John Mitchel

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  • Teideal (Title): John Mitchel.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 844003.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): 5163.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): none.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): English.
  • Catagóir (Category): song.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): Susan Auerbach.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 1982.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): unavailable.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): private.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

I am a true-born Irishman, John Mitchel is my name
And for to join my country boys, from Newry town I came
I struggled hard both day and night to free my native land
For which I was transported into Van Dieman’s land.

When first to join my country boys, it was in ’42
And what did follow after, I now will tell to you
We raised the standard of Repeal, I gloried in the deed
I vowed to heaven I ne’er would rest, till old Ireland would be free.

While in my prison cell I lay, before my trail began
My darling wife came up to me; she said to me, ‘Dear John,
Oh husband, dear, cheer up your heart, undaunted never be
It’s better to die for Ireland than live in slavery.’

Said I, ‘My darling girl, it grieves me to part from you
Likewise my young and tender babes, alas, what will they do?
Likewise my friends and relatives, who will mourn my sad downfall;
To part from you, my native land, it grieves me more than all.’

I was placed aboard a convict ship, without the least delay
From Erin’s isle our barque was steered, I’ll never forget the day
And as I stood upon the deck to take a farewell view
I shed a tear, but not through fear – ‘Twas my native land, for you.


John Mitchel (1815-1875) was an historical figure. Following a long career as a journalist with The Nation, he became a founder of The United Irishman in 1848. Later that same year, Mitchel was tried for sedition, convicted, and subsequently transported first to Bermuda and afterwards to Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania), where he wrote his Jail Journal, one of the most influential writings of Irish nationalism.

When interviewing Joe Heaney in London in 1963, Ewan Mac Coll asked him about this song. (The recordings Mac Coll made at that time subsequently provided the material for the double CD, The Road From Conamara, although ‘John Mitchel’ was not included on that recording.) This transcription is taken from the electronically-published transcript of the Mac Coll-Seeger interviews.

EM: Now, Joe, how about a Fenian song in English.

JH: There’s a lot of them, but my favourite one is John Mitchel. He was a journalist on the United Irishman and incidentally he was a minister’s son and his father and mother wanted him to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a minister. But no, the call of Ireland went to his blood and, er, I don’t like people, there’s some people say that only Catholics died for Ireland, but that’s all wrong. So anybody who says that all the men who died for Ireland were Catholics is all wrong. Every creed and religion died for love of Ireland.

EM: So this wasn’t a religious thing, this was a national thing?

JH: It wasn’t a religious thing because the first president of the Republic of Ireland was a Protestant. So that killed that slogan and I don’t like people to say that. You can be a good Irishman whatever you are. A man dies for his country whatever belief he has. You can love your country before you love anything else.

EM: Okay, then, let’s have John Mitchel.

JH: And that was one of the men who was sent to Van Diemen’s Land, of course. And Van Diemen’s Land was – sure if you only stole a sheep you were sent to Van Diemen’s Land, at that time in Ireland. And if you loved your country, no persecution was good enough for you. So he was one man who defied them – he was a journalist at the United Irishman, that paper that was printed under the counter. And he gave it all up for the love of Ireland.