The Croppy Boy

Violin And Bow Maker Michael Phoenix
Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

"The Croppy Boy" is a tragic old Irish folksong that was written by an Irish poet named William B. McBurney, who used the pseudonym Carroll Malone, in 1845. The song, a memorial of the Uprising of 1798, tells the story of a young man (a "croppy," as the young 1798 uprisers were called, due to their short-cropped hair) who, on his way to battle, stops in at a church to make a confession. He tells his story to the shrouded priest who is sitting in a chair.

After he's confessed his sins (and outed himself as a Rebel), the "priest" reveals himself to be an English soldier and arrests the young man and takes him away to be executed as a traitor. A quick language point: "buachaill" is Irish for "boy" or "lad."

Music

"The Croppy Boy" is set to an old Irish air called "Cailin Og a Stor," which is at least 500 years old. This air also provides the music for the folksong "Lady Franklin's Lament" (also known as "Lord Franklin" or "Sailor's Dream"), upon which Bob Dylan based his song "Bob Dylan's Dream."

Lyrics

Good men and true in this house who dwell
To a stranger buachaill I pray you tell
Is the Priest at home or may he be seen
I would speak a word with Father Green.

The youth has entered an empty hall
Where a lonely sound has his light footfall
And the gloomy chamber's cold and bare
With a vested Priest in a lonely chair.

The youth has knelt to tell his sins
"Nomine Dei," the youth begins
At "mea culpa," he beats his breast
Then in broken murmurs he speaks the rest.

"At the siege of Ross did my father fall
And at Gorey my loving brothers all
I alone am left to my name and race
I will go to Wexford to take their place."

"I cursed three times since last Easter day
And at Mass-time once I went to play
I passed the churchyard one day in haste
And forgot to pray for my Mother's rest."

"I bear no hate against living thing
But I love my country above my King
Now Father, bless me and let me go
To die, if God has ordained it so."

The Priest said naught, but a rustling noise
Made the youth look up in a wild surprise
The robes were off, and in scarlet there
Sat a yeoman captain with fiery glare.

With fiery glare and with fury hoarse
Instead of a blessing he breathed a curse
'Twas a good thought, boy, to come here and shrive
For one short hour is your time to live.

Upon yon river three tenders float
The Priest's on one, if he isn't shot
We hold this house for our Lord and King
And amen, I say, may all traitors swing.

At Geneva Barracks that young man died
And at Passage they have his body laid
Good people who live in peace and joy
Breathe a prayer, shed a tear for the Croppy Boy.

Recommended Recordings:

(Click the song title to sample an MP3 from Amazon.com)

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem - "The Croppy Boy"
The Wolfe Tones - "The Croppy Boy"
The Dubliners - "The Croppy Boy"