the west.

It’s my own Irish home
Far across the foam;
It’s oft’ times that we leave it
Some foreign lands to roam.
We sometimes come home for Christmas,
In the Spring time or in the Fall;
Roscommon is our native county
And we love her the best of them all.


Kathaleen Machree

By John Keegan Casey

Another masterpiece from the pen of John Keegan Casey, who regularly rowed across Lough Ree to St. John’s on the Roscommon side of the lake.

Oh! Sweetly in St. John’s old keep
At midnight sings the fairy choir
Low melodies that lull to sleep
The weary peasant by the fire,
And softly as a lover’s dream
The Shannon wakes a lay for me,
But sweeter, softer still I deem
The voice of Kathaleen machree.

Oh! Brightly falls the summer light
Upon Roscommon’s hills at eve’,
And wildly in the witching night
Their golden web the moonbeams weave,
And mountain berries cluster fair,
The heather bells are sweet to see,
But richer, brighter are the hair
And lips of Kathaleen machree.

Oh! Gentle now the twilight breeze
Wafts fragrance from the meadow side,
But gentler waved the poplar trees
The eve’ she said she’d be my bride.
How wearily from day to day
The lagging moments come and flee!
Ah! How I long for sunny May
To wed my Kathaleen machree.