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Monday, March 16, 2015

For St Patrick's Day: The Legend of Páid O’Donoghue, Ireland's Farrier Hero


St Patrick's Day is a day to tell stories and have some fun. While you might not be able to recite the lyrics to this Irish ballad, you can certainly tell the story and entertain some people. Paid O'Donoghue was just one of many Irish farrier heroes, but his story isn't told often. Or maybe no one can remember all the words to his song!

It's a long one, but a great story lies within these lines!


The song refers to the year 1798, when tensions between the British and Irish were high. The Irish, like the French, had been inspired by the success of the American Revolution. To the Irish, the British were now seen as defeatable.

In the verse, the "Yeos" were the Yeomanry, a local-based unit of either Irish loyalists or actual British troops sent to Ireland to keep the peace. The Hessians were basically German mercenary troops; they have also helped the British in America.

A civil war raged in Ireland, in spite of martial law imposed by the British. Thousands of people, perhaps as many as 30,000, were killed in a few short months in 1798.

The song tells of patriot Páid O’Donoghue, a young smith in County Meath. He helped the Irish side by forging pikeheads from iron; a pikehead was the business end of a pike, a long lance or spear. The pikehead might have an ax head on it; many in museums also had a hook that looks like a modern boat hook; a rebel reach out and hook a horse's reins as it passed and unseat the rider with his pike.

Páid would probably be called Paddy or Pat today, and all are short for Padraig. Technically, today is St. Padraig's Day. "Patrick" is the English version of the name.

The British banned the very existence of pikes and obviously anyone caught forging a pikehead would be in a lot of trouble.

As of 1956, the forge was still standing. It is in Curraha, County Meath.

That's the background, here's the legend:


This Paid O'Donoghue Memorial was dedicated in Curraha, County Meath in 1998, 200 years after the rebellion. What you can't see are the details of the shoe, which paid special attention to the toe calk and nail heads.

Páid O’Donoghue

The Yeos were in Dunshaughlin,
And the Hessians in Dunreagh,
And spread thro’ fair Moynalty
Were the Fencibles of Reagh,
While Roden’s godless troopers ranged
From Skreen to Mullachoo,
When hammered were the pikeheads
First by Páid O’Donoghue.

2. Young Páid, he was as brave a boy
As ever hammer swung,
And the finest hurler that you’d ever find
The lads of Meath among;
And when the wrestling match was o’er
No man could boast he threw
The dark-haired smith of Curroghá,
Young Páid O’Donoghue.

3. So Pádraig lived a happy life
And gaily sang each day
Beside his ringing anvil
Some sweet old Irish lay,
Or roamed light-heartedly at eve
Thro’ the woods of lone Kilbrue,
With her who’d given her pure heart’s love
To Páid O’Donoghue.

4. But Ninety-Eight’s dark season came
And Irish hearts were sore;
The pitch-cap and triangle
The patient folk outwore;
The blacksmith thought of Ireland
And found he’d work to do:
"I’ll forge some steel for freedom,"
Said Páid O’Donoghue.

5. Tho’ the Yeos were in Dunshaughlin
And the Hessians in Dunreagh,
Tho’ spread thro’ fair Moynalty
Were the Fencibles of Reagh;
Tho’ Roden’s godless troopers ranged
From Skreen to Mullachoo,
The pike-heads keen were hammered out
By Páid O’Donoghue.

6. And so in Curroghá each night
Was heard the anvil’s ring,
While scouting on the roadways
Were Hugh and Phelim King,
With Gillic’s Mat, and Duffy’s Pat,
And Mickey Gilsenan, too,
While in the forge for Ireland
Worked young Páid O’Donoghue.

7. But a traitor crept amongst them,
And the secret soon was sold
To the captain of the Yeomen
For the ready Saxon gold;
And a troop burst out one evening
From the woods of dark Kilbrue,
And soon a rebel prisoner bound
Was Páid O’Donoghue.

8. Now Pádraig Óg pray fervently,
Your earthly course has run;
The captain he has sworn
You’ll not see the morrow’s sun.
The muskets they are ready,
And each yeoman’s aim is true;
Death stands beside thy shoulder,
Young Páid O’Donoghue.

9. "Down on your knees, you rebel dog,"
The yeoman captain roared,
As high above his helmet’s crest
He waved his gleaming sword.
"Down on your knees to meet you doom,
Such is the rebel’s due;"
But straight as pike shaft ‘fore him
Stood bold Páid O’Donoghue.

10. And there upon the roadway
Where in childhood he had played,
Before the cruel yeoman
He stood quite undismayed
"I kneel but to my God above,
I ne’er shall bow to you;
You can shoot me as I’m standing,"
Said Páid O’Donoghue.

11. The captain gazed in wonder,
Then lowered his keen edged blade,
"A rebel bold as this," he said
"tis fitting to degrade.
Here men!" he cried, "unbind him,
My charger needs a shoe;
The King shall have a workman
In this Páid O’Donoghue."

12. Now to the forge young Páid has gone,
The yeomen guard the door,
And soon the ponderous bellows
Is heard to snort and roar;
The captain stands with reins in hand
While Pádraig fits the shoe,
And when ‘tis on full short the shrift
He’ll give O’Donoghue.

13. The last strong nail is firmly clenched,
The captain’s horse is shod!
Now rebel bold thine hour hath come,
Prepare to meet thy God!
But why holds he the horse’s hoof
There’s no more work to do?
Why clenches he his hammer so,
Young Páid O’Donoghue?

14. A leap! a roar! a smothered groan!
The captain drops the rein,
And sinks to earth with hammer-head
Sunk deeply in his brain;
And lightly in the saddle
Fast racing towards Kilbrue
Upon the captain’s charger
Sits Páid O’Donoghue.

15. A volley from the pistols,
A rush of horses’ feet
He’s gone! and none can capture
The captain’s charger fleet;
And on the night wind backwards
Comes a mocking loud "Halloo!"
That tells the yeomen they have lost
Young Páid O’Donoghue.

16. Young Páid fought at Tara,
You know the nation’s tale;
Though borne down in that struggle,
Not hopeless is the Gael,
For still in Meath’s fair county,
There are brave lads – not a few
Who would follow in the footsteps
Of bold Páid O’Donoghue.



To learn more:

Read the National Graves Association (Ireland) story of how Curraha built the memorial.

Lyrics from Patrick Archer's original poem courtesy of Musicnet.


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