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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
John Moulden Lyr Add: Dear Old Skibbereen (137* d) RE: Lyr Add: Dear old Skibereen 20 Feb 01

Martin Ryan, noting my absence from regular contribution to the Mudcat Cafe, e-mailed me to set my mind in motion on this question. I'm going to review what has been said.

Richard Hayward was not very scrupulous about his sources and his book "Ulster Songs and Ballads of the Town and the Country" London (Duckworth) (first edition) 1925 contains no notes and no references - I'd be pretty sure his source was Hughes, father thanthe other way round. The words are very slightly but in no significant way different. Also Hughes' sub-title is "A Ballad of the Famine" and gives the location for his collection of the tune, as Co Tyrone. Hayward sub-titles it "A County Tyrone Ballad of the Famine"

The 1901 "Irish Com-all-ye's" reference - is to Manus O'Conor's "Irish Com-all-yes! (New York) - inspection finds a Skibereen but it is a burlesque and nothing at all to do with this song. The same burlesque is in Wehman's 617 Irish Songs and Ballads (New York, but undated.)

So we are left with 1915 as an earliest date. Hughes' preface, dated February 1915, is interesting. He discusses the songs "... the words of most are to be found on broadsheets."

I've never seen a broadsheet of this song though I'm about to start a three year research project into 19th century Irish printed ballads, so I may yet. At the same time, the words seem a bit self conscious to me - I wonder did one of Hughes friends, like Joseph Campbell, the poet who collaborated with Hughes on "Songs of Uladh" write the words - I have no evidence at all but, as you all know, conjecture fills an evidential vacuum.

I've always associated this song with a famous account of the effects in Skibereen, of the Great Irish Famine: a letter dated 17th December 1846, from Nicholas Cummins JP, to the Duke of Wellington, which was published in the London "Times" on 24th Dec 1846. It's the most harrowing first hand account of any episode of the Great Famine that I have read.

Hughes' Preface continues: "Most ballads are human (if not historical) documents and the story told in "Skibbereen" for example,certainly falls into that category. Curously enough in outline and in one or two details it resembles an actual incident recorded by a friend of mine in Kerry less than forty years ago, though there could be no connection between the two stories."

That makes it sound less rather than more likely that one of Hughes' friends was responsible.

So there you have it: some information, a lot of conjecture and no conclusion.

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