Article MT175

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

Number 19: Two '98 songs1

To complete a tentative survey of known ballads in England that have the 1798 Irish insurrection as their subject and that had a life in broadside form and in sung repertoire, this piece concentrates first on General Munroe.  Then there is a consideration of a remarkable song, Little Jimmy Murphy, which, in complete contrast, has but a single precedent example in printed form and, what is more, offers an unusual form of presentation. 

General Munroe is a ballad to be placed alongside The Croppy Boy and The Rambler from Clare as evidence of an apparently limited degree of interest amongst printers in England in the 1798 Irish insurrection.  Like the other two ballads it did have a legacy in sung repertoire but is distinguished in that, unlike the other two, it has a named protagonist.  Together, the three and Little Jimmy Murphy form the only English references amongst broadside printers to the historical event.2

The sum of broadside printing of General Munroe is not contemporary with '98 - in the south of England Fortey, Hodges, Ryle and Such and in the north Harkness and in Scotland Lindsay, all operating a little prior to the mid-nineteenth-century mark and then after.  Catalogue references extend the list - Pearson, Walker in Newcastle, a reference to Ross … none of which particularly push the emergence of the text back in time towards its historical origins.  However, in the Lane catalogue copy reference is to Morren in Edinburgh, which firm operated from 1790-1822 and which may, therefore, have issued a printing of General Munroe contemporary or near-contemporary with the event - not so far located, it has to be said.3  In Ireland, Birmingham in Dublin and Haly in Cork printed the piece.4

The actual circumstances may be recounted in brief.  In June 1798 forces of the United Irishmen in the north of Ireland rose up against the English government.  Henry Munroe, a 'respectable' Protestant from Lisburn (born 1758), assumed command, albeit, it seems, a little reluctantly, never having expressed a desire to fight against the King but, apparently, unhappy over the activities of government administration.5  Munroe was successful at Saintfield, four days before the battle of Ballinahinch on June 13th, but at Ballinahinch itself his army of some 7000 was routed by General Nugent and Munroe driven into hiding.  The bulk of the rebel forces had established themselves on Ednavaddy Hill outside the town.  Government forces, under Nugent's command, bombarded Ednavaddy Hill and attacked Ballinahinch itself.  Nugent's cavalry, trying to sweep the streets of Ballinahinch clean, was, in fact, being successfully resisted and he sounded the retreat whereupon the rebels in the town, mistaking the call, themselves broke off their action and fled, many hiding in the fields around.

Official and unofficial accounts do not then quite accord.  In one account Munroe was taken in a potato field.  In another this was where he first encountered a man who promised to help conceal him.  Again, there is a story that Munroe was hidden under a covering of weeds.  Another version has it that the weeds were, in fact, bundles of hay.  In the ballad he was dragged from a haystack.  He was betrayed by a man for £5; in the ballad by a woman for £10.  There are other embellishments to the Munroe story claiming that, in Lisburn, when captured, he signalled his readiness for the noose by dropping his handkerchief; and that the ladder steps gave way immediately prior to the hanging and he remounted declaring that he was not a coward.  Then, because the executioner was hesitant, Munroe is said to have placed the noose around his own neck and jumped forward to his death.  Another version has it that he was helped to his death by the officer of the day and his sergeant … According to one source this may well have been true (see below - references to source).

It appears that Munroe was, indeed, betrayed, by a farmer named Holmes with whom he had rested on the slopes of Slieve Croob, in the townland of Clintynagullion some two and a half miles from Ballynahinch.  And there is historical agreement as to his trial in Lisburn on 16th June.  He was hanged outside Lisburn Market House and his head severed and placed on a pike at one corner of the Market square.

The narrative in English broadside texts is always the same6, beginning with an appeal to the reader: 'Come all good people and listen unto me … '.  Immediately, the rhyme gives way:

While I sing a few verses concerning Munroe;
May true liberty through the nations still flow,
Now hear how they took and beheaded Munroe.
The reader is asked if he was at Ballinahinch where the forces, presumably those of the Irish, were commanded by 'George Clokey and General Munroe'.  The battle is not described but gestures are made in the ballad - that Munroe 'took the mountains' and his men 'took the field'.  This may refer to the distinction between rebel forces on Ednavaddy Hill and those in the town of Ballinahinch or, where 'field' is concerned, literally to where the rebels hid themselves after Nugent's assault.  All ballad copy is insistent on these details so we might acknowledge that they represent aspects of the battle that had seemed important to ballad-makers whatever our suspicions about the relationship to actuality.

