History and Lyrics:
"Dear Old Skibbereen" is a traditional Irish folk song written sometime after the potato blight and Great Irish Famine of the 1840s and the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. The story is told as a conversation between father and son, with the father explaining why he left his beautiful home in Skibbereen, a village in County Cork.
The song has been collected by folklorists both in Ireland and in Irish communities in the United States, and has been recorded by many popular Irish artists. It also featured in the film Michael Collins, where it was sung by the title character, played by Liam Neeson.
Vocabulary note: a cothamore is a large overcoat, from the Irish cota more, "big coat."
O Father dear, I often hear you speak of Erin's Isle
Her lofty scenes, her valleys green, her mountains rude and wild
They say it is a lovely land wherein a prince might dwell
Oh why did you abandon it? The reason, to me tell.
O son, I loved my native land with energy and pride
'Til a blight came o'er my crops, my sheep and cattle died
My rent and taxes were too high, I could not them redeem
And that's the cruel reason that I left old Skibbereen.
O well do I remember the bleak December day
The landlord and the sheriff came to drive us all away
They set my roof on fire with cursed English spleen
And that's another reason that I left old Skibbereen.
Your mother too, God rest her soul, fell on the snowy ground
She fainted in her anguish, seeing the desolation round
She never rose, but passed away from life to mortal dream
And found a quiet grave, my boy, in dear old Skibbereen.
And you were only two years old and feeble was your frame
I could not leave you with my friends, you bore your father's name
I wrapped you in my cothamore at the dead of night unseen
I heaved a sigh and bade good-bye to dear old Skibbereen.
O Father dear, the day may come when in answer to the call
Each Irishman, with feeling stern, will rally one and all
I'll be the man to lead the van beneath the flag of green
When loud and high, we'll raise the cry: "Remember Skibbereen!"