“Skibbereen”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1925 (Hayward-Ulster)
Keywords: Ireland rebellion hardtimes landlord exile starvation
Found in: Ireland Australia Canada(Ont) US(MW)

Description

A boy asks his father why he left Skibbereen when he is always speaking of it. The father lists reasons: First came the blight. Then the landlord took the land. Then he joined the 1848 rebellion, and had to flee. The boy promises revenge

Notes

The 1848 rebellion was the result of many factors. One was hunger -- the potato blight drove food prices beyond the reach of common people; in the end, millions died and many more went to America. For details, see the notes to "Over There (I - The Praties They Grow Small)."

Another was land hunger; the preceding decades had forced many Irish smallholders off their lands while allowing the rich (usually English) to enlarge their holdings. By the time of the blight, most Irish were working holdings of five acres or less; there simply wasn't enough land for the population.

The image of the landlord squeezing the tenants is also accurate. Though landlords in Ireland were always unusually ruthless, things got worse in the post-blight period. The landlords preferred raising stock, with a prospect for selling it, to helping peasants (who supplied only labor). The poor laws of the period helped them clear off the land: A peasant who appealed for food because his crops were taken by the blight automatically lost his lease. Between 1851 and 1857, the number of smallholdings in Ireland fell by about a sixth.

Finally, revolution was in the air; almost all of Europe (except England) was in turmoil.

Unfortunately for the rebels, the very factors that caused the revolt meant that it had no strength and could gain no foreign help. And England, with a stable government at home and all her enemies distracted, could deal with the rebellion at its leisure.

I don't know that it's significant that Skibbereen is described as the rebel's home place. But it's interesting, since Skibbereen was where O'Donovan Rossa founded the Phoeni National and Literary Society -- which, despite its name, was an armed rebel group -- though this was abouta decade after1848. (For this story, see Terry Golway, _For the Cause of Liberty_, p. 131. For Rossa, see the notes to "Rossa's Farewell to Erin.") - RBW

Historical references

Cross references

Recordings

References

  1. Hayward-Ulster, pp. 52-53, "Skibbereen" (1 text)
  2. PGalvin, p. 46, "Skibbereen" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Meredith/Covell/Brown, p. 163, "Skibbereen" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Dean, pp. 22-23, "Skibbereen" (1 text)
  5. DT, SKIBREEN*
  6. Roud #2312
  7. BI, PGa046