Munroe himself was wounded and 'wanted to sleep' and 'He gave a woman ten guineas the secret to keep'.  Unfortunately Munroe was betrayed, the woman having sent for the army that then 'surrounded' him.

If you'd seen the cavalry when they came there,
Their horses did caper and prance in the rear,
The traitor being with them all do know,
Out of a haystack they hauled poor Munroe.
He was brought 'to the hall', then marched to Lisburn, where they 'put his head on a spear that very same day'.

'In comes' Munroe's sister - in to where exactly is not clear - with a sword by her side, cheering and declaring that she would have revenge for her brother.  There does not seem to be any evidence that his sister, Margaret, came onto the scene at all … although it does appear that she was implicated in the rising.  One wonders if the sister character could have been the shadow of the sister of Henry Joy McCracken, Mary Ann, who was certainly involved in republican activities at the time.  And there is always the figure of Betsy Gray in the offing, a heroine of the rising who was butchered by Loyalist forces at Ballinahinch.  To add to the possibilities, it seems that Munroe's sister-in-law did give a version of events.7

The ballad ends with Munroe being 'brought to a tree', bidding farewell to his wife and children, and saying 'There is nothing that grieves me but liberty alone … ' - which we take to mean the loss of liberty:

And there was the end of General Munroe.
As indicated in part English broadside ballad versions have some correspondence to actuality but the narrative has gained unsubstantiated detail and leaves some aspects in a state of ambiguity.

A copy from Lindsay in Glasgow incorporates slightly different material.8  The opening is the same as it is in English broadsides but the last two lines of the first stanza differ:

That the liberty of freedom through our nation may flow,
And tyrants will suffer for beheading Monro
The next two stanzas introduce, successively, 'Ballanainch' and 'George Clocky'.  The fourth stanza includes an Irish insertion:
Long life to Lord Moira and long may he reign,
We fought the last battle within his domain.
We fought them four hours, beat them to and fro,
When commanded by that hero called General Monro.
The Moira reference is to the grounds of Montalto House, built in 1760 and the home of Lord Moira (Francis Rawdon, second earl, 1754-1826), where the rebels encamped before battle.  Moira was a diplomat and a soldier, having fought for England in the American wars of independence and against the French in the Low Countries (1793).  He had spoken out in the House of Lords (17th February 1798) against the rough treatment by government officers of those suspected of entertaining republican feelings and had vouched for the loyalty of his tenants; but the tenantry, nonetheless, revolted.  In one Irish broadside (from Birmingham in Dublin), the toast in the ballad is, for some unknown reason, to Moira's wife.  This is odd, since Moira did not marry her - Flora Mure Campbell - until 1804; and must, therefore, bespeak late printing and a version of late genesis or adaptation (below).

The next Lindsay stanza includes the mountain and field references but also the line, 'Fight you brave heroes said General Monro', a line that does not feature in southern English printings.  The rest of the ballad does follow the English course (including the haystack image) but with a small difference at the very end: 'My lands and my livings I give unto thee' (whoever 'thee' was).  Lindsay's text is paralleled by a copy without imprint found together with printings of General Munroe from Such but where the name is given as 'Munro' and the site of the battle as 'Ballana-inch'.9  Lindsay's contribution is 'late' - he was not printing before the 1850s.

A Haly text is similar to that from Lindsay.  The exceptional lines are as follows … First, at the beginning of stanza three, where Lindsay introduces the protagonist 'George Clocky' whose age is 'nineteen', Haly has 'George Clayton' and his age is given as 'eighteen'.  Second, in a fourth stanza, Lindsay has:

Long life to Lord Moira and long may he reign
We fought the last battle within his domain;
We fought them four hours, beat them too (sic) and fro,
When commanded by that hero called General Monro …
Haly's fourth stanza is different:
Long life to Lord Moira, and long may he reign;
We fought the last battle within his desmesne;
May liberty and freedom thro' this nation flow,
And the tyrants did suffer for General Monroe …
One notes that the health is to Lord Moira as it was in the unidentified copy set on Such printings (above) and in Lindsay whereas in Birmingham, the only other proven Irish copy, it is to Lady Moira (below).

