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The Rambler from Clare

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Colm O Lochlainn: More Irish Street Ballads

Sarah Anne O’Neill sang The Rambler from Clare on her and her brother George Hanna’s Topic album On the Shores of Lough Neagh.

This is Sarah Anne’s ‘base’ song, the one she uses to help her assess the mood of her audience and ‘sing herself in’. Almost every time I have heard her at a session it has been her first song. Many other singers do the same. She learned it in Belfast, while working as a waitress, from a colleague, a girl from Donegal County. The late Colm Ó Lochlainn printed it in More Irish Street Ballads, the words from ballad sheets, the air (substantially the same as this one) from tradition. He thought it was “a genuine United Irishmen ballad” and gives references. The United Irishmen were, at first, middle class debating societies in Belfast and Dublin dedicated to getting themselves and their fellow Presbyterians and Roman Catholics the vote, but within seven years had become a secret army part of which rose abortively in 1798. Although most place names are different in the ballad sheet versions I would like to think that this is a Tyrone song. There are even four places called Clare in the County—Clare Bridge, Clare Rock, and two townlands, Clare Upper and Clare Lower. ‘The Moy’ is a Tyrone village.

Danny Spooner sang The Rambler from Clare on his 1986 album I Got This One From…. This track was also included in 2007 on his compilation Years of Spooner. He noted:

I think The Rambler from Clare is one of the great Irish songs, yet surprisingly it is seldom heard around the clubs. Brian Mooney sang this for me when I first came to Melbourne in 1963 and it knocked me out—and still does.


Danny Spooner sings The Rambler from Clare

Well the first of my fortunes that ever was known,
I straight took my way to the County Tyrone
Where among the pretty fair maids they used me well there,
And they called me the stranger and the Rambler from Clare.

That’s when I enlisted in the town of Fermoy,
But with so many masters I could not comply;
I deserted next morning, the truth I declare,
And for Limerick Town went the Rambler from Clare.

I then took my way to the town of Tralee
Where I fell to courting sweet Sally McGee;
First I won her favour, then I left her there.
Now they too are searching for the Rambler from Clare.

But like a deserter my case I bewail.
I was captured and taken in the town of Rathkail,
Then to army headquarters I had to repair,
And in the black-hole lay the Rambler from Clare.

Well, I took off my cap and I made a low bow
In hopes that my colonel would pardon me now.
But the pardon he gave me was harsh and severe,
’Twas, “Bind him, confine him, he’s the Rambler from Clare.”

Oh, my poor aged mother the tears filled her eyes
And likewise my brothers, their shouts reached the skies;
But “Brave boys,” said my father, “Your arms now prepare
And bring home my darlin’ the Rambler from Clare.”

They assembled together in a harmonious throng
With their guns on their shoulders determined and strong.
Then their firing began, and I vow and declare,
They burst the jail doors and freed the Rambler from Clare.

We then marched along to the Barony of Forth
Where some of our heroes had camped long before;
We prepared to do battle, and the truth I declare,
Their chief commander was the Rambler from Clare.

But now I’ve the title of a United Man
So I cannot stay here in my own native land;
So off to Americay I must repair
And leave all my friends in the sweet County Clare.

Farewell to my comrades wherever ye be,
Likewise to my darlin’ sweet Sally McGee;
Our ship it is ready, the wind it blows fair.
“Oh, he’s gone, joy be with him, he’s the Rambler from Clare.”