O'Byrne Files
Collection of
O'Byrne related Ballads


In 1580, at the pass of Glenmalure in Co. Wicklow, Feagh MacHugh O'Byrne overcame the forces of the Crown under Lord Grey de Wilton.  The victory is commemorated in the song 'Follow Me Up to Carlow' by P. J. McCall.

P. J. McCall was a Dublin-born merchant and poet (b. 1861), although many of his songs reflect an interest in his ancestors from the Carlow-Wexford region. He wrote many famous ballads, including "Boolavogue", "The Lowlands Low", "Kelly of Killaun" and "Haste to the Wedding"  He died at Sutton, Co. Dublin, in 1919. His song on Feagh, now known as "Follow me up to Carlow", was published in his Songs of Erinn (London & Dublin, 1909).



Lift MacCahir ogue your face
Brooding o'er the old disgrace
That black FitzWilliam stormed your place,
Drove you to the Fern!
Grey said victory was sure
Soon the Firebrand he'd secure;
Until he met at Glenmalure
Feagh MacHugh O'Byrne.

Curse and swear Lord Kildare!
Feagh will do what Feagh will dare
Now FitzWilliam, have a care
Fallen is your star, low
Up with halbert out with sword!
On we'll go for by the Lord!
Feagh MacHugh has given the word,
Follow me up to Carlow!

See the swords of Glen Imayle,
Flashing o'er the English Pale
See all the children of the Gael,
Beneath O'Byrne's banners
Rooster of the fighting stock,
Would you let a Saxon cock
Crow out upon an Irish rock,
Fly up and teach him manners.

Curse and swear Lord Kildare!
Feagh will do what Feagh will dare
Now FitzWilliam, have a care
Fallen is your star, low
Up with halbert out with sword!
On we'll go for by the Lord!
Feagh MacHugh has given the word,
Follow me up to Carlow!

From Tassagart to Clonmore,
There flows a stream of Saxon gore
Och, great is Rory Oge O'More,
At sending the loons to Hades.
White is sick and Lane is fled,
Now for black FitzWilliam's head
We'll send it over, dripping red,
To Queen Liza and the ladies.

Curse and swear Lord Kildare!
Feagh will do what Feagh will dare
Now FitzWilliam, have a care
Fallen is your star, low
Up with halbert out with sword!
On we'll go for by the Lord!
Feagh MacHugh has given the word,
Follow me up to Carlow!

NOTE: The Tune is a fast Irish march!  It was recorded by Planxty on their first album (1972) and by Noel McLoughlin


This was Lawson's 'translation' of Poem 35 in Leabhar Branach, which appeared in Hardiman's Irish Minstrelsy (1st edn., London, 1831). Rather than being a true translation, it is a version which has fewer stanzas and ignores many of the allusions to ancient Ireland found in the original. Although written in Feagh's time by Aonghus Dalaigh (of Pallis, Co. Wexford) it has more in common with the popular song metres of the seventeenth century rebel poetry than the syllabic metres of bardic verse. It was well-known to Irish nationalists of the nineteenth century and was also translated by Samuel Ferguson in H. H. Sparling (ed.) Irish Minstrelsy (London, 1888), pp 131-3.

God shield you, champions of the Gael,
Never may your foes prevail;
Never were ye known to yield,
Basely in the embattled field.

Generous youths, in glittering arms,
Rouse at glory's shrill alarms;
Fight for your green native hills,
And flowery banks of flowing rills.

Ireland, to avenge or save,
Many a conflict you must brave;
And on rough crags in storms and snows,
Snatch a short though sound repose.

Slow to wrest your father's land
From the foreign spoiler's hand;
You forget its fields of flowers,
Its stately palaces and towers.

Not for lack of heart or nerve,
Bloated foreigners we serve;
Would to heaven, united all,
we resolved to stand or fall.

Oh grief of heart! proscribed at home,
Dispersed, our chiefs and princes roam
Through gloomy glens and forests wild,
Hunted like wolves - banditti stiled.

While a rude remorseless horde,
O'er our lovely vallies lord;
Their vengeful hosts, who round us close,
Rob my long nights of sweet repose.

Nor till you prostrate them in gore,
Can rapture thrill my bosom's core;
Empurpled squadrons bright in arms,
Your perils rack me with alarms.

No less will glut their savage hate,
Than root and branch to extirpate:
God guide and guard you day and night,
And chiefly in the dreadful fight.

Forth warriors, forth, with heaven to speed,
Proud in your country's cause to bleed;
They best may hope the victor's wreath,
Whose watch word's "liberty or death."


Feagh seems to have been of great interest to nationalists in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The author of this song, Thomas D'Arcy McGee, was a Young Irelander who left Ireland after the rising of 1848. McGee was assassinated in Canada in 1868 after playing a major role in the foundation of the Dominion of Canada. This ballad first appeared in 1854 in The Nation and was republished in Celtic Irish Songs and Song-writers by C.M. Collins (London & Dublin, 1885), pp 222-223.

Feagh MacHugh of the mountain
Feagh MacHugh of the glen
Who has not heard of the Glenmalur chief,
And the feats of his hard-riding men?
Came you across from Carmen
Crossed you the plains from the west
No rhymer you met but could tell you,
Of Leinster men, who is the best.

Or seek you the Liffey or Dodder -
Ask in the bawns of the Pale -
Ask them whose cattle they fodder,
Who drinks without fee of their ale.
From Ardamine north to Kilmainham,
He rules, like a king, of few words,
And the Marchmen of seven score castles
Keep watch for the sheen of his swords.