Third, in a fifth stanza, Lindsay, beginning with the 'Monro took the mountains … ' lines, finishes the stanza with:

Let the firing of their cannons never daunt you so
Fight you brave heroes said General Monro …
Haly, beginning the same way, yet finishes the stanza with:
We fought them four hours, and beat them to and fro,
When commanded by that hero called General Monroe …
Fourthly, stanzas seven and eight in Lindsay are reversed in order in Haly and in Lindsay's eighth stanza he has:
Monroe he was taken and brought to the Hall,
He thought to escape but could not at all,
They marched him to Lisburne (sic) without no delay
They put his head on a spear the same day …
Haly, though, has:
The army did come and surrounded them all,
He thought to escape but could not at all;
They marched him to Lisburn without more delay,
And put his head on a spear the very same day …
Finally, the last two stanzas from each printer are commensurate save for orthographic changes (note these orthographic changes and the changes in some detail throughout).

The overall narrative impulse, though, is close in both despite the changes in order of stanzas; and the Irish dimension in both is palpable - in contrast to English texts.

Third and fourth versions of the ballad emerge in a Birmingham printings and in one without imprint in the National Library of Ireland.10  The Birmingham text begins with:

My name is George Campbell - at the age of 18
I fought for old Erin, her rights to maintain,
And many a battle I did undergo,
Commanded by that hero called General Munroe.
A mountain and fields stanza follows but, then, there is new material as compared with other broadsides:
It was on a wide plain our foes they did stand,
Full thirteen thousand they did command,
Their cavalry guarded by their entrenchment also,
But defeated they were by brave General Munroe.
The Irish army fought 'all day' until night came, lost but two hundred men, took the English artillery and baggage, and gained a 'full victory' - it could be that Irish printings condensed events and that the Irish victory in the ballad was that at Saintfield.  The Lady Moira health follows.  Munroe, however, as in the English ballads, was weary, gave a woman ten guineas and was betrayed (the 'cavalry', not the 'army' was sent for).  Munroe was taken - there are no haystack lines - brought to a 'hall', condemned, and led away.  His last words are to his friends 'Never to yield until they freed their land … '.  A sister stanza follows and the printing concludes with:
Here's a health to each hero who for freedom
               did stand,
May their souls rest in peace who died for our
Remember the martyrs that were slain by this foe
Brave Emmet, Fitzgerald, and General Munroe.
The NLI copy has a different order of verses and its second stanza is as follows:
If you were at the battle of Ballinahinch,
Where the croppies assembled to stand their defence
It's many a battle we did undergo,
Led by that hero called General Munroe …
It also includes a stanza not found in other copy from Ireland (it is by no means certain that the NLI copy was printed in Ireland although the outline narrative has the same pattern as known Irish printings and the use of the word 'we' and the tenor of the piece is suggestive):
When our foes they had gather'd from us half a mile,
With undaunted courage our heroes did smile,
We attacked them with fury and drove them to and fro,
And laid four thousand dead by the command of Munroe
The NLI copy has a health 'to Lady Mira' (sic); and, too, the word 'foe' appears at the end of the third line below (the last words stanza here is again from Birmingham and is by way of illustrating similarities and differences to the text without imprint):
His last words to his friends, as we did under-
Never to yield until they freed their land;
Never to be daunted at the strength of your (sic)
Until you claim your freedom, said General
Then in comes the sister as in English versions and the final stanza is the same as found in Birmingham copy.11

Zimmerman included the Haly text in his Songs of Irish Rebellion (1967) and referred to the NLI text as well.  He also noted a version to be found in Robert Young's compilation (see further below).12

There is no obvious way to attest to a text which could have kickstarted pedigree: a Catnach or Pitts printing, say - neither Catnach's 1832 list nor that of Pitts for 1836 include a title - but since Hodges, Fortey and Ryle all inherited, the faint possibility must exist.  Hodges, after Pitts, it should be remembered, began printing in 1839.  Paul had taken over from Catnach, working in partnership with Annie Ryle, Catnach's sister, between 1838 and 1844 when the firm reverted to the name of Ryle.  Eventually Fortey inherited (1860).  Such was printing from the late 1840s on. 

