Thursday, January 9, 2003

Athy Ballads and Balladeers (Part Two)

Continuing in the ballad theme this week I reproduce two ballads, one of which is well known, even if it is not often heard to as good effect as one might hope when it is sung. The ballad “Tuberara” which opens with the lines :- “How oft have I stood on the Bridge of Athy And gazed on those waters that flow gently by” is an emigrant’s lament for his home town of Athy. Significantly the recurring reference throughout the ballad is to Tuberara Well, an indication perhaps of the importance of this ancient holy well in the lives of the people of south Kildare. Tuberara Pattern Day was celebrated each year on 24th June, the feast of St. John the Baptist. We are told that people came from far and near on that day to the holy well at Tuberara to drink the water, to pray and to dance. Quite obviously dancing in time became more important than the praying as the local Parish Priest found it necessary to put an end to the Tuberara Pattern day. This happened just before the Great Famine and the Pattern day was only recently revived and is now again part of the folk calendar of this area. In any event the emigrant who penned the lines of the ballad “Tuberara” gave pride of place to the holy well in his remembrances of Athy. Here is the ballad which Athy people of many generations have long regarded as the anthem of our town. “How oft have I stood on the Bridge of Athy and gazed on those waters, that flow gently by Oh! how sweetly, how neatly, how gently they go And it’s into the Barrow Tuberara’s well flows How oft have I drank out of Tuberara’s well They say in its water there is a great spell Where the sick and afflicted can cure all their woe And it’s into the Barrow Tuberara’s well flows How oft have I swam in the Barrow sweet tide And walked with my thoughts down by Lord’s island side And gazed at the waters so easy and slow And it’s into the Barrow Tuberara’s well flows So here’s to my home and my exquisite joy Once again will I stand on the Bridge of Athy and gaze at those waters so gentle below And it’s into the Barrow Tuberara’s well flows For my heart’s in old Ireland across the blue wave My heart’s in old Ireland the home of the brave ‘tis the home of the brave where the wild shamrock’s grow And it’s into the Barrow Tuberara’s well flows.” The second ballad is one which I have never heard being sung but the words of which I got from an old resident of the town many years ago. I believe it was composed by the late Paddy Behan of St. Joseph’s Terrace whose sons Peter, Michael, Paddy and John all attended the Christian Brothers School in Athy. Co-incidentally I got a letter during the past week from Paddy Behan who is now Professor of clinical neurology at the University of Glasgow. The ballad composed by Professor Paddy Behan’s father was called “The Crickeen”, the name used by the older generation of Athy people when referring to the remains of the 14th century stone church in St. Michael’s Cemetery. Here then is the late Paddy Behan’s ballad, Dear St. Michael’s what a lot you’ve seen of sorrow and of strive Tis many a sad tale you could tell If you could speak of life Within your walls the Mass was said For the people of the town While a peasant with a gun in hand Watched for the yeomens of the crown. He heard the horses coming And he dashed up to the door And warned the congregation Who fled onto the moors It was Cromwell and his henchmen The coward and evil swine That burned your roof St. Michael’s And smashed your altar shrine. And many a soul has gazed on you At the rising of the sun And many a soul was judged by God Before the suns task was done.” As this is the last Eye on the Past for 2002 I will take the opportunity of thanking all of those good and kind people who contacted me over the past year to share their experiences, their stories and their reminiscences of times past. I am always delighted to get your letters and phone calls. A special word of thanks to Thomas Hendy, now living in Kilmeague who originally came from Spring Lodge on the Carlow Road. Thomas has been a reader of this column since it started eleven years ago and he has written to me on several occasions, most recently last week with lots of information which I hope to utilise in the near future. Several people contacted me following last week’s question as to where you would find “the asses gallop”. Well its the short stretch below the dividing wall leading to the railway bridge which during the fairs of long ago was used for the purpose of “galloping” asses. I must say, I never saw an ass gallop, except perhaps the Spanish ass which regularly won the races run off in the field next to the Technical School in the 1950’s. Do you remember that? Happy Christmas to everyone.

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