The vales of Kilmantan are spacious -
The hills of Kilmantan are high -
But the horn of the Chieftain finds echoes,
From the water-side up to the sky.
The lakes of Kilmantan are gloomy,
Yet bright rivers stream from them all -
So dark is our Chieftain in battle,
So gay in the camp or the hall.

The plains of Clan Saxon are fertile,
Their Chiefs and their Tanists are brave,
But the first step they take o'er the border,
Just measures the length of a grave,
Thirty score of them forayed to Arklow,
Southampton and Essex their van -
Our Chief crossed their way, and he left of
Each score of them, living a man.

Oh, many the tales that they cherish,
In the glens of Kilmantan to-day!
And though church, rath, and native speech perish,
His glory's untouched by decay.
Feagh MacHugh of the mountain
Feagh MacHugh of the glen -
Who has not heard of the Glemnalur Chief,
And the feats of his hard-riding men?


M. J. McCann was a nineteenth century scholar, journalist and ballad-writer. He taught at St Jarlath's College in Tuam before moving on to London to become a journalist. He also wrote the famous song "O'Donnell Abu" and another called "The Battle of Rathdrum" on Phelim McHugh O'Byrne's victory over Sir Henry Harrington in 1599. The "Battle of Glenmalure" was published in Historical Ballad Poetry of Ireland, arranged by M. J. Brown (Dublin & Belfast, 1912), pp 95-98.

An autumn's sun is beaming on Dublin's castle towers,
Whose portals fast are pouring forth the Pale's embattled powers;
And on far Wicklow's hills they urge their firm and rapid way,
And well may proud Lord Grey exult to view their stern array.

For there was many a stately knight whose helm was rough with gold,
And spearman grim and musketeer, in Erin's wars grown old;
And on they speed for Glenmalure 'gainst daring Feach MacHugh,
Who lately with his mountain bands to that wild glen withdrew.

And now, above the rugged glen, their prancing steeds they rein,
While many an eager look along its mazy depths they strain,
But where's the martialled foe they seek - the camp or watch fires - where?
For save the eagle screaming high, no sign of life is there!

"Ho," cried the haughty Deputy, "my gallant friends, we're late
We rightly deemed the rebel foe would scarce our visit wait!
But onward lead the foot, Carew! perhaps in soothe 'twere well
That something of their flocks and herds our soldiery should tell.

"I've heard it is the traitors' wont in cave and swamp to hide
Whene'er they deem their force too weak the battle's brunt to bide;
So mark! Where'er a rebel lurks, arouse him in his lair
And death to him whose hand is known an Irish foe to spare."

And thus the veteran Cosby spoke:- "My lord, I've known for years
The hardihood and daring of those stalwart mountaineers;
And, trust me that our bravest would in yonder mountain pass
But little like the greeting of an Irish gallowglass.

" 'Tis true his brawny breast is not encased in tempered steel,
But sheer and heavy is the stroke his nervous arm can deal;
And, too, my lord, perhaps 'twere ill that here you first should learn
How truly like a mountain-cat is Erin's fearless kern."

"March," was the sole and stem reply; and as the leader spoke,
Horn and trump and thundering drum, a thousand echoes woke,
And, on, with martial tramp, the host all bright with glittering mail,
Wound, like a monstrous serpent, all along the gloomy vale.

But hark! what wild defiant yell the rocks and woods among
Has now so fierce from every side in thrilling echoes rung?
O'Byrne's well-known warrison! -and hark! along the dell,
With rapid and successive peal, the musket's deadly knell!

As wolves which in a narrow ring the hunter's band enclose,
So rush the baffled Saxons on the ambush of their foes;
And lo! from every craggy screen as 'twere instinct with life
Up spring the mountain warriors to meet the coming strife.

And tall amid their foremost band, his broadsword flashing bright,
The dreaded Feagh MacHugh is seen to cheer them to the fight.
And from the fiery chieftain's lips those words of vengeance passed,
"Behold the accursed Sassenach - remember Mullaghmast!

"Now, gallant clansmen, charge them home! Not oft ye hand to hand
In battle with your ruthless foes on terms so equal stand;
Ye meet not now in firm array the spearsman's serried ranks,
No whelming squadrons here can dash like whirlwinds on your flanks!

The keen and ponderous battle-axe with deadly force is plied'
And deep the mountain pike and skian in Saxon blood is dyed,
And many a polished corslet's pierced and many a helm is cleft
And few of all that proud array for shameful flight are left!

No time to breathe or rally them - so hotly are they pressed;
For thousand maddening memories fill each raging victor's breast,
And many a sire and brother's blood and many a sister's wrong
Were then avenged, dark Glenmalure, thy echoing vale along.

Carew and Audley deep had sworn the Irish foe to tame,
But thundering on their dying ear his shout of victory came;
And burns with shame De Grey's knit brow and throbs with rage his eye
To see his best in wildest rout from Erin's clansmen fly!

Ho! warder, for the deputy, fling wide thy fortress gate
Lo! Burgher proud and haughty dame, be these the bands ye wait,
Whose banners lost and broken spears and wounds and disarray
Proclaim their dire disgrace and loss in that fierce mountain fray?

O'Byrne Files Copyright 2002 N. O'Byrne Most recent revision: Thursday, 25 March 2004

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