And one or two very late printings can be found - in Harding's Dublin Songster, for example (1901).13  So far, the finger of genesis as broadside printing appears to point to a late date relative to the historical events, perhaps during the late 1830s or the 1840s.

If the pattern of The Croppy Boy, The Rambler from Clare and, in addition, The Kerry Recruit is considered, General Munroe in its Irish guise follows a familiar course in adding detail to the narrative.  The Lindsay text, appearing after 1850, could have taken some detail from the Irish printings which would have been issued by Haly and Birmingham during the late 1840s or early 1850s or, as is always a possibility, from a song already in circulation.  Of course, Irish printers may have taken detail from Lindsay … The similarities between Lindsay and Haly texts begin to suggest some connection; but none of this disturbs the possible date of genesis as described in connection with English printings.

The final piece of the puzzle lies in the appropriation of names of protagonists, Campbell, Clayton and Clokey.  There is nothing with which to make a connection between them and Munroe and one might, therefore, think of these names as conducive only to ballad development of the story: but not as archetype - like the Croppy boy - since their actions do not count for much except as a means of narration.  At the same time, there was a rebel officer at Ballinahinch by the name of Andrew Clokey (who survived into old age).  The obvious inference may be drawn … again, though, as with other detail noted above, not substantiated.

As a song, General Munroe surfaced in England, Ireland and across the Atlantic.  We might surmise encouragement through continued Irish feeling for national identity but, as in previous examples of '98 song disseminaton, the song's journey in England has to be accounted as being mildly surprising.  The last resort is probably the usual one of narrative interest with Munroe's name itself - like "Wexford Hill' in The Croppy Boy - being of less importance.

In fact, in England, there is only one example of the song's survival.  This is as a single verse fragment on George Townshend's MT recording14 but this is preceded by a fuller text from the same singer in Fred Hamer's collection, The Life of a Man, where a note also records that 'Pop' Maynard had recalled part of the song including the incident where Munroe had been hauled out of a haystack.15  Mr Townshend's text shows obvious signs of oral transmission when compared with broadside text.  It begins: 'My name is George Clokey, my age is nineteen', thus sidestepping the usual English broadside text opening and, at the same time, revealing a touch or two of similarity to both the Lindsay text and Irish texts discussed above and the possibility that such texts or songs which included lines that had appeared in those texts could have been available to George Townshend and 'Pop' Maynard.  In a mountain and field stanza, it is 'Manroe' (sic) who 'thought he'd be a tyrant and never would yield' (surely a muddle), and this is followed by:

In firing a cannon never daunted him so,
And that was the end of poor General Manroe.
The rest of the ballad parallels not Lindsay nor Haly but the usual English broadside form.

There are versions of the song to be found in Ireland.  Colm O'Lochlainn carried the song in his volume of Irish Street Ballads (1939), James Healy printed two versions in his Old Irish Street Ballads (1969), Sean O'Boyle included one in his Irish Song Tradition (1976) and there are others in Terry Moylan's compilation, The Age of Revolution (2000).  The respective texts have interesting diversions.  In O'Lochlainn's version - learned, he wrote, in Belfast in 1912 - he gives a specific dimension in the first stanza:

My name is George Campbell at the age of eighteen
I joined the United Men to strive for the green …
(my italics).  And the rest of the ballad follows a slightly aggressive course.  Ballinahinch is the setting, where Munroe left the mountains and 'fought for twelve hours' without yielding.  Then, being weary, he paid the woman ten guineas and she betrayed him, calling for the 'soldiers'.  Subsequently:
The army they came and surrounded the place,
And they took him to Lisburn and lodged him in jail.
And his father and mother in passing that way
Heard the very last words that their dear son did say!

"Oh, I die for my country as I fought for her cause,
And I don't fear your soldiers nor yet heed your laws.
And let every true man who hates Ireland's foe
Fight bravely for freedom like Henry Munroe."

