Those in power write the history – Those who suffer write the songs

Balladeer, Tom O'Donovan from Tarbert (right) pictured with  Joe Harrington, Lyreacrompane (left) at the Right2Water protest march in Castleisland on Saturday. ©Photograph: John Reidy
Balladeer, Tom O’Donovan from Tarbert (right) pictured with Joe Harrington, Lyreacrompane at the Right2Water protest march in Castleisland on Saturday. ©Photograph: John Reidy

Those in power write the history.  Those who suffer write the songs and, given our history, we have an awful lot of songs.

That’s an oft quoted line when discussions on the history of the Irish ballad or balladeer arise. There are examples of its historical accuracy in every town and village in the country. Take our own finest example: The Eviction of Dick Johnny Walsh of Kilmurry in 1909.

All take Notice: A meeting of the week-old Right2Water Castleisland Committee will be held at Fagin’s / Hartnett’s Bar on this Friday night, January 23rd at 7.30pm. New members and concerned citizens all welcome to attend. See more here:

Official versions of great and traumatic events like these were never believed. People often held their tongues until the local balladeer had his say. Have things changed or improved ?

The ballad was the verdict of the people who felt the brunt of the action. It was the vox populi – if you like. Oh, there was agitation too of course and blood spilled as well.  There were no tribunals then.

Imagine if a panel of balladeers was appointed and given over all the papers that would make up our imaginary tribunal of enquiry and that the ballad which ensued was binding – the final word.

On the basis of what we know of ballads and on the basis of what we know of tribunals the distilled lines would be fairly withering. No ambiguity and only the whiteness of the paper between those damning lines.

There would be murder of course.  But artistic license would be enshrined in the constitution of the Balladeers’ Court and its participants would be protected by every law known to man and woman and they’d be provided with enough beer and bread for the rest of their days.

I’d put Tom O’Donovan on the panel; he’s good at the ballads. He must have three bags full by now. Tom is a resident of Tarbert and has been involved in every protest about anything that was ever wrong in North Kerry over the past decade or more. O’Donovan, most of the time except when he’s going for election – which he does from time-to-time. Then he drops the ‘O’ for a higher pegging on the ballet paper.

It was Tom O’Donovan who wound up last Saturday’s Right2Water Kerry march here in Castleisland by singing his latest creation. He promised to send it to me for publication and he was as good as his word.

The Ballad of the Water Charges  (Air: The Valley of Knockanure)

Oh how great and glorious to be alive on that momentous day-

When us Irish people found our feet and decided not to pay.

We shouted stop to metering and EM Radiation.

let’s take back our power in this our hour and still marching to frustrate them.


From the rebel Cork to Donegal the message was loud and clear-

Not a penny for Enda Kenny, our revolt without a fear.

Our success is strong and with us belong when all of us stay together,

And we’ll never retreat while on our feet in our summer or wintry weather.


So when Irish Water is wound-down we will not shed a tear.

When all is said in every shed we could find a souvenir.

There will be no checks or bonuses for Joan or Enda’s cronies-

They’ll have to seek some honest work or a bet upon the ponies.


The watery sun is sinking now on Enda and Joan B.

Their race is run they’ve had their fun but still they cannot see

that we’re awake and will not take any more austerity.

We’ve had enough of their oul’ guff so our water will flow free.

We’ve had enough of their oul’ guff and our water will be free!

–  Tom O’Donovan, Tarbert.


Below is the Eugene O’Mara penned ballad on the events at Dick Johnny Walsh’s in Kilmurry in 1909 – which I mentioned above. . The author is referred to locally as Eugie Mara and the event as: The Last Eviction. It was the last recorded eviction in Ireland under British Rule.


Dick Johnny’s Eviction


Ye brave Boys of Cordal who made a brave stand,

ye worked night and day to keep Walsh on his land.

Ye stood in the gap before baliffs and police,

and ye drove them away like a pack of wild geese.


Police came from Kerry, from Cork and from Clare.

from Caherciveen and a place called Kenmare.

From Killorglin and Dingle, Tralee, Gortalea,

Limerick, Newcastle and around Abbeyfeale.


When they got to Kilmurry they were srtuck with surprise,

When they saw there before them the tough Cordal boys.

The county cried halt to the cops in the grove,

Seeing the road blocked with trees which no peeler could move.


The Battering Ram, boys, had no room to pass,

With the large crowd of people who stood ‘round the cross.

The Peelers insisted we’d all go to jail,

It was Simon and Florry who gave us light bail.


They went through Miss Kate’s place and Down through the green,

Carroll, McCarthy, Matt and Coiteen,

Their photos were taken coming down through the lawn,

Without shirts but old mufflers they bought in the pawn.


Fifty defenders in handcuffs were bound,

Coupled together they marched into town.

I’ll never forget that day ‘round The Green,

when they showed them the way up Tom Craig’s bohereen.


And now to conclude, boys, I’ll finish my song,

Hoping Walsh is reinstated and that before long,

I am no baliff in England’s employ,

Nor a poet of great learning – but a labouring boy.

– Eugene O’Mara, Ardmona, Cordal

– ©The Maine Valley Post 2015