Crotty's Lament (1)

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 Theme code Index    3211 3332
 Also known as    
 Composer/Core Source    
 Region    Ireland
 Genre/Style    Irish
 Meter/Rhythm    Air/Lament/Listening Piece
 Key/Tonic of    G
 Accidental    1 sharp
 Mode    Ionian (Major)
 Time signature    4/4
 History    
 Structure    AB
 Editor/Compiler    O'Farrell
 Book/Manuscript title    Pocket Companion for the Irish or Union Pipes vol. 4
 Tune and/or Page number    p. 79
 Year of publication/Date of MS    1810
 Artist    
 Title of recording    
 Record label/Catalogue nr.    
 Year recorded    
 Media    
 Score   ()   


CROTTY'S LAMENT [1]. Irish, Slow Air or Lament (4/4 time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB. This air was composed in 1742 commemorating an Irish highwayman and was well known in the counties of Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford, states Flood (1906). The tune and the background of the individual of the title were probably well known to piper O'Farrell, who included the tune in his 1810 volume 4 of his Pocket Companion for the Union Pipes. There are numerous County Waterford place-names and connections throughout O'Farrell's volumes, suggesting that he was a native or resident of the county. The following is taken from John Edward Walsh's book Ireland Sixty Years Ago (1847, republished by M.H. Gill & Son Ltd., 1911) which originally appeared as a series of articles in the Dublin University Magazine. He has this to say about Crotty:

His den, still known as "Crotty's Hole," is on the south-eastern point of the Comeragh mountains, in the west of the county of Waterford. It is on an eminence commanding a view of the subjacent country, east and west, almost from Dungarvan to Carrick, and south, to Tramore. There is scarcely a place in Ireland commanding a more extensive view of high roads. The eminence is accessible from below with some difficulty, and the descent into "the hole" is very steep and precipitous.

The interior of this cave consists of one large chamber, from which branch off some smaller recesses. These were occupied by Crotty for sleeping and other domestic purposes; but tradition assigns to them a more horrible use. Crotty was reputed to be a cannibal, and he was believed to fill these recesses with stores of human flesh, on which he fed. Hence he was called the "Irish Sawny Bean," after the Highland robber of that name, who is said to have had a taste for the same diet. Crotty was a man of desperate courage and unequalled personal agility; often baffling pursuers even when mounted on fleet horses. His accomplice was a man named David Norris, who was superior to Crotty in ability and the cunning of his craft, though his inferior in strength and activity. Their depredations were usually designed by Norris, and entrusted to Crotty for execution; and Norris often stimulated Crotty to acts of violence and wanton cruelty, to which he would have been otherwise indisposed. Among other instances of their barbarity recorded by tradition is the following:- Passing one night by a cabin on the roadside, they saw a light in the window; on looking in, they perceived a man and his wife at their supper; the former of whom having peeled a potato, was raising it to his mouth. "Now, for any bet," said Crotty, "the ball in my pistol shall pass his lips before the potato." He fired, and the poor man fell dead, the ball having pierced his mouth while yet the potato was at his lips. Crotty was afterwards taken, having been disabled by a shot in the mouth, and the peasantry, to this day, affirm it was the judgment of heaven inflicted on him for this act of cruelty. Though well known personally to all the county, Crotty never hesitated to appear at fairs and markets, where he was generally well received. Like many other highwaymen, he was in the habit of sharing with the poor what he plundered from the rich; and thus acquired popularity sufficient to procure him immediate warning of any danger which might threaten him. He frequented the fair green of Kilmacthomas, and openly joined with the young men in hurling and foot-ball on Sunday evenings, danced with the girls at wakes and patterns, and familiarly entered respectable houses.

He once visited a widow lady, named Rogers, near Tramore, while she was entertaining a large company at dinner. The guests were terror-stricken when he stalked into the room and displayed his arms; but he calmly desired the servant to give him the plate on the side-board, and his directions being instantly complied with, he walked out without committing any further depredation. The servant was immediately charged with being his accomplice, and threatened with prosecution; whereupon he ran after Crotty, and implored him to restore the plate. Crotty complied, turned to the house, and handed back the property to Mrs. Rogers. She was profuse in her thanks, but he desired her to observe he was only lending the plate to her, and peremptorily demanded it back. She again surrendered it, and he said: "Now, madam, remember it was you, and not your servant, who gave this to me, and do not charge him with the loss." Such was the terror of his name that no attempt was made to pursue him.

Crotty's depredations becoming intolerable, and his retreat known, a gentleman, named Hearn, who lived within three miles of it, at length determined to capture him. Hearn was a man of uncommon strength and indomitable resolution. He bribed Norris's wife to give him notice when Crotty would be found "at home." She met Mr. Hearn one day on the road, and as she passed, said, slily, and without looking at him, "the bird's in the nest." He was unaccompanied, but, being well armed, he acted on the hint, and went directly to "the hole." He called Crotty by his Christian name, "William," and the robber, without suspicion, came up. The moment his head appeared, Mr. 'ream, knowing he must be well armed and his desperate character, fired at him, and wounded him severely in the mouth. He succeeded, however, in effecting his escape. Mr. Hearn determined still to watch him; and in a short time afterwards, received secret information from 'Norris's wife that Crotty was in Norris's house. He proceeded thither directly, well armed, and took Crotty by surprise, who was wholly unprepared, and imagined himself secure. The latter submitted to be arrested, without further resistance, saying, he long knew Mr. Hearn was the man who would take him.

