A song of the tan war - 7th Jan. 1950


A Song of The "Tan" War: Text Version

7th January 1950

(By "An Mangaire Sugach")

It is a long time since I gave you any of the old songs of Limerick from the collection made by my readers. Today I give you one which is a Limerick song, but, strictly speaking, not an old one. I got it from Padraig O Cearbhaill, a Glin man now teaching Irish in Kilfinane. It belongs to the last chapter of Ireland's fight for freedom, dealing with the in action of Sean Finn, I.R.A. Ballads like the one I am publishing today have, in my estimation, more than a passing interest, and should be preserved. When will the day come when the history, lore and songs of each locality be taught in the local schools? This would not mean the beginnings of narrow parochialism - far from it; rather would it help to make us love and cherish all these places around us that have been sanctified by so many precious contacts. The story of such a contact is told in the song that follows - unfortunately I do not know the author's name.


(Air: 'Who Fears to Speak of '98).

One evening fair in Easter Week

Of nineteen twenty-one,

On Knockpatrick's famed and holy peak

The sun declining shone:

The blackbirds sang; their music rang,

Where Owvaun's waters flow,

And the thrush's strains made live the plains

Of peaceful Ballyroe.

The little lambs did sport and play

In the fields where wild flowers grew;

The weary plough-boy toiled away,

His hard day nearly through;

And the soft spring breeze swept through the trees

Down in the vale below,

Oh! who would fear the foe was near

Sweet smiling Ballyroe.

But soon this peaceful scene was o'er-

The sound of a -peal,

Another, and full many more

On the gentle breeze did steal.

Each little bird in stirred,

And to safer nook did go;

The Saxon hoards with s and swords,

Were near Sweet Ballyroe

Some wanted men they chanced to see-

They hoped for an easy prey-

And their hearts beat high for cheap victory,

And promotion sure some day.

Our lads, though few, stood brave and true,

And soon Saxon did flow;

But best of men was bold Sean Finn,

That eve at Ballyroe.

Full well he fought for Erin's right,

The bravest of the brave,

And battled with the tyrant's might,

His comrades dear to save.

And in the tight heroic fight

He gave back blow for blow,

Till his young heart's rushed in a flood

On the sod in Ballyroe.

The setting sun, now clouded, crept

Behind some western wave,

As if dear Mother Erin wept

For her son so true and brave;

Then a cool soft mist his pale face kissed,

As, surrounded by the foe,

His body lay where he passed away

On the sod in Ballyroe.

The lark will sing at morn's break,

O'er the spot where Sean Finn died,

The cuckoo and the corncrake

Will be there at eventide;

And when summer's rose in fragrance blows,

And through winter's frost and snow,

His memory shall ever be

Revered round Ballyroe.

We must not weep though sorely tried

He has joined the martyr band,

Who through long centuries have died

For holy Ireland.

Their spirits steal by silv'ry Deel

Where his body's lying low,

And round the spot where our hero fought

And died in Ballyroe.

Twenty two years Sean Finn was when he died for Irish freedom. On the day of his funeral in Rathkeale there was a great display of the might of Empire, the town being thronged with England's soldiers and England's Black and Tans. Those surely were tragic and heroic days, when the cream of Ireland's manhood stood shoulder to shoulder, prepared to do or die.


Bionn na muinteoiri naisiunta go minic ag clamhsan fa chlar na scoile. Deireann said go bhfuil an iomad ar fad air, agus nach feidir leo freastal ar gach cuid de, fe mar atathar ag suil leis. Beider go bhfuil an ceart aca sa mheid sin: beidir gur sin and fath ata cuid aca patuar i dtaobh ceist na Gaeilge. Minic a cheapaim gur ceart rinnce do chur ar an gclar-tar eis moran eile a bhaint de; na rinnci mar an cor, an port agus cornphiob. Truagh gang ach dalta bheith i n-ann iad san a dheanamh.


From Sean O Culhane, and his brother, Tomas of Morgans, I received much valuable information in Irish and English relative to the times when the district of Glin was still Gaeltacht. They got their information from their father; and also from Mr. Ml J. Sheahan, brother of a famous Glin man in exile, J.J. Sheahan of New York, who once sent us an old Limerick song for publication in this column and who frequently contributes to the "Leader". In his account, Sean says; "There was a great Irish speaker living in a corner of our land in Ballyguiltenane, Michael Mulvihill (Mick Mull), a lovely Irish singer, story teller and genealogist; a great handsome man, a famous mower and spadesman, who lived to be 96 years."