Munroe is then 'murdered' and his head stuck high over the Courthouse on a spear 'To make the United Men tremble and fear' - the only reference in all copy, sung or on broadside, to link Munroe and the Men.  The sister stanza comes next and the ballad ends with a reconstruction made, according to O'Lochlainn, by Bulmer Hobson, a figure associated with twentieth century Irish history, connected with the Irish Republican Brotherhood but opposed to the Easter Rising of 1916; a minister in the Free State government in 1922.  His intervention affords proof of additions to existing versions, oral or printed, and at a very late date:
All ye good men who listen, just think of the fate
Of the brave men who died in the year Ninety Eight:
For poor old Ireland would be free long ago
If her sons were all rebels like Henry Munroe.
Obviously, the whole tenor of this version is especially pointed when compared to known broadside texts … even, to an extent, those from Haly and Birmingham.  One notes also - as well as the distinctly rebellious call to arms - the echo of The Croppy Boy where the mother and father, passing by, are concerned (no correspondence in actuality); and the absence of the Moira health.16

Healy's versions - strictly speaking they are but texts - follow both English broadside texts apart from one or two orthographic changes and (his second version) the Irish broadside pattern of Birmingham; beginning with the introduction of George Campbell and not wavering.17

O'Boyle's is a five-stanza version beginning with 'Were you ever at the battle of Ballynahinch … ', introducing 'George Clokey', incorporating the betrayal scene (no haystack), Munroe's execution and the appearance of the sister.  O'Boyle's version, he wrote, came from his father which fact at least gives a slight historical perspective.18

Terry Moylan included two versions in his recent volume, The Age of Revolution.19  The first of these is the same as that from O'Lochlainn.  The second version, entitled Henry Munro, is that from Robert Young as referred to by Zimmerman and has a great number of differences to any of the texts examined so far.  It begins with the question about Ballinahinch and then there are two stanzas involving General Nugent:

When General Nugent he came to the ground,
He pulled out his spy-glass and viewed them all round,
And acquainted his officers to let them know
That ammunition was short with Henry Munroe.

Then General Nugent he made an attack,
But his infantry and cavalry were beaten back
For the shot of his cannon did not make us go -
'Fight on, my brave heroes, fight on' said Munroe.

The following stanza begins - 'God save Lord Moira … ' and indicates that the battle was fought on his 'domain'.  The next stanza reveals that ammunition had, indeed, given out; and Munroe enlists the help of the woman who, on receipt of three guineas (in the next stanza), immediately betrays Munroe.  The cavalry arrives:
May the Devil a place on the old jade bestow -
She betrayed and deceived brave General Munroe …
The Lisburn scene is then described before the ballad takes a lurch away from the usual narrative, introducing one Teeling … .20  This was Charles Hamilton Teeling who was among the United Irish leaders arrested in 1796 (he was 18).  He afterwards wrote an account of the rebellion, Personal Narrative of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 (published in London in 1828).  The book was at one stage suppressed but much later a British prime minister is said, in the course of a speech in the House of Commons, to have declared it to have been one of the best accounts of the rebellion ever written.

The penultimate stanza suggests that the country was not ready to tackle government forces - which sounds like hindsight - and the final stanza, addressed to the Defenders (a uniquely specific reference), insists that they should not trust their secrets - 'And I hope you'll remember the fate of Munroe'.  In this development we have, in one way, moved away from the Munroe story.

The various changes and accretions begin to give us a picture of how the text travelled within a specifically Irish dimension.  One recalls that several '98 ballads did not see life until a hundred years after the event.21

One must not either overlook the version of the song as it appeared in a BBC recording of Francis McPeake, dating from 1952.22

The song also made its way to Canada where one version is true enough to the narrative line as described above … although the name of the protagonist was changed to John Snaney - again, this suggests the relatively unimportant nature of the name in the narrative.23

The history of the song, then, can be seen to offer a potentially wide gap between event and broadside printings but the Maynard-Townshend reference is testimony to survival and not to be associated indelibly with English broadside printing (and the Canadian version is certainly witness to travel).  Indeed, the lines of descent for all known late examples suggest a very mixed presence of songs and acquaintance amongst singers with different versions.  This, it could be argued, is an expected legacy as distance in time allowed the addition and subtraction of detail but we know that this is not a necessary development because certain songs already canvassed in this series - The Bonny Bunch of Roses, Erin's Lovely Home, The Enniskillen Dragoon - retained shape and content.  On the other hand there is no consistency amongst the tunes for General Munroe and this scattering supports the notion of different lines of acquisition amongst singers.

