Tuesday 31 January 2012

The Woods Of Trugh

Walking home the other evening after work I found myself humming an old song, a traditional Irish ballad that I hadn't thought about in decades. Even more remarkably, with a few hesitations and a little searching through my mind, I found I had the whole song. It's now been following me around for a couple of days.

Usually with traditional ballads it's impossible to know when they were written or whether the events actually took place. In this case a little judicious Googling will tell you that the events almost certainly happened much as the song reports them. The song was composed in 1646, probably in late summer or early autumn. I wouldn't mind betting that it was first performed at a wedding later that year and that the composer was the harper employed by one MacMahon of County Monaghan in Northern Ireland. How can I be so certain? The lyrics give all the clues:

The Woods Of Trugh

Out from the shady Woods of Trugh M'Kenna rides at noon,
The sun shone brightly, not a cloud darkened the sky of June,
No eye had he for nature's charms, they don't annoy his brain
As by flowery hills he makes his way and never drew a rein.

Until before him stands the tall grey tower of Glaslough Castle old
That bears a treasure in its walls more dear to him than gold,
For in it dwells his fair young love, the dark-eyed young Maureen,
Who yet, he hopes, may bless his home in the Woods of Trugh so green.

"I have come," he cried, "to see you, love, for tomorrow I must go
With my bold troopmen to Benburb, there to defend Owen Roe.
"I've come," he cried, "to see you, love, and to hear your accent sweet
Lest I might in that battle fall and we might never meet."

"Go forth, my love, my blessings, go and smite the Saxon horde,
When you return I'll be your bride without another word."
With a fond embrace they bid adieu as the evening sun went down
Behind yon western wooded hill that o'erlooks Glaslough town.

M'Kenna lightly mounts his steed at the twilight of the day,
Over Dasser Hill to Trugh's green woods he quickly makes his way;
That night he'll lead his valiant men o'er the dark hills of Tyrone
For to meet the army of the North at Benburb on the Roan.

Right well O'Neill was pleased to see these gallant mountaineers,
Who had held the Saxon wolves at bay in ancient Trugh for years,
And well they fought on Benburb's plain as the English flag went down,
And few that night escaped them toward Carrickfergus town.

It was in the autumn of the year with the berries ripe and red
M'Kenna and his fair young love in Glaslough church were wed
And never in her father's hall a fairer bride was seen
Than MacMahon's only daughter dear, the dark-eye young Maureen.

Now isn't that a nice old song?

Take care.


  1. ...it is a sweet song, and wonderful how the memory-box holds onto all those words; you just slipped it back into re-wind there somewhere? So much meaning inside that song, and in today's world, it's there you can just go Google for the background; amazing. You have to wonder of a few more generations down the track; what might they make of today's lyrics?

  2. Easy to see how such a ballad can become an "ear worm." I'd love to hear it sung.

  3. Yes, it is... I'll have to see if I can find someplace on the 'net' to listen to the tune...

  4. Yes, it is a nice old song, John. Well done you for remembering it all after all this time.

  5. love the old folk songs--sentimental me was hoping he made it back to marry--so many of those have a sad ending--I would like to hear it, too.

  6. I get odd songs in my head too, but not as beautiful as this one.

  7. A beautiful song John .... with a happy ending.

  8. This is a way better song than the one's usually stuck in my head :^)

  9. Well I am hugely impressed John, that is quite a ballad to recall from memory, but I'm glad you did, enjoyed it a lot and always love a happy ending (well it was for some anyway!!)

  10. Thank you for your comments.
    I think that the words stand up well as a poem. This is hardly surprising as the bards of Ireland may well have recited the words to the accompaniment of a melody played on the harp; the evidence for this is apparently that several of the melodies attached to such ballads have such a huge range that few people would have been capable of singing them - and certainly not yours truly!
    The Battle of Benburb was fought on 4th June, 1646, during the Eleven Years War which followed the Irish Uprising of 1641. The Irish were led by Owen Roe O'Neill (Eoghain Rua O Neill) and routed the army of General Monroe. Over 3,000 were slain on the day - which the song dismisses in a mere two lines! The M'Kennas and MacMahons from County Monaghan were powerful families so any wedding between the two clans would have been a huge celebration.

  11. So refreshing to have the young lovers wed by the last verse of the ballad--it didn't often happen that was in story and song, likely not in real life. Reading through the poem I can't 'hear' it to any of the old folk tunes I know.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'll try to answer any questions via a comment or e-mail within the next day or two (no hard questions, please!).