Na Buachaillí Bána (the White Boys)


O, Dennis Browne I’d happily shake your hand
And not for love of you, but a desire to capture you
I would tie you up with a hempen rope
And I’d put my spear in your big belly.

For ’tis many a good lad you sent abroad
Whose return is envisioned along with help
Wearing red uniforms and lace trimmed hats
And the French drums playing for them

O budding tree, if your flowers wither
My despair that your roots did not set
Because I despaired in the time of the French
And the foreign armies on all sides

What purpose this game till the Spaniard comes
And the parliament taken from the kings control
Here’s the play that would bring us satisfaction
The land will be clear to us at low rents.

When comes the season we will slaughter
We will kill two thousand one hundred cattle
The English bulls will have little to roar about
When comes the season if we are alive

There will be leather aplenty for Irish shoemakers
And we will not ask for a pair less than a crown
We will have shoes without God’s measure
And we’ll not eat a meal again without meat

Johnny Gibbons, I give you my best wishes
You are far away from me in Germany
It was your pure heart which was always joyful
On this hill above there is faint help.

It is being recited to us from the author’s mouth
That the sloop will be destroyed whose crew was not baptised
If you do not come to our relief in this time of hardship
Great will be our misery at the head of the glenn

Johnny Gibbons and our Father Mallory
They are being protected out in the bog
Thirst and dishonour and cold of the night
They have not even a drop or a dram to drink

This is not how they lived but in abundance
And curses to them who didn’t care for him
Great is my fear if Jesus does not have
Them in his displeasure, and more with them.

The world knows that I didn’t kill a sheep
In the night nor hamstring a cow
If from my poem we win the day
May we be satisfied in this cause yet

We present Camas to Father Mallory
And a place of plenty for his cow
And we never again shall be banished
Without food or shelter out on the bog

There is a crippled bullock on the mountain
And everyone says he will not live very long
Coronel Martin is in charge on that side
And I believe that he deserves it.

There are a hundred men who put the money together
Who did not cut muscle nor eat the meat
But, clann Mac Eochagan, if you are in Ireland
Don’t let the destruction come to Erris Mor


The original was written in Irish by Antaine Ó Raifteirí (1784-1835); the above translation is by Proinsias Osborne

Click here for the original Irish version

The Whiteboys (Buachaillí Bána) were a secret organisation in 18th-century Ireland which used violent tactics to defend tenant farmer land rights for subsistence farming. Their name derives from the white smocks the members wore in their nightly raids. They sought to address rack-rents, tithe collection, excessive priests’ dues, evictions and other oppressive acts. As a result, they targeted landlords and tithe collectors. Over time, Whiteboyism became a general term for rural violence connected to secret societies.

The Right Honorable Denis Browne was High Sheriff of County Mayo in 1798, known variously as ‘soap the rope’ and ‘Donncha an rópa’. He dealt savagely with those who had participated in the White Boys Uprising. It was estimated that Denis Browne had 200 men hanged, 200 transported and 100 more pressed into service in the British Army overseas or salt mines on the Continent. A reign of terror was instituted, during which summary execution was possible for trivial offences or none. It was said that for a period, he had a man hanged in Castlebar every day.

Song Clip