In sum, within the compass of Britain and Ireland, of all versions the Ulster one is most altered from what must have been the earliest broadside notions but all other surviving references in broadside and song bespeak a more faithful parallel or adopted life even if not word-for-word.  The general run, it seems, did take the one approximate course whilst the Ulster version was exactly that: a distinctly local adaptation, probably conceived in some measure through oral transmission.  And this is, no doubt, to be expected, a paradigm of the way in which singing traditions flourished, declined or changed - with broadside issue relatively consistent.


We come, then, to Little Jimmy Murphy.  This song, in its guise in English manuscripts, is, perhaps, the most unusual of the songs with a 1798 connection that have emerged.  There are three versions; from Jack Barnard and a Mr J Thomas, both noted by Cecil Sharp; and a version sent to Sharp which was supplied by a Dr John Taylor who recorded it from 'a soldier'.24  Jack Barnard's text begins as follows:

As I was a walking
There was a row making
Poor Jimmy Murphy
Was the first man was taken
The refrain sets a tone paralleled in all other examples of the song …
For he's a rare old bonny lad now
From East to Don Patherick
To entice poor Jimmy Murphy
On the green mossy banks
On the John Skipper the monkey frisky
Fair ra lu ra li do
Fair ra lu ra li do
The rest of the narrative indicates that Jimmy Murphy will 'ride through the city' with people crying 'pity' and that he will be hanged 'not for sheep stealing' but for 'kissing of the pretty girls … '.  The other manuscript versions are very similar.  In particular, the unusual type of refrain, which is mirrored in all versions, is worth a second glance because it must impose a peculiar musical measure in each case.  Mr Thomas' refrain is:
? any bonny lassie from the east of Dun-patrick
Right down to the green mossy banks
Of Saint Mary Ward ?
Save poor Jimmy Skiddymouth
Ri fal the diddle I-do
Ri titty-fal Lie
Ri fal the diddle I-do
Ri titty-fal di
The Taylor version has:
For 'tis a harrow bonny lassie
From the east to Don Patrick
Enticed poor Jimmy Murphy
From the green mossy banks
Jimminy don dimminy
Monkey whisky bull the rainstorm ? …
but here, Sharp's notation of the tune-line gave out at 'Enticed'.  In this version the pretty girl is named as 'Miss Dealing'.

The necessity for tune and text to preserve the nonsense syllables has led to the suggestion that the piece may even have been used for a children's game and because these nonsense lines appear in all known versions, outright dismissal of such a notion is not an option.  The verse-texts are very similar where the narrative is concerned.

At the same time, although the action is merely designated as a 'row' in the Barnard version, there are more Irish specifics in both the Thomas version - where the row takes place in Killarney - and in the Taylor version - where Kilkenny is cited.

The final stanza in the Thomas version is:

Jimmy Murphy is hung
And his troubles are over
And all the pretty lasses
They covered him with clover
There might just be a reference here to the practice at the funerals of prominent or notorious persons such as the Tyburn hanged where young girls dressed in white handed flowers to the condemned.25  How notorious, then, was 'Jimmy Murphy'?  Is this figure meant to be a reference to Father Murphy (below)?

A fourth version of the song, this time from A P Graves in Ireland, also has Kilkenny as reference (and a separate broadside on the career of Father Murphy, the leader of the Wexford insurgents, has a line, 'We lost our lives in Kilkenny').  The 'crime' is still to do with kissing a pretty girl, named here as 'Kate Wheelan'.  Graves has 'We're far upon the last now' and adds, in brackets, as an alternative to 'now', the word, 'rowt?' - presumably, 'rout'.  Graves tells us that his version was obtained from the Town Crier in Harlech, Wales, though he, in turn, had got it from a ballad-seller in Liverpool in 1840: this the earliest date known for the appearance of a text and indicating that whatever the predominantly sung legacy as discussed here the piece did at one time exist as a printing (see also below).26

A further clue to transmission is given in a part-version communicated to a Vera Chapman in London 'in her very early childhood, about 1904/5, by an Irish maid, who said that her father, who used to sing this song, had once been asked by a gentleman to sing it into a machine … '.  The fragments of text include the refrain:

