EAMONN A CHNOIC
In the latter years of the 17th century and early years of the 18th century a Robin Hood type figure roamed the hills around West Tipperary and East Limerick. Edmond O'Ryan or Eamonn a Chnoic or Ned of the Hills was one of a small band of rapparees who championed the cause of the poor, the dispossessed natives and continually harassed the English planters. Many legends and tales are told of these men and their deeds have passed into the folklore of the area.
Edmond O'Ryan was born at Atshanbohy near Upperchurch sometime around 1670. His ancestors were extensive landowners, whose lands were confiscated after the Desmond Rebellion, one hundred years before. Now, rich planters from England owned the lands, and the Ryans remained on as tenants. This situation must have been totally unacceptable to a young lad, whose ancestors on his fathers side were the valiant clan of O'Riain, Chiefs of Kilnaloangarty, and on his mother's side the famous O'Dwyers of Kilnamanagh.
The young Eamonn was sent to France to be educated and study for the priesthood. However, he soon decided that this was not the life for him and returned to his native country. Soon after returning he was involved in a fracas with a tax collector who was making off with the only cow belonging to a poor widow who was a neighbour of Eamonn. Eamonn intervened and begged the tax collector to take some furniture or other items which the old lady could do without. It was all to no avail as the tax collector had his heart set on the cow. The two became embroiled in a brawl which ended in Eamonn shooting the tax collector dead. He was now forced to go on the run, hiding in the many woods of his native county, while a large reward was offered for his head.
When King James arrived in Ireland in 1689, Eamonn was among the many who readily joined his army in the mistaken belief that the Jacobite cause was the cause of Ireland. He fought at the Battle of the Boyne and at Aughrim before joining ranks with Sarsfield as he attacked the Williamite siege train bound for Limerick. Tradition has it that Eamonn was at the head of the flying column that attacked Williams train all along its journey from Cashel to Ballyneety.
After the Treaty of Limerick Sarsfield and his soldiers went to fight on the continent. However, Eamonn, like Galloping O'Hogan and many others, reverted to the woods and lived as outlaws and attacking the English in a type of guerilla warfare, in an attempt to drive the foreigners from their land. Many stories have survived to the present, telling the tales of how these men survived, how they robbed and plundered the new land owners, how they managed to evade the soldiers who were constantly searching for them and how they helped the poor and down-trodden in true Robin Hood fashion. We have no way of knowing how true many of these stories are.
Tradition is especially rich in the case of Eamonn. One story recounts, how, being short of money, he met a lady travelling and bade her "Stand and deliver". The lady burst into tears as she handed over her purse which contained £100. Her husband had left on business to England and this was all she possessed. Eamonn feeling sorry for her, handed back her purse, taking a half crown to tide him over. The lady was very grateful and on hearing that he was the outlaw Eamonn a Chonic, promised to ask her husband to use his influence to obtain a pardon for him.
A similar story concerns a poor man who lived near Borrisoleigh. Being appalled by the poverty of the man, Eamonn suggested that he should give information to the authorities concerning the whereabouts of Eamonn himself to obtain the £5 reward. At first the poor man objected strongly but after being assured that Eamonn knew what he was doing, he agreed. He told the military the spot in which they would find Eamonn and obtained his reward. Eamonn awaited the arrival of the troops in the pre-arranged spot, but had his escape well and truly planned. When the soldiers arrived, he surprised them, killing seven of them before he lost his pursuers in the hills.
Reuben Lee was a soldier in Cromwell's army, who remained behind and took to the hills with the outlaws. However, he hoarded up the money he stole unlike the others who divided it amongst the poor. Having amassed a considerable sum, he contacted the authorities and promised to hand over Eamonn in return for his own pardon. A deal was struck and Reuben arranged to have Eamonn at his house at a certain date. Eamonn arrived at the house accompanied by a man called Ryan who lived close by. As the three chatted by the fire, the Ryan man got suspicious of Lee and communicated this to Eamonn, in the Irish language which Lee did not understand. Eamonn kept a close eye on the window and spotting the soldiers coming down the land, he immediately jumped up, shot Lee through the heart and himself and his companion made a hasty escape.
There are many other such stories told of Eamonn, but in truth we really know very little about him. Apart from being an Officer in Sarsfield's Army and being an outlaw in the hills, we also know that he was a poet of considerable talent. His description of the life of an outlaw is contained in that famous Irish poem "Eamonn a Chnoic". Another poem attributed to him and similar in style to "Eamonn a Chnoic" is "Bean Dubh an Gleanna", a love song which may have been written to Mary Leahy, who is reputed to have married Eamonn.
It is also thought that Eamonn is the author of "Scan O'Duibhir a Ghleanna" a patriotic poem, encouraging young men to follow in the footstep of John O'Dwyer of Kilnamanagh in fighting for their land.
Much tradition also surrounds the death of Eamonn. According to the Cork Archealogical Journal, he was killed by a relative of his, O'Dwyer, in Hollyford. It seems that O'Dwyer gave refuge to the tired and hungry outlaw, and while he was sleeping cut his head off with a hatchet. He then placed the head in a sack and headed for Cashel where he hoped to get the reward. However, what O'Dwyer did not know was that Eamonn had been pardoned a short time before. On arrival at Cashel the head was placed on a spike over the gate of the jail. It was later taken down and given to Sadie, his sister, who had it buried at Curraheen near Hollyford. A skull was found at this site a few years ago and a memorial has been erected here. It is said that friends of Eamonn had taken his body from where O'Dwyer had dumped it and buried it in Doon graveyard. However this has never been verified.
