A Place of Songs - 6th Nov. 1948

A Place of Songs: Text Version


6th November 1948


The first time I ever saw Castlemahon it was by....(?) I had set out bright and early one Saturday morning, for Newcastle West, in as much trepidation as if I were about to fly the Atlantic. At Crossbar I took the wrong turning, and cycled into Castletown Mac Eniry. Still thinking I was on the main road to my destination, I continued west through the high country of Corcamohide – the ancient Corca Muiceat – the land of legendary Muiceat, disciple of the Mogh Ruith, and remote ancestor of the illustrious Mac Enirys, who held sway here for untold years, until they were dispossessed, when the curse of Cromwell fell heavily on the land.


After some time I realized I was on the wrong road. When in doubt, they say, ask a policeman – or a Garda, if you happen to be in Ireland. I didn't meet a Garda; but I met a knowledgeable man driving some cows before him. I asked him if I were on the right road to Newcastle. 'Ah,' he said, when I told him my story, 'you should have kept on the Bruff Line'. I couldn't understand what Bruff had to do with the case, but I was too polite to voice my doubts. Not until later did I find out that the road from Newcastle to Kilmallock is called the Bruff Line.


My guide told me that I had made an unnecessary detour, but that I had gone so far along the wrong road that it was as well to keep on. If I crossed over the hills to the Bruff Line I wouldn't get to my destination any earlier. 'So you see,' said fear na mbo, 'tis six of one and half-dozen of another which way you go.' In the words of Macbeth, I had -

'Stepp'd in so far, that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as go over'.

And so it came to pass that I journeyed through pleasant leafy Kilmeedy, and pedaled into Castlemahon.


The parish of Castlemahon, as I learn from a time-worn authority, comprises 12, 262 statute acres. In 1831 it had 3, 846 inhabitants, had 50 children attending a national school, and a further 150 attending three private schools. In 1841, the population had risen to 4, 101, of whom 605 resided in the village. It is interesting to note how the people of the parish were employed just over a hundred years ago. Employed chiefly in agriculture were 41 families; in manufactures and trade, 21; in other pursuits, 3. Families dependent chiefly on property and professions numbered 2; on the directing of labour, 25; on their own manual labour, 38. The Catholic Church at Castlemahon had an attendance of from 500 to 600; that at Feohanagh 300.


Should we write Castlemahon or Mahoonagh? The latter form preserves the Gaelic ending of the name – Caislean Mhathghamhna. Castlemahon is a place of songs. It was the home of that sweet Fenian singer, Michael Scanlan, who died in America. It was Michael Scanlan who wrote, in rousing lines, that splendid tribute to his brothers in arms: 'The Bold Fenian Men.'

'See who comes over the red-blossomed heather,

Their green banners kissing the pure mountain air'.


Another of Michael Scanlan's songs that has been heard in a thousand concert halls is 'The Jackets Green'.

'My heart ne'er beat with flying feet,

Though love sang me his queen,

Till down the glen rode Sarsfield's men,

And they wore their jackets green'.

'Limerick is Beautiful' is still another of his ever-popular songs.

'The I love is beautiful,

And world-wide is her fame,

She dwells down by the rushing tide,

And Eire is her name.'


My song of this week tells of an incident that happened in Castlemahon during the Land War. This song came to me from two sources – from Mairin Ni Riada, Cill Riada, An Caislean Nua, and Tomas O'Conba, Drom na Daoile, An Caislean Nua. Both, I am glad to say, supplied interesting notes in Irish. Inghean Ui Riada says that the members of the Castlemahon Branch of the Land League met at Lewis's Cross to strike a blow against the rack-renters and shoneens assembled for a stag hunt. A poem was written about the happening. The author, Mr. O'Conba informs me, was John Mac Eniry, of Curragh, a youth of 17, who was attending Michael O'Callaghan's famous school at Castlemahon. To this school came many who were later to fill the highest posts at home and abroad. John Mac Eniry was one of the most brilliant of them, and had he not died young he certainly would have made a name for himself. Here is his poem:-


They came with pomp and pride and glee

To hunt the deer away,

They said they'd ride from sea to sea,

And who would dare gainsay?

To Lewis's Cross they all drew nigh,

And curbed their prancing steeds,

What rebel now dare quell their joy

Or stop their gallant deeds?

The noble-hearted true O'Brien

Lies in his prison cell,

And the General – Father Matthew Ryan –

Pines in a jail as well;

But little care that shoneen crew,

And all their flunkey train,

If every patriot, tried and true,

Were safely lodged in jail.

But hark! What mean that gathering crowd

So darkly circling round?

The upstart sycophants so proud

Like not that hostile sound.

But wherefore dread a peasant throng

Who were so meek before,

Our gallant steeds are swift and strong,

And we will hunt once more.

Away across the country

The noble stag is gone,

Across the Deel's broad foaming flood,

And still goes bounding on.

But are the huntsmen on his track?

Ah, no! they are not here,

Our gallant boys have turned them back,

They've fled in craven fear.

The huntsmen all in fled

From Castlemahon men;

Their dogs and deer are lying ;

They will not dare again

To come into our native plains,

From which they fled in fear;

While Irishmen wear prison chains,

They'll never hunt a deer.


The response to my competitions continues to be disappointing. With one or two exceptions no one has written a line about any old Irish speakers who lived in any part of Limerick. Is it possible that no one ever heard that down to 30 or 40 years ago – perhaps later – you might have found in Limerick old people who could understand or speak Irish? There are valuable book prizes to be won for the best accounts of how Irish faded out as the spoken language of Limerick. Where did Irish longest in Limerick? In Anglesboro? Elderly people, search your memories! Young people, ask your elders about it!


A fine account of the Maigue Country came from Tipperary! The writer dealt with Bruree, Croom and Adare, from the antiquarian's viewpoint. Two further delightful accounts dealing with the folklore of the Maigue Country were written about the 'infant Maigue' – the first few miles of its course. But I've got very little about all the other miles it flows to the Shannon; nothing at all about the country through which it winds beyond 'palace-filled' Adare. Surely you could write something. Take a belt of country along the Maigue, 2 or 3 miles on either side of it and write about any part of it you know well. If you want further particulars about these competitions write to me. And remember this: -


I have extended the closing date for both competitions to December 11th.

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