Is there anybody last heard
From the hills of Dun Path'lick
For Willie ties (dies?) for Jimmy Murphy
From the green mossy banks
Of the Skinamalinktma - hickta - picta - foltheroo …
Down fola - a doodle - di - do
Down fol - la - la - day (Repeat).
No tune is given.  We should not, incidentally, overlook the idea in this version that it is somebody else, 'Willie', not the leader of the insurrection, who died; but this is perhaps just an example of how text may have wavered during transmission.27

There is a stanza and chorus from Harry Scott (Bedfordshire) where the nonsense lines are maintained and although this gives us a notion of a continued interest does not otherwise advance our knowledge of the song and its genesis.28  Similarly, there is a version from Yorkshire where the setting is Kilkenny, the crime one of kissing all the 'bonny little lasses' and the nonsense lines are preserved.29

In view of these half dozen examples, the song can be seen to have achieved a certain popularity in England, however obscure its origins may have been for English singers.

In Ireland again, the late Frank Harte recorded a version and he expanded the 1798 connection …

… it has been suggested to me that the reference in the last verse to Kate Whelan:

"Now Jimmy Murphy was hanged not for sheep stealing
But for courting a pretty girl and her name was Kate Whelan"
could be interpreted as a reference to Ireland as Cathleen ni Houlihan.30

One might add that although tunes vary in certain measures, there is something of a similarity amongst the English manuscript versions and those from Graves and from Frank Harte where the respective main stanzas are concerned, but that it is well to re-emphasise that the differing choruses do impose their own needs.

American references are to two versions in the Helen Harkness Flanders collection, discovered through title only; to one - again named through the title only - in the Library of Congress collections; and to one fuller version entitled Joe Johnny Murphy as found in Missouri.  Here the known pattern survives, the setting being Kilkenny, the crime one of 'courting a pretty girl' whose name was 'Moll Figen", the end of Joe Johnny Murphy mourned by 'ladies and lasses' who 'held' him - presumably surrounded and buried him - in clover.  Nonsense lines are prominent.31

The song versions as a whole have a consistency in narrative; always include the nonsense lines; and the same crime.

In no case except the Harlech text are broadsides cited but there is one broadside example, without imprint, extant.  It consists of two stanzas only which are commensurate with the sung versions noted above except that the opening lines set the scene as follows:

It was down in the Curragh,
      They a great row was makink … (sic)
And 'Tomorrow' Jimmy Murphy will be hung, as is consistently emphasised in sung versions, not for sheep-stealing 'But for the kissing of a pretty girl'.  The lines are mostly reminiscent of the Sharp Barnard version especially in the second stanza:
Oh! Tomorrow he will ride.
      He will ride through the city,
The drums they will beat:
      And the people cry pity
And now he is dead.
      All his troubles are over,
And all the pretty lady [maids?]
      Are now in the clover.
The punctuation is especially loose here and the last two lines appear to muddle the known narrative.32

Finally, the Roud database lists the title if the song as it appeared in a Sanderson (Edinburgh) catalogue - a late addition to the corpus.

On this combined evidence, the appearance and reappearance of Little Jimmy Murphy ought, principally, to be a case of oral transmission and recreation.

Most remarkable of all, though, where textual evidence is available, is, surely, that element of rarity attendant on the song in its being couched in such clearly metaphorical terms: there are, of course, songs with eagles and blackbirds used to represent characters in order for the songs to escape censure - and if, in the case of Little Jimmy Murphy, a contemporary or near-contemporary Irish genesis is a possible factor, the form of the song may have been a way to avoid a charge of sedition.33  The song is thus outstanding in its whole cast, however transformed in the imagination from actuality, and in the preservation of its form.

Here, too, if the significant allusion is to Ireland itself - 'Miss Dealing', 'Kate Wheelan', 'Cathleen ni Houlihan' - it might be reasonable to suggest that no English singer would normally find a need to put together a song in the fashion indicated about a subject as remote as it was; but yet we find all those versions cited above. As in The Croppy Boy, The Rambler from Clare and General Munroe it seems that the narrative element, at least, provided an interest even if the whole experience of the '98 insurrection might well have been minimal in the lives of the singers who entertained the songs.

In broadside form the appearance of text scarce makes a ripple.

Roly Brown - 25.1.06
Oradour sur Vayres, France


Article MT175

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