Tag Archives: Pitmen

REMEMBERING RODDY McCORLEY IN SONG

A short series exploring some of the figures from history immortalised in song and covered by all your favourite Folk and Celtic-Punk bands. You’ve sung the song but do you know the rich history behind the words? Today we celebrate Roddy McCorley, a young man executed back in 1800. He has been immortalised in both the written word and song and 200 + years after his death we are still here celebrating his life with the many versions of the great song written about him.  

The Rody McCorley Memorial, Toome. “I gcuimhne Ruairí Mhic Thoirealaigh, a chrochadh annseo as a bheith páirteach i nÉirigh-Amach 1798. Iad siúd a d’éag ar son na hÉireann go mairidh a gcliú go deo.” “In memory of Rody McCorley who was hung here for his part in the 1798 uprising. May the honour of those who died for Ireland last forever.”

Roddy McCorley was the son of a miller and was born near Toome in the parish of Duneane, Co Antrim. and was a participant in the 1798 rebellion led by the United Irishmen. A few years before the rebellion Roddy’s dad was executed for stealing sheep. These charges are believed to have been politically motivated in an attempt to remove a troublesome agitator at a time of great social unrest. Following his father’s execution, his family were evicted from their home. There is uncertainty as to whether McCorley was actually actively involved with the Presbyterian United Irishmen or the  Catholic Defenders.

(the version that brought the song back into Irish folklore)

After the rebellions defeat, he joined a notorious outlaw gang known as Archer’s Gang, made up of former rebels and led by Thomas Archer. Some of these men had been British soldiers (members of the Irish militia) who changed sides in the conflict, and as such were guilty of treason and thus exempt from the terms of amnesty offered to the rank and file of the United Irishmen. This meant that they were always on the run in an attempt to evade capture.

(The Dubliners version in their own inimitable style as sung by Ciaran Bourke) 

These were treacherous times and Roddy McCorley paid the price when betrayed by an informer he was arrested and tried by court martial in Ballymena on 20 February 1800. He was sentenced to be hanged “near the Bridge of Toome” in the parish of Duneane. His execution was carried out on 28 February 1800. His body was then dismembered and buried under the gallows, on the main Antrim to Derry road. A letter published in the Belfast Newsletter a few days after McCorley’s execution gave an account of the execution and how McCorley was viewed by some. In it he is called Roger McCorley, which may have been his proper Christian name.

“Upon Friday last, a most awful procession took place here, namely the execution of Roger McCorley who was lately convicted at a court-martial, to the place of execution, Toome Bridge, the unfortunate man having been born in that neighbourhood. As a warning to others, it is proper to observe that the whole of his life was devoted to disorderly proceedings of every kind, for many years past, scarcely a Quarter-sessions occurred but what the name of Roger McCorley appeared in a variety of criminal cases. His body was given up to dissection and afterwards buried under the gallows…thus of late we have got rid of six of those nefarious wretches who have kept this neighbourhood in the greatest misery for some time past, namely, Stewart, Dunn, Ryan, McCorley, Caskey and the notorious Dr. Linn. The noted Archer will soon be in our Guard-room.”

In 1852, McCorley’s nephew Hugh was foreman of the construction of a new bridge across the River Bann at Toome. Hugh recovered his uncle’s body and on 29 June 1852, buried him at Duneane parish graveyard.

(one of the best recorded versions of the song by American folk legends The Kingston Trio)

See the fleet foot host of men
That speed with faces wan,
From farmstead and from fishers cot
Along the banks of Bann,
They come with vengeance in their eyes
Too late too late are they.
For young Roddy McCorley goes to die
On the bridge of Toome today.

Up narrow street he steps
Smiling, proud and young.
About the hemp rope on his neck
The golden ringlets clung
There was never a tear in his blue eye,
Both sad and bright are they,
For young Roddy McCorley goes to die
On the bridge of Toome today.

When he last stepped up that street,
His shining pike in hand,
Behind him marched in grim array
A stalwart, earnest band.
For Antrim town, for Antrim town,
He led them to the fray,
And young Roddy McCorley goes to die
On the bridge of Toome today.

