Kilkelly Ireland : Celtic Roses

Rich and I were always drawn to very sad songs.  We would spend time seeking them out and then I would learn the vocals and Rich would learn the guitar to accompany me.  Through this process he would learn the vocals too.

We were drawn to Kilkelly Ireland instantly.  The version sung by the Celtic Roses (link below), is our favourite recording of the song.  From researching the songs origins we found that in the 1970s or early 1980s, Peter Jones, an American-born composer whose great-grandfather was John Coyne from the general Kilkelly area, found a batch of old letters tied together in a box in the attic of his parents home in America.  These letters had all been posted in Kilkelly and as he poured through them he was overcome with the emotion which re-united him in an extraordinary way with the land of his forebearers.  The words in the song are taken directly from Mr. Coynes letters.

Rich and I performed this song many times, often at the restaurant or around the fireplace at Lake St Clair, Tasmania.  It was always very difficult to hold back the tears.


Kilkelly Ireland

Verse 1
Kilkelly, Ireland, eighteen-and-sixty
My dear and loving son John
Our good friend the schoolmaster Pat McNamara
Is so good as to write these words down
Your brothers have all gone to find work in England
The house is empty and sad
The crop of potatoes is sorely infected
A third to a half of them bad
Your sister Bridget and Patrick O’Donnell
Are going to be married in June
Your mother says not to work on the railroad
And be sure to come on home soon

Verse 2
Kilkelly, Ireland, eighteen-and-seventy
My dear and loving son John
Hello to your missus and to your four children
May they grow healthy and strong
Michael has got in a wee bit of trouble
I think he never will learn
Because of the dampness there’s no turf to speak of
And now we have nothing to burn
Bridget is happy you named the child for her
Although she has six of her own
You say you found work but you don’t say what kind
Or when you’ll be coming home

Verse 3
Kilkelly, Ireland, eighteen-and-eighty
Dear John and Michael, my sons
I’m sorry to give you this very bad news
Your dear old mother has gone
We buried her down at the church in Kilkelly
Your brothers and Bridget were there
You don’t have to worry, she died very quickly
Remember her in your prayers
But it’s good to hear that Michael’s returning
With money he’s sure to buy land
The crop is still poor and the people are selling
Any price that they can

Verse 4
Kilkelly, Ireland, eighteen-and-ninety
My dear and loving son John
I suppose I must be close on to eighty
It’s thirty years since you’ve gone
But because of all of the money you send me
I’m still living out on my own
Michael has built himself a fine house
And Bridget’s daughters are grown
Thank you for sending your family picture
They are lovely young women and men
And you say you might even get home for a visit
What joy to see you again

Verse 5
Kilkelly, Ireland, eighteen-and-ninety-two
Dear brother John
I’m sorry I didn’t write sooner to tell you
The Father passed on
He was living with Bridget, she says he was happy
And cheerful down to the end
You should have seen him play with the grandchildren
Of Pat McNamara our friend
We buried him alongside of Mother
Down at the Kilkelly churchyard
He was a strong and a feisty old man
Considering his life was so hard
And it’s funny, but he kept on talking about you
He called for you at the end
Oh John, why don’t you come home for a visit
We would all love to see you again

We would all love to see you again