Many of the old Irish speakers of Glin used Irish player books. The last native speakers of the district, my correspondents inform me, were: their own grandfather, Thomas M. Culhane, James MacElligott, Patsy Hanrahan, Johnny Hayes, and Ellen Mulvihill of Scart. They had all the old songs of the Glin poets, as well as the '98 Repeal, Tithe War, Fenian and Land League songs. These people were living long after Sean O Cearbhaill came to Glin to organise the Gaelic League; the last of them died about 20 years ago. We have mentioned the poets of Glin, whose verses survived on the lips of the last Irish speakers there, down to little more than a score years ago.


Tomas O Cathlain, brother of Sean, has given us a list of them with the times they lived, in most cases. Here it is: Sean Mac Gearailt, son of the Knight of Glin; Seamus Mac Gearailt (1690-1750); Michael O Longain (1700-1766); Sean Ban Aerach O Flannagain (1740-1820); Sean na Paidir Mac Mathghamhna (1780-1850), and his son, Aindrias; Eamonn O Cadhla, a hedge schoolmaster, and Michael O' Conchubhair, who followed the same calling; Padraig O hOistin (1800 - ), Michael de Stacpul, who wrote the English song, "The Humours of Glin;" Sean Mac Inneirghe (1805-1889), from Dromreask; Tadhg Mac Coistealbha, of Killeany, poet, sculptor, engraver and scholar. Sean Ban Aerach, above mentioned , was the author of "Sean Aerach agus an Bas,".


This poem, by Sean Ban, appears in Liam O Danachair's article in the current issue of "Bealoideas," to which I referred in last week's notes. By a coincidence, I met a man a few evenings ago who had taken down some verses of this very nice poem from an Irish speaker near Kinsale in the past year. Never printed, it had, nevertheless, crossed Gaelic Munster with but slight alteration.

"Ar bhothar Luimnigh do bhuail an Bas liom

'Na ghadui ghranna us a dhrom le claidhe."

"Beirim suas iad i lathair an Aon-Mhic,

Is a bpeacai leite aca idir a lamh-aibh,

Bearfad-sa tusa liom, a Sheain Bhain Aeraigh-

Leig dod' phle liom, ach gluais mar chach!"


Much of the poetry of the Irish singing poets of Glin was collected about 40 years ago from the old people, by Thomas Culhane-uncle of my present correspondents, Sean and Tomas-who is now in Australia. In a letter I got from Fiachra Eilgeach some time ago he mentions this: "Maidir le mionfhili Cho. Luimnigh-agus go mor-mhor na fir do chomhnuigh in iarthar an Chontae-ceanntar Ghlean na Chorbraighe, etc-ta eolas speisialta iompa san ag Tomas O Cathlain....Melbourne, Australia. Gaedhilgeoir maith: ta an teolas aige agus na hamhrain."

So are the Gaelic songs of Glin preserved, not at home but ten thousand miles and more from the Shannon shore!


Best known, however, of all the poets of Glin is Micheal Og O Longain. His father, Micheal O Longain, a steward to the knight of Glin, was also a poet, You will find his name in the list I have given today. He-Michael Og's father-used to attend the Bardic Sessions in Croom. The "Apostate Knight" dismissed him from his hereditary office of reachtaire, and threw many of his books and manuscripts into the fire.

The famous Micheal Og was born in Ballyculhane. The old people used to describe him as a rover. He was a poet, schoolmaster and a splapeen when times were hard. Besides, he was a great horseman. I once read somewhere - if I am not mistaken - that Thomas Davis spent some time learning Irish from Micheal Og. These two ardent souls had much in common, love of liberty, love of the people, and love of everything that made Ireland Irish.


Micheal Og O Longain was out in 1798; and later chided the Munstermen in his songs for their inactivity in that year of supreme national effort:

"Is ca bhfuil congnamh Muimhneach,

No an fior go mairid beo"?

Sean O Culhane says that the poet was peeved because more Glin men did not fight in '98; but, he continues, "the old people never agreed with that, as a great number of Glin men did fight in the war. Even some were hanged or transported after '98. The father of the aforementioned James Mac Elligott (see list of last native speakers), Long Morty, knew Micheal Og well, and was with him in the Rebellion. Morty was arrested by the Yeomen, and escaped from them near Rathkeale." By way of P.S. Sean adds: "These is an old framed photo of Micheal Og O Longain at our house. He is dressed like the United Irishmen; has long hair, a small side whisker, a very fine forehead and a slightly ed nose."

Micheal Og died in 1840. So much for to-day's account of the vanished Limerick Gaeltacht, which dealt with freedom-loving and Gaelic-loving Glin.

(To be continued).

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