There was never a one of all your dead
More bravely fell in fray
Than he who marches to his fate
On the bridge of Toome today.
True to the last, true to the last,
He treads the upward way,
And young Roddy McCorley goes to die
On the bridge of Toome today.

Ethna Carbery

Roddy’s role in the 1798 rebellion was passed down by word of mouth and it was in a poem/song written 100 years after the rebellion by Ethna Carbery that he was claimed to have been one of the leaders at the Battle of Antrim. The song was published in 1904 two years after Ethna’s death as part of a collection of poems titled The Four Winds Of Erin. Despite this lack of evidence Roddy McCorley became a major figure in nationalist-republican martyrology due to this song. Recently evidence has been unearthed by historian Guy Beiner as to his involvement in the rebellion that had been hidden due to the change in the  Presbyterian faith from nationalist to unionist. 

(as with everything Irish music related their is always a link to the great Shane MacGowan)

The song was re-popularised in the 1950’s when it was recorded by giants of the Irish folk scene The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and The Dubliners. In the folk music revival of the 1960’s it was recorded by the The Kingston Trio and many more up until Shane MacGowan and The Popes recorded a version for The Snake in 1994 and it’s popularity has blossomed since then being recorded by several bands with in the Celtic-Punk scene with a knowledge of their history and roots.

(the latest version as recorded by Irish-American band The Templars of Doom on this years Hovels Of The Holy album)

The Roddy McCorley Society   Irish Music Daily  Irish Folk Songs

( there’s even a Psychobilly version from the great psycho German band Pitmen!)

  • If the tune is familiar but not the song that may be because the melody for Roddy McCorley was recycled in 1957 for the more familiar song ‘Sean South Of Garryowen’.
  • If you are even just the tiniest bit interested in Irish history and culture then it is essential that you subscribe to Stair na hÉireann/History of Ireland. An absolutely fantastic resource for all aspects of Irish history including the daily ‘What Happened On This Day’ and covering a wide range of Irish History, Irish language, Irish Diaspora, The Great Hunger, Arts & Music, Culture, Archaeology, Literature, Photography, Mythology & Folk Culture.
  • REMEMBERING HUGH THE GREAT O’NEILL IN SONG  here
  • REMEMBERING FIACH MacHUGH O’BYRNE IN SONG  here

ALBUM REVIEW: PITMEN- ‘Back To The Pit’ (2017)

 As we strive to introduce you to new music you must check out the German psychobilly band Pitmen. A real melting pot of influences. In amongst the classic psychobilly fare, you can also hear Irish folk with banjo and fiddle giving things a nice céilíbilly twist and all blended together in original Pitmen style!

When I was a young one the music that reverberated through my house growing up were the sound of Irish folk and American rockabilly. My Mammy was a bit of a one in her younger days and from photo’s I’ve seen had the most incredible beehive haircut and saw every decent band of her generation from The Kinks to the Rolling Stones to The Beatles and even Johnny Cash. So no surprise then that both me and the brother grew up with a love of both Irish folk and rock’n’roll and while he became a Goth and I found myself living off chips, lager and punk and living in a squat we never lost that love. So when this album from German band Pitmen landed on my doorstep I was well excited. All I knew of them was a live You tube video of the band performing an old Irish rebel song ‘Roddy McCorley’ at a Psychobilly festival and it stirred me enough to order their new album, Back To The Pit, that had just come out.

Pitmen were founded in the spring of 1995 and the following summer of 1996 they recorded a demo which led Crazy Love Records to release it as Pitmen’s debut EP Misfits. They followed this in 1997 with their debut album Listen To The Engine and in 2001 their follow up album Welcome To The Show. Then back in 2003 at the top of the game and headline appearances around Europe at all the major Psychobilly festivals they decided to take a break. The members of the band went on to form and join other bands of many different genres with front-man Christian even forming a Irish folk outfit called airím with Susanne Böhler. So it was after six years Pitmen began to rehearse again and the following year they played their first live show since 2003.

So it is that after a several-year recording hiatus, Pitmen are back and Back To The Pit is the result. Fourteen tracks of

“Equal parts psychobilly, folk from both sides of the Atlantic, hard-as-fuck neo rockabilly and Celtabilly”

as O’Prez of the Dublin based psychobilly Hellacious Harmonies, here, site called it.

