The Cursed Kerryman

Nowadays you are likely to hear this sung as a dreary love song, only two verses being sung. There are at least 8 verses in the original, and it can hardly be described as a love song. It is a vigorous ballad of seduction, deception and fraud. It tells the story of a jovial spalpeen (migrant worker) from Kerry seducing a wealthy spinster in the luscious County of Kilkenny and conning her out of her money. Sing it with vigour, laughing rakishly when singing his words, and with hope, anger and despair (in that order)when singing hers (for the song alternates between words spoken by the two subjects, his words here indicated in italics and hers in normal script).

In the original, the theme slowly emerges as you follow the cleverly constructed and somewhat oblique dialogue from verse to verse. I have abandoned that sublety in translation (to cater more closely to the impatient audiences of today) and reduced the whole story to four verses. The song was well known throughout Munster, and previous generations could appreciate the subtleties of the original, even where only a single verse was sung, because of their advance familiarity with the theme.

Get the air from Seamus Begley: on YouTube, but remember you can sing it with greater vigour, given you are telling a roguish tale, not singing a sad love song. Alternatively, get the air from the following filmm of Mickey Dunne playing the tune beautifully on the pipes (but not matching the words perfectly):

A fine stately woman, with money a’ plenty

I met, drinking beer, in the County Kilkenny.

Oro, I spun her strange yarns.

She had acres of land; she had wheat oats and barley,

But never a fella that she could call darling,

Oro, till she fell to my charms.

“O Mary, I’m surely engaged by your beauty;

You’ve captured my heart, for I do love you truly.

Come away with me now for a life of adventure,

Of music and dancing, of sport and of pleasure,

Oro, and leave your hard farm.”

“Well, I’d go with you surely, away from this country;

My farm and my stock I’d convert into money,

Oro, if I thought you were true.

But you’re with me today, here, drinking and laughing;

Tomorrow another fine lass you’ll be charming,

Oro, with your songs and your flute.”

“Ara, Mary, my darling, my heart it is melting;

It’s no lie at all, but the truth I am telling.

No other woman my heart has so captured,

Nor filled up my soul with such ecstatic rapture;

Oro, till death I am yours.”

So, Mary, the darling, she sold all her goods then,

And with head full of dreams she surrendered her money,

Oro, into my care.

She packed her wee bag, and closed up her house then,

And waited, and waited, for me to come round then.

Oro, I abandoned her there.

“O, rise up, my cousins, and rise up, my neighbours,

He’s lured me, seduced me, my money he’s taken;

Search ye the valleys and search ye the mountains

For the cursed Kerry-man who has been my downfall,

Oro, and my cupboard is bare.”

“If I follow you hard, as far as Carbury,

I’ll go out of my mind if you do not come back with me,

Oro, I’ll be shedding salt tears.

You’ve taken my heart, my soul and my body;

You’ve taken my worldly goods, all my money,

Oro, the hard work of years.

I’m left here forlorn without two coins to jingle,

While you drink your fill in some shebeen in Dingle.

You promised me living and loving and leisure,

And dancing the long dance with you measure for measure,

Oro, and you left me to grieve.”

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