Bold Phelim Brady, the Bard of Armagh

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  • Teideal (Title): Bold Phelim Brady, the Bard of Armagh.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 781515.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): 2654.
  • 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): Cynthia Thiessen.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 07/03/1978.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): University of Washington, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): day class.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): Fredric Lieberman.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

Well now there was an Irish song, Bold Phelim Brady, the Bard of Armagh. Now, Bold Phelim Brady was the Archbishop of Armagh in the eighteenth century. And because of the bad laws, he had to dress himself up as a bard and go around with his harp, playing from door to door, to avoid the people who’d take the head off him. At that time, there was a big price on… Catholic priests; bishops would cost more, they got more of a bonus. And this was something like the way the song went:

Oh list to the lay of a poor Irish harper,
And scorn not the strains of his poor withered hands,
But remember his fingers, could once move more sharper,
As he played the tunes of his dear native land.

At a fair or a wake I would swing my shillelagh,
And trip through the fair with my brogues bound with straw.
There all the pretty colleens around me assembled
Loved bold Phelim Brady, the Bard of Armagh.

And when Sergeant Death in his cold arms embrace me,
Then lull me to sleep with old ‘Erin-go-Bragh,’
By the side of my Kathleen, my own wife, oh, place me,
Then forget Phelim Brady, the Bard of Armagh.


This rebel song is sung to the tune of ‘The Streets of Laredo’ (or, as Joe called it, ‘The Streets of Toledo’) with which it bears some thematic resemblance. It has been frequently recorded by modern folksingers. Both Margaret Barry and the Clancy Brothers performed it; and Tommy Makem at one stage even took to referring to himself as ‘The Bard of Armagh!’ Either of these may have been Joe’s source for the song (his version and Tommy Makem’s differ in much the same ways from the versions in printed sources) – or it may have been the other way around.

The song’s earliest documented occurrence is on a broadsheet in the Bodleian Library (Bodleian, Firth b.25(11), ‘The Bard of Armagh’, P. Brereton (Dublin), c.1867). The legend regarding the Archbishop of Armagh is generally cited as background to the song, although neither Joe nor any other source I’ve seen has sought to explain how a Catholic archibishop might have acquired a wife named Kathleen. Was she part of the disguise?

This song was recorded while Joe was Artist in Residence at University of Washington.