Boys of Mullaghbawn (The)
BOYS OF MULLAGHBAWN, THE. Irish, Air (4/4 time). E Dorian. Standard tuning (fiddle). One part. "I obtained the air of this song from Mr. Patrick O'Leary of Graignamanagh, Co. Kilkenny, who himself got it from Mr. M. Nulty, National School teacher of Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan. An almost identical setting was sent to me by an unnamed correspondent in Dundalk. Coupling this with the song, we may take it that it is an Ulster melody. The Mullaghbawn commemorated in this air and song is a mountain parish in the southern corner of the Co. Armagh, between Slieve Gullion and Forkhill. It is now remarkable for its prosperous native industries (described in 'Irish Rural Life and Industry,' 1907; p. 170, by the editor, W.T.M.-F.); as it was formerly noted for its rural social amusements. Mr. W. T. Macartney-Filgate of Dublin, who knows Mullaghbawn well, has sent me two copies of the song, as well as some particulars regarding it; but I have since found, in my own collection, two other copies printed on ballad-sheets, which I had overlooked. It is all about a number of young men of Mullaghbawn who were either transported for some illegal practices (about 1798) or seized and sent on board ship by a pressgang. The song is very characteristic of the Irish 'unlettered Muse'" (Joyce).
Ó Boyle gives more about the area and the 'troubles'. Mullaghbawn in the late 18th century in the estate of a local Squire named Richard Johnson, who, in an era of absentee landlordism, actually lived on his estate. Moreover, he was a good manager and encouraged the populace in the region to make the most of their land. In his will he bequeathed sums for the poorest and oldest of his tenants, and this trust is still in existence today. It is not totally surprising that he is still remembered in the area for his acts and example of beneficial caretaking. His successor was not so well liked or admired, and four years after Squire Johnson's death the 'troubles' of 1798 began. The protagonists of the song, transported for their crimes, are popularly thought to have been heroes of the '98 rising, however, Ó Boyle mentions an article by Thomas Wall in Ceol (vol. III, No. 2, 1968) in which it is suggested that they may have been transported for the attempted abduction of an heiress.
On a Monday morning early as my wand'ring steps did lead me
Down by a farmer's station of meadow and green lawn;
I heard great lamentation that the wee birds they were making,
Saying: "We'll have no more engagements with the Boys of Mullaghbawn."
Printed sources: Joyce (Old Irish Folk Music and Song), 1909; No. 397, p. 206. Ó Boyle (The Irish Song Tradition), 1976; p. 52.
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