Inishowen Song Project for Donegal Fleadh 2013

The Inishowen Song Project


The Inishowen Peninsula is renowned worldwide for its English language singing tradition.  Each year hundreds of visitors from Ireland, UK, Europe and USA come to Ballyliffin / Clonmany for a 4 day festival of traditional song.  Why do they come?  It’s because we still have a living singing tradition which is rich in songs, rich in style and which we openly want to share with others.  In the 1980s Jimmy McBride recognised the need to record and document this unique treasure trove.  He set about organising sessions, the annual singing weekend and most importantly, recording and video-ing a generation of singers, many of whom are no longer with us.  His collection is a store house of songs, of singers and is our Inishowen heritage.  What is now really wonderful is that all these recordings are now freely available online in the Inishowen Song Project.  The Inishowen Traditional Singers’ Circle, with funding from Inishowen Development Partnership, has partnered with the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin to make Jimmy’s sound recordings, videos, photographs and books available on their website.  You can listen/see 200 singers and choose from the 600 songs available – and when you choose we would like more than anything for you to learn and sing these songs.  A download button allows you to print the words straight from the site.  With the words in front of you and the singer to listen to, you can enter the rich world of Inishowen song.

Most of the singers recorded are from west Inishowen but the songs cover events and places right round the peninsula and beyond.  Many songs tell of the emigrant’s love of his/her  home place and sweethearts left behind  –  Sweet Isle of Doagh, Farewell Malin Head, Carndonagh Faraway, the Pride of Moville and Dark Inishowen.  Stories of shipwrecks like The Gallant Cambria, The Arranmore Disaster sit alongside the story of the Titanic.  But it’s not all sadness – the great sense of fun is found in the Catastrophe Song, John Boiler, the Accident Prone Mexican and the Old Bedford Van and many others.  All of life is represented in this collection – love, happiness & sadness, history & politics, emigration, murder, sea & land  –  stories tender and cruel that span life’s journey.  The singers learned songs locally, or while working away in Scotland or England learned new songs and brought them home …  The Banks of Sweet Dundee, the Cool Winding Banks of the Ayr, or the Fair Town of Greenock.  Songs were learned from 78s and the radio and are a reflection of interest in songs of all types not limited to ‘traditional’ – a song is chosen and survives in tradition if it’s a good song and people like to sing and hear it.  Modern songs like The Lightning Express, the Free State Adjudicator, and the Castle Queen have their place as well as the older ballads.

The songs are long, medium-sized or short, with and without choruses.  Airs range from slow and melodic to jaunty and rhythmical and delivered with strong and light voices – but each bringing their own style and interpretation of the songs.  What comes across in these recordings is the sense of fun and enjoyment that the singers & company shared when the songs were sung.

The Inishowen Song Project belongs to us all and no better respect can be given to the singers and songs than to learn them and sing them.  Each month our Singers’ Circle runs a session in Clonmany and we warmly welcome singers and listeners alike, and no standard is set.  We too want to have that enjoyment and craic that comes with singing and music shared.

To access the Inishowen Song Project visit and for details of events & activities of the Inishowen Traditional Singers’ Circle visit


Grace Toland, Inishowen Traditional Singers’ Circle



Inishowen Song Project


Sweet America

from the singing of Paddy Kelly (Barney Jack)



Now boys don’t be alarmed when I’ll bid yous all goodbye
Perhaps we might not see each other anymore
I am going to a foreign land my fortune for to try
I am going to a far-off distant shore

No longer I’ll stop working like a slave on Paddy’s land
For I can’t afford to work for such a pay
Oh with my bundle and shillelagh I’m for leaving Donegal
And I’m going out to sweet Americay

Farewell to dear old Ireland my friends and comrades all
No longer on this land I’m going to stay
With my bundle and shillelagh I’m for leaving Donegal
And I’m going out to sweet Americay

For when I am landed in the land to which I’m bound
A letter I will send across the sea
I will tell her that her darling boy has landed safe and sound
And is working out in sweet Americay

Farewell to dear old Ireland my friends and comrades all
No longer in this land I’m going to stay
With my bundle and shillelagh I’m leaving Donegal
And I’m going out to sweet Americay