"Ce he sin amuigh
A bhfuil faobhar ar a ghuth
Ag reabadh no dhorais dunta
Mise Eamonn an Chnoic
Ta baite fuar fluich
0 Shiorshuil Sleibhite's gleannta".
THE OUTLAW KIRBY
W.R. Le Fanu tells of a famous outlaw who lived in Abington in the early years of the 19th century. His name was Kirby and he was high on the wanted list of the constabulary, in connection with the shooting of a landlord near Nenagh as well as many other crimes against landlords in the area. These were the years of aggression and land unrest and often "hit-men" like Kirby were hired to kill landlords or their agents who were unpopular among their tenants. There was a substantial price on Kirby's head and the police were doing all in their power to apprehend him.
Kirby we are told was a great sportsman, and even with a price on his head, he was a regular attendant at many hunts, race meetings and coursing matches. The Rev. Coote, rector in Doon, met him at one coursing match and was much impressed by his manner, but later was taken aback to discover that he was the famous outlaw.
Kirby's mother lived with her daughter in a one roomed cottage in Abington. The outlaw often visited his mother, but rarely stayed the night. On one particular Sunday evening, having arrived at the cottage late, he was prevailed upon by his mother to stay until the following day. However, a neighbour had spotted him entering the cottage, and hoping to get the reward informed Major Yokes in Limerick of the fugitives whereabouts. Yokes had for long been on Kirby's trail and was determined to bring him to justice.
Meanwhile, the old lady's daughter had gone to a wake and stayed out all night. Kirby sat by the turf fire dozing with his pistols at the ready beside him. The old woman was in bed, when she heard the sound of soldiers approaching. She sprang up to see her son, grabbing his guns and making for the door. She called back with the following words: "Whist, you fool, Here be quick, put on Mary's cap, take your pistols with you, jump into bed and turn your face to the wall and lave the rest to me".
Kirby, realising that this was his best chance quickly obeyed and shortly there was loud knocking on the door. The old lady opened the door and in burst the red-coats. "Where's your son", they enquired of the woman. "Plaze God, he's far enough from ye", was the reply, "there's no one here only Mary and myself.
The soldiers fell for this ploy and marched sadly back to Limerick. After this close escape Kirby never spent another night in his mother's house.
However, Kirby's luck was soon to run out. While hiding in a farmer's house in Doon one night, he was startled to hear footsteps coming towards the house. Grabbing his guns he slipped quietly out the back door. The owner of the house was awakened by the sound of a gunshot. He went outside to find the outlaw lying dead on the grass, having been shot by his own gun. In his haste to get away he had tripped over some briars. As he fell his pistols discharged, he was shot through the heart and Major Yokes was deprived the opportunity of bringing him to justice.
Young Ned of the Hill
T. Woods and R. Kavana
Have you ever walked the lonesome hills and heard the curlew's cry
Or seen the raven, black as night, upon a windswept sky?
To walk the purple heather and hear the westwind cry.
To know that where the rapparee must die.
Since Cromwell pushed us westward to live our lowly lives,
There's some of us deemed to fight from Tipperary mountains high
Noble men with wills of iron, who are not afraid to die,
Who will fight with Gaelic honour held on high.
Of one such man I'd like to speak, a rapparee by name and deed
His family dispossessed and slaughtered, he swore to fight the British breed,
His name is known in song and story and his deeds are legend still,
I'll tell you now the sorry fate of Eamonn of the Hill.
You may rob our house and fortune, even drive us from the land,
But you'll never break our spirit, 'cos you'll never understand
The love of dear old Ireland, that will forge an iron will
As long as there are gallant men like Young Ned of the Hill.
A scourge to the redcoat soldiers with a price upon his head,
To tempt a weaker soul to tell where he kept his bed,
One night as he lay sleeping, his head beside his sword,
Murdered by his cousin Dwyer to claim a coward's reward,
The day after O'Dwyer had murdered Young Ned in his bed,
He went for his blood money but was jailed himself instead,
For poor Ned he had been pardoned the very day before,
And a noose upon the gallows was O'Dwyer's just reward.
A curse upon you Oliver Cromwell, you who raped our motherland,
I hope you're rotting down in hell for the horrors that you sent
To our misfortunate forefathers whom you robbed of their birthright
'To Hell or Connaught,' may you burn in hell tonight."
Eamonn A Chnoic (Ned of the Hill) is a very old air. The song in Irish originally told the story of Edmund Ryan of Tipperary. After the disastrous Treaty of Limerick of 1691, Ryan choose not to emigrate to France during the "Flight of the Wild Geese", but remain in Ireland conducting what would today be called a guerilla campaign. He was eventually betrayed and murdered. Some stories have it that the price on his head had been lifted weeks before his death.
As an air in the old style, Eamonn A Chnoic should be played very expressively. While it is notated above in 3/4 time, it is actually played "rubato". I strongly suggest that any who wish to perform this tune first find a recording or a performer who has this in their repertoire. If you can find a piper who plays this, all the better!