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The Pursuit of Farmer Michael Hayes / The General Fox Chase
; Henry H183
; Ballad Index
John Lyons sang Farmer Michael Hayes in 1974 on his Topic album The May Morning Dew. A.L. Lloyd and Sandra Kerr commented in the sleeve notes:
The period 1850-70 was one of great unrest among Irish tenant farmers. Laws passed enabling landlords speedily to evict any tenants who fell behind with rents. Dispossession was often violent, leading to reprisals in the form of terroristic attacks on landlords and agents. In places, agrarian crime took on the aspect of guerrilla warfare. Against this background, the song of Michael Hayes was made. After being evicted from his farm, the enraged Hayes murdered the landlord’s agent Badel at Thurles, Co. Tipperary, and went on the run. Despite close pursuit, involving telegraph messages and mounting offers of reward, he managed to get to America, thumbing his nose to all his enemies.
John Lyons long had the words of the song, and eventually he recovered the tune (a fine one) from Willie Clancy.
Planxty sang The Pursuit of Farmer Michael Hayes on their 1979 album After the Break. Several Planxty live recordings from between 1979 and 1982 were released in 2016 on their DVD Between the Jigs and the Reels and in 2018 on their CD One Night in Bremen. They commented in their original album’s notes:
The Pursuit of Farmer Michael Hayes was learned from several sources: Christy heard versions of it sung by John Lyons, Tom Lenihan, and an unknown singer on Donnacha O Dulaing’s [radio programme] “Highways and Byways”. He received written versions from Mike Flynn and Seamus Mac Mathuna and there’s another in Zimmerman’s Songs of Irish Rebellion (Figgis, Dublin). The air is that of a song that Andy [Irvine] used to sing in early Planxty days. The words of that song were not to our taste but we were glad that the air fitted Michael Hayes so well.
Planxty sing The Pursuit of Farmer Michael Hayes
I am a bold undaunted fox that never yet was trapped or caught,
My rent-rates and taxes I was willin’ for to pay.
I made my name in fine good land between Tipperary and Knocklock
Where my forefathers lived and died three thousand years ago.
I lived as happy as King Saul and loved my neighbours one and all,
Had no animosity for either friend or foe.
Then I was of late betrayed by one who was a fool I know,
He told me I should leave the place and show my face no more.
The day that he evicted me, it’s then I knew that I should flee.
Late one night I took his life and left him lyin’ low.
He fell victim to a shot, his agency was soon forgot,
From that that day on they’re searchin’ for farmer Michael Hayes.
Soon there was a great lookout by land and sea myself to rout,
From Dublin Quay to Belfast along the ragin’ sea.
By telegraph they did insert a great reward for my arrest,
My figure size and form my name without mistake.
They broke their brogues a thousand pairs this great reward for to obtain,
Still their search was all in vain for farmer Michael Hayes.
They searched Tipperary o’er and o’er the cornfields near Galtymore,
They then went into Wexford town but did not long delay.
Through Ballyhale and Stranemore they searched the woods as they went on,
It’s they were hungry wet and cold before the break of day.
You may roam the world both far and near but never such a tale you’ll hear
Of a fox to get away so clear as I did from them hounds.
They searched the rocks, the gulfs, the quays, the ships, the liners in the bays,
The ferryboats and steamers as they were goin’ to sea.
Around the coast they made a steer from Poolbeg lighthouse to Cape Clear,
Killarney town and sweet Tralee they then crossed into Clare.
When they landed on the shore they searched Kilrush from tip to toe,
They searched the baths at sweet Lisdoon, likewise Miltown Malbay.
Galway bein’ a place of fame they thought ’twas there I might remain,
Still their search was all in vain for I gave them all leg bail.
They searched the train at Oranmore as she was leavin’ for Athlone,
Every wagon car and coach they met along the road.
Connemara bein’ remote they thought ’twas there I might resort,
As they were gettin’ weary they resolved to try Mayo.
In Ballaghaderreen they had to rest until the hounds they were refreshed
They then went on to Westport and searched it high and low.
Through Castlebar they made a trot when they heard I was in Castlerock
Still they were deluded where I lodged the night before.
In Swinford town as I lay down I heard a dreadful cry of hounds
Which filled me with the notion to retaliate my chase.
Bein’ weary from the road I took a drink at half past four
Which filled my heart with strength and speed when the hounds were gettin’ slow.
As the moon began to shine I thought I’d make a foreign clime,
Leave them all to search away for farmer Michael Hayes.
To Dublin town I made my way and then to Cobh and Americay;
Now I’m in the land of liberty, a fig for all my foes.