Johnny Seoighe

Tomás Shiúnach
Language: Irish

List of versions

Nowhere is this criticism more bitterly expressed than in ‘Johnny Seoighe’, a satirical song in the refined allusive poetic tradition of Ireland, which can only be fully understood if one hears the accompanying scéal, the story traditionally told by the singer before singing: on Christmas Eve, the author (probably Tomás Shiúnach from Carna, in Connemara) and his family walked all the way to the workhouse only to find they couldn’t be accepted there for lack of space. They then asked the famine relief officer, Johnny Joyce (Seoighe, in Irish), for help and food, which was denied, and his wife and children subsequently died on the way back home from hunger and exhaustion. One can hardly imagine the grief that led to those subtly sarcastic and angry lines.

Here again, this song was long regarded as taboo, and kept well within the Carna community, until it started being sung in public in the late 1950s by sean-nós Connemara singer Seán Mac Dhonnchadha, who remembered ‘being publicly criticised for singing this song in the Damer Hall in Dublin at the Oícheanta Seanchais concerts organized by [the state-funded company] Gael-Linn in the late fifties and early sixties’.15 The exact reasons remain unclear, as the scéal (story) is now partly missing, and the irony thus remains partly lost, but it would seem that Johnny Seoighe was a shady character of dubious morals.16 It is generally difficult to know in which circumstances a traditional song was created, but in this case, specific events and folk memory handed down orally from generation to generation give us a different approach from history books about the origins and conditions in which the destitute were living.

Available on TRIAN’s eponymous first album (Flying Fish, 1992). It has also been included on a ‘Celtic Christmas’ music compilation by uninformed executives of a major US company.
A Sheáin Uí Sheoighe tuig mo ghlór is mé ag tigheacht le dóchas faoi do dhéint
Mar is tú an réalt eólais ba deise lóchrann dár dhearc mo shúil ariabh
Is tú bláth na h-óige is deise breághtha i dhearc mo shúil i d-Teampall Dé
Agus as ucht Chríost, tabhair dom relief go gcaithfear oidhche Nodlaig féin.

Lá ar na mháireach nuair i fuair mé an páipéar is mé a bhí sásta agus ghluais mé an siubhail
Ní bhfuair mé freagra ar bith an lá seo acht mé féin is mo pháistí amuigh faoi an drúcht
Tá mé caillte, bruighte, feannta, dóighte gearrtha ó neart an t-siúil
Agus i Mhister Joyce tá an