Ballad of Con Carey


Come all ye loyal heroes and listen to my lay
’tis all about Con Carey who was taken from the clay
The papers all, they had a ball and the guards made up a case
Not since the time of Lazarus did such a thing take place

At the tender age of sixty nine Con Carey’s final breath
Was drawn within a builing site upon his native heath
He fell to foul exposure as he homeward made his way
But alas the clothes he wore that night were only work-a-day

With these upon his unwashed frame, Con Carey was interred
And from the sealed-up ashen lips, no hostile word was heard
But round the grave, his comrades brave were conscious of his plight
And silently they did resolve to set the matter right

The sun was high in the mid-day sky when the cars drew to a halt
Out stepped the crew that then did view each mound and cross and vault
With eyes so keen, they swept the scene where the long green grass did wave
Until they found the latest mound that was Con Carey’s grave

This fearless troop of volunteers marched through the church-yard gate
With single aim it was their game Con’s corpse to decorate
They lay him down in habit brown without a scratch or tear
To shave his mien and make him clean for his trip to Peter’s chair

Yes, to shave his mien and to make him clean so that he’d be no disgrace
To Brosna gown of such great renown and to all the Irish race
So that Peter and Paul and the good saints all might take poor Con in toe
And that all cadavers from now on might be dressed before they go

Bury me dacent, Con once said to his comrades loyal and true
See that I’m shod for the road to God since I’d do the same for you
See that I’m dressed as good as the best but without a flounce or frill
Then lay me down in Mountcollins town where I’ve plenty of time to kill

When the deed was done, the guards came on and faced our gallant crew
Out spoke the chief grave-digger saying what were we to do
Could we look on and see poor Con in such a bad repose
And send him straight to Heaven’s gate dressed up in dirty clothes


Written by John B Keane to the air of ‘Skibbereen’

On Sunday 2nd April 1978, sixty-nine year old bachelor Con Carey was found dead in the village of Brosna, Co. Kerry. He was buried the following morning in the dirty clothes in which he had died. Neigbours and friends felt he had not been properly prepared for interment. The following day, 11 men and 1 woman exhumed Con from his 6ft grave; then cleaned, washed him, dressed and reburied him. They become known as the ‘Twelve Apostles’. A garda investigation followed but nobody was prosecuted. A podcast of the story of Con Carey and the Twelve Apostles by documentary maker, Mairead Heffernan can be streamed from RTE’s ‘Documentary on One’ archives.

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