As in many of his countrymen, the extremes of ferocity and kindly feeling were combined in Crotty. When Mr. Hearn was leading him away, he asked him why, as he lived so near, and had so frequent opportunities of taking his life, he had not done so. "I often intended it," said the malefactor; "and last Christmas I went to shoot you; but I saw through the parlour window you and your wife and children sitting so happily round the fire, that, though I had the pistol cocked and you covered, my heart failed me, and I could not draw the trigger. I often followed you, too, when you were fishing in the Clodagh; but your son was with you, and I felt sure if I killed you, he would shoot me, and I could not bring myself to take both your lives."

The gun with which Crotty was shot was preserved, and shown as a curiosity at Shanakill House, which was the residence of Mr. Hearn. It was labeled "Crotty's gun," and the interest attached to it proves how the service must have been estimated, in those days of imperfect police, of ridding the country of such a dreaded desperado.

At Crotty's trial, a woman, who lived with him as his wife, appeared in court, in a state of pregnancy usually exhibited by felons' female companions on such occasions; and when the jury returned a verdict of guilty, and the judge was beginuing to pass sentence, the criminal cried out, "A long day, my lord, a long day." "I see no reason for granting it," said the judge. "Oh, my lord," said the woman, "there is great reason, if it was only to let him see the face of his child;" and she stood up and exhibited her condition to the court.

The request was denied to the cruel felon, and he was executed next day. His wife appeared at his wake, and her lament is recorded in a popular dirge, which was often sung at wakes in the county of Tipperary. Subjoined will be found the score of this plaintive Irish melody, taken by a lady who often heard it sung by the peasantry. The two first verses of the song commonly appropriated to it are as follows:

"William Crotty I have often tould you,
That David Norris would come round to you. *
In Your bed, when you lay sleeping,
An leave me here in sorrow weeping,
Och-hone, oh!
"Oh, the judge but he was cruel,
Refused a long day to my jewel;
Sure I thought that you would, maybe,
See the face of your poo baby,
Och-hone, oh!"

  • Var. lect - "Have sould you." But the reading in the text is correct for the Irish peasantry never regarding the consonants in their rhymes.


Crotty was decapitated, according to his sentence, and his head was placed on a spike over the gate of the county gaol, which was at a great thoroughfare, and often a resting-place for those who brought milk to the markets. In a few days the head became in a state of putrid solution, and began to distil drops of gore into the milk-cans, for some time before it was discovered, to the inexpressible disgust and horror of all who had been drinking the milk. The hair did not decay with the flesh - it grew on the bony cranium; and there for a long time the ghastly skull of this miscreant excited as much horror after his death as his cruel actions had during his life.

When a criminal was executed for an offence for which his body was not liable to be given to the surgeons for dissection, his friends were allowed to take it. It was washed, and then laid on a truss of straw in a public street, with or without a head, and a plate was laid on the breast, with a halfpenny on it, as an invitation to passengers to contribute to the funeral. It formed sometimes a solemn spectacle, with the felon's widow at the head, wailing with dishevelled hair, and singing, in a low, dismal chant, her lament, her children ranged at the foot. But the utter indecency with which executions were then accompanied sometimes occasioned the most revolting and horrible scenes.

About the same time at which the abominable occurrence just mentioned of Crotty's head took place, three highwaymen, Stackpole, Cashman, and Hierly, were hanged in Waterford. Their bodies were given to their friends, and were brought to the fish-house to be washed. While in the act of being washed, the bell rung to intimate a fresh arrival of fish; the bodies were hastily removed from the boards which they occupied, and the fish were thrown down in their place, swimming in the loathsome washings and blood of the corpses. The latter were then exposed on straw in the street, and an elderly gentleman, who communicated the circumstance, was brought by his nurse to see them, as a sight worthy of contemplation. The belief was, that if the beholder did not touch the body he saw, the ghost of it would haunt him; so he was led up by his nurse for the purpose, and laid his 'lands on them one after the other. The cold, clammy feel and the ghastly spectacle never left his memory, but haunted him ever after.

Printed sources: O'Farrell (Pocket Companion, vol. IV), 1810; p. 79. O'Neill (Irish Minstrels and Musicians), 1913; p. 117.


X:1
T:Crotty's Lament [1]
M:C
L:1/8
R:Air
S:O'Farrell - Pocket Companion, vol. IV (1810)
Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion
K:G
GA | B2 AG G2 G>A | B2B2B2 AG | A2A2A2A2 | B2d2 !trill!e2d2 || B | 
d2 (ef) g2B2 | g2g2 f2 ed | e>fg>f e>dBA | GEGA B2 AG | E2 G>A G2 || 


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Engraver Valerio M. Pelliccioni