Skibbereen

(Based primarily on the version in Dean, with corrections noted)

Recording by Laura MacKenzie:

(Oh,) Father, dear, I often hear you speak of Erin’s Isle,
It seems so bright and beautiful, so rich and rare the soil.
You say it is a bounteous land in which a prince might dwell,
Then why did you abandon it? The reason to me tell.

My son, I loved my native land with favor and with pride,
Her peaceful groves, her mountains rude, her valleys green and wide;
It was there I lived in manhood’s prime and sported when a boy,
The shamrock and shillelegh was my constant boast and joy.

A potato plant infected with Phytophthora infe...

A potato plant infected with the Irish potato blight, Phytophthora infestans. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But lo! a blight came o’er my crops, my sheep and cattle died,
The rent ran due, the taxes too, I ne’er could have supplied.
The landlord turned me from the cot where born I had been,
And that, my boy, is the reason why I left old Skibbereen.

It is well do I remember that dark November day,
When the landlord and the sheriff came to drive us all away.
They set the roof a-blazing with a demon yellow spleen*
And when it fell the crash was heard all over Skibbereen.

Your mother too, God rest her soul, fell on the snowy ground,
And fainted in her anguish at the desolation around,
She ne’er recovered but passed away from life to mortal dream†
And found a grave of quiet rest in poor old Skibbereen.

Then sadly I recall the days of gloomy Forty-eight§
I rose in battle with the boys to battle again’ fate;
We were hunted through the mountains as traitors to the Queen,
And that, my boy, is the reason why I left old Skibbereen.

You then, my boy, were scarce three years old, and feeble was your frame,
I would not leave you with my friends; you bore my father’s name.
I wrapped you in my cotamore‡ at dead of night unseen,
I hove a sigh and bade goodby to poor old Skibbereen.

Then, father, father! When the day for vengeance they will call,
When Irishmen o’er field and [fen] will rally one and all,
I will be the man to lead the band beneath the flag so green,
While loud on high we raise the cry, “Revenge for Skibbereen.”

* Dean reads “demon yell of spleen”; correction from Patrick Galvin, Irish Songs of Resistance
† Dean reads “Malchasene”; correction from (no author listed), Soodlum’s Irish Ballad Book
§ Dean reads “Ninety-eight,” but most other versions all have “Forty-eight,” and this is clearly correct in context — even if you ignore the references to the potato blight of the 1840s, note that England was ruled by a king (George III) in 1798, not a queen!
‡ Dean reads “kosamane”; correction from Soodlum’s. A “cotamore” is from Irish “cóta mór,” a “big coat” or great coat.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s