O’Brien From Tipperary (1)

Play recording: O’Brien From Tipperary (1)

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  • Teideal (Title): O’Brien From Tipperary (1).
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 855405.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): 3105.
  • 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): Robin Hiteshew.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 12/11/1981.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): Philadelphia, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): oíche cois tine.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

…who came over to Philadelphia from Ireland, and he joined the North against South. Now some people forget that George Washington said, when he was crossing the Delaware, ‘One third of my army is Irish, and I wish the other two-thirds would believe it’. And… This is a song called O’Brien from Tipperary, and another song [that] will prove to you what real love can do. Anyway, this is the song:

O’Brien from Tipperary is the subject of my tale
Before the Civil War began to America he came
He was of good character, his spirits were light and free
And by a draft he joined the North against the enemy.

‘Twas on a Sunday morning the major he did swear,
‘You did insult a soldier all on the barrack square’
‘You may thank your daughter,’ said O’Brien, ‘or else I’d have your life!’
The major then a sword he drew, and thought to end his life.

O’Brien received a pistol with an eye both sharp and keen
Like a gallant soldier he quickly took his aim
In order to defend his life, he fired the fatal ball
He lodged it in the major’s breast, which made the tyrant fall.

As soon as the report was made, the guards all hemmed around
He was taken prisoner, in irons firmly bound
Court-martial on O’Brien was held immediately
He was sentenced to be shot, far from his friends and own country.

When O’Brien received his sentence, no fear of death did show
Into his execution he manfully did go
By a holy priest from Clonmel town he was prepared to die
For in hopes to get a pardon from the Lord who rules on high.

The coffin was got ready, he was ordered to kneel down
The sergeant with a handkerchief his eyes he firmly bound
The soldiers on the other hand all guns they did prepare
And many a soldier for O’Brien shed a silent tear.

They were ordered to fix bayonets, all ready for to fire
Before one trigger could be drawn the major’s daughter did appear
In a voice as loud as thunder, ‘Come set that prisoner free
For I have a letter of reprieve, he’s granted unto me.’

She quickly seized O’Brien and she took him by the hand
‘Rise up my bold Tipperary boy, you’re now at my command
It’s true I am in love with you, though you took my father’s life
He had vengeance sworn against you; I’d never be your wife.’

So now to conclude and finish and see what love can do
She is married to O’Brien, she is both loyal and true;
She saved him from the fatal ball, her one and only joy!
And now she’s in New York City with her bold Tipperary boy.


This is one of the songs Joe recorded for Ewan Mac Coll and Peggy Seeger in 1963, and which was eventually released on the CD The Road from Conamara in 2000. On that occasion, Joe told Mac Coll, ‘My father often said to me it’s the best song he ever sang’. It is also one in which he himself took an interest from a young age. He tells Lucy Simpson that he sang it, along with The Rocks of Bawn, at a neighbour’s wedding when he was only twelve (UW 853919); and he also sang it for Séamas Ennis when the latter was conducting field-work in Carna in 1942 (CBÉ 1280, pp 589–90).

In a conversation with Ken Goldstein, Joe speculates that there may be an additional verse or two at the beginning of this song that his father didn’t have (UW 903901). Confirming Joe’s observation, Tom Munnelly has pointed out that Joe’s version of this song leaves out a crucial verse that explains why the Major took against O’Brien:

In the Philadelphia regiment I mean to let you know
O’Brien many a battle fought against the southern foe
The Major’s daughter fell in love with him, as you may plainly see
And her father then he did resolve to prove his destiny.

In addition to The Road from Conamara, O’Brien from Tipperary also appears on two other commercial recordings; see under further study.