Long time fans are sure to be joined by new recruits on hearing this album and Back to The Pit kicks off with some western style guitar that thundering double bass and Christian ‘s clear as a bell vocals for  ‘Always On The Run’. Great start to proceedings and from the very off you can tell this is an absolutely spotless production with the sound as perfect as it could possibly be. The music speeds up for the psychobilly anthem ‘Grab Life By the Balls’ but still sounds perfectly accessible.

‘You Are Not My Friend’ is next and even though the CD booklet is sparse to say the least it doesn’t matter too much as regards the lyrics as Christian’s vocals are very easy to understand. I guess that playing Irish folk songs has helped that and every now and then you can detect a slight Irish twang to his voice as in the catchy as hell ‘Fifteen Dead’ with its fantastic singalong chorus.

Now anyone with a slight interest in psychobilly will know that there is a zombie fixation throughout the scene and following song the rockin’ instrumental ‘Zombie Rumble’ keeps that going nicely. A right foot tapper and thigh-slapper which takes us nicely onto ‘Please Don’t Call Me Baby’, one of the album highlights which if it weren’t for the electric guitar harks back to the genre’s 50’s roots. The first sign of that Irish folk influence comes rolling in next with ‘Hot Rod Hotel’ which features the wonderful voice of Nina Heinrich on backing vocals and only whets the appetite for a bit more folk and a bit of her too. There’s more horror themed catchiness to follow in ‘Roadkill’ and they follow this up with the hilarious ‘You’re The Reason Mommy’s Drinks’ which is some sort of country-psychobilly mash up lullaby from a disappointed father to his stepchild! The banjo and fiddle are out and proud courtesy of Fran Urton on fiddle and Eduardo Ribeiro on banjo. Great sense of humour there lads. Love it. Next up now is the song I have been waiting for. With the Dropkick Murphys adopting of Finbar Furey’s legendary song ‘The Lonesome Boatman’ and their recording of it on this years new album 11 Short Stories Of Pain And Glory. I would even go so far to say it was the album highlight but how well would Pitmen stand up to it and would they be able to do it justice. Well I can report it is amazing. Simply amazing. It’s unlike any version you will have heard before I can guarantee and yet is still unmistakable. All the songs here are sang in English except for ‘Schnitzel mit Kartoffelsalat’ which is in German and from what I can gather a drinking song about a food fight! Singer and guitarist Christian has written the majority of the songs here albeit with help from both his wife and guitarist Holger so they take a break with a superb cover of The Animals ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’. Again its done in their own style and is yet unmistakable and as we near the end they follow it up with another cover, ‘Baltimore Fire’, of an old song about the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 which was originally recorded by Charlie Poole (1892-1931) and The North Carolina Ramblers. Nina Heinrich is back on backing vocals and you can find more of her great voice by checking out Christian and hers folk trio Sackville Street here. The fire raged for over thirty hours, spanning seventy city blocks, and destroying 1,545 buildings, doing an estimated $3.84 billion in damage in today’s money. A great choice of cover and shows the band know their onions and have plenty respect for the music that has influenced them. We are at the end of the album and another album highlight with the romantic ‘One More Day’. A real fifties feel here with the vocals accompanied by whistling, which you don’t hear much these days. The banjo is back and a really outstanding way to bring down the curtain on Back In The Pit.

Christian

So sixteen years on from their last album Pitmen are back with an almighty bang and I was gutted to find out that they played here only last month at the famed Bedlam Breakout festival where they went down a storm. Now as much as I love psychobilly it has to be said, and the same too could be said about celtic-punk, that many bands do sound the same so when you do hear something that you can say is unique its worth taking notice of. Twenty-two years on from getting together in their working class coal-mining home town of Essen Pitmen are still bringing something to the table that no other psychobilly bands can manage. This is a fine album of mainly foot stompin’ originals and a selection of instrumentals and covers that just enhance what they do. Be sure to keep an eye on Pitmen as they will be featured here again soon!!

Buy Back To The Pit

JungleRecords  CrazyLoveRecords  iTunes

Contact the Pitmen

WebSite  Facebook  Wikipedia

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