Now boys be stopping talking when it’s time we were away
And the vessel she’ll be sailing round the quay
And before one hour passes let the wind blow high or low
I’ll be sailing out to sweet Americay

Farewell to dear old Ireland my friends and comrades all
No longer on this land I’m going to stay
With my bundle and shillelagh I am leaving Donegal
And I’m sailing out to sweet Americay

John Paul and Denis McGonigle

Dark Inishowen  

from the singing of Michael McGonigle (James Eoghain)


Ye lovers of beauty so fair and forlorn
So careless I wander so far from my home
I am off by the moonlight or the break of morning
I’ll be found in the mountains of dark Inishowen

I strayed ’round a place and they call it Clonmany
In search of a fair maid that I might adore
But a fair maid to love me I could not find any
From the Mindoran bridge to the Gap of Mamore

Adieu to the place where I once had a fair maid
No wonder when absent that I do make mourn
When I think of those green fields the haunts of that fair one
Sure I pine for my darling in dark Inishowen

At night when sleeping in my dreams I caress her
Sure I feel as happy as when I was home
When I speak to the vision that bids me caress her
To a bosom that’s pining in dark Inishowen

Well it’s now I am stationed in the County Fermanagh
Far away from that cottage that I call my own
And if I go back it will be for to wed her
And I’ll live with my darling in dark Inishowen

Well it’s many’s the day since I last saw her dwelling
When I think of that cabin I might never see no more
Sure I’ll walk round that wild bay where the wild seas are rolling
From the Tullagh’s black rocks to the gap of Mamore

The wreck of the gallant Cambria  

from the singing of Colm Toland


Ye Irish men both one and all wherever you may be
Rise up your hearts in sorrow and mourn along with me
It’s of our gallant Cambria that was sunk to rise no more
With a hundred and seventy nine on board bound for the Shamrock Shore

On the fourteenth of October last from New York we set sail
On board our gallant Cambria with a sweet and a pleasant gale
Each heart was glad no one was sad as our vessel she ploughed the foam
For we’d shortly embrace our loving friends down Erin’s lovely shore

Ten nights ten days we ploughed the sea no danger did we fear
Til at last all off our Irish coast which shortly did appear
Each man and boy did shout with joy our toil and our trouble’s o’er
For we’ll shortly embrace such loving friends down Erin’s lovely shore

Tis down below all hands did go to wait for the morning light
When a dreadful shock off Scullion Rock filled all our hearts with fright
The passengers all rushed on deck while the stormy seas did roar
And the women’s cries would rend the skies we’re going down to rise no more

‘Twas fore and aft her our seamen toiled while stormy rose the wind
When instantly four boats were hoist and launched all by her side
Her engine boom and engine room they were all both wrecked and tore
And there’s only the one survivor that ever reached the Shamrock Shore

Our good ship she was sinking fast not far off Malin Head
When the Reverend Father Brady knelt on her decks and prayed
He prayed that God who ruled the waves their lives to protect and save
But he and his faithful followers met with a watery grave

Armagh Tyrone and Derry and the county of Donegal
And Leitrim Down does lament full sore for her losses one and all
Sligo Mayo with grief and woe and Galway does deplore
The loss of our gallant Cambria that went down to rise no more


The Sweet Isle of Doagh

from the singing of Bridin Harkin

On the rim of the ocean near famed Malin Head

There’s a beautiful spot where I was born and bread

Where Strabreaghy’s proud waters does peacefully flow

Past the silvery shores of the sweet Isle of Doagh

Oh the big ships they sail from the east and the west

Can be easily seen from the Eden of rest

And the Donegal exiles who westward do go

Has the last loving glance of the sweet Isle of Doagh

How often I’ve tread o’er that sea beaten track

And I spy that fair Isle sure I long to be back

Where in sweet Lagahurry and Ballynaboe

I spent my young days in the sweet Isle of Doagh

Oh who has not heard of the great Pollan Strand

Where football and caman is much in demand

Where from Carn, Clonmany and Urris they go

 To play the boys from the sweet Isle of Doagh

For peace and for comfort and health giving air

I’m doubtful if Eden herself is more fair

And the hearts of the nation will melt like the snow

Of the strangers that visit the sweet Isle of Doagh

You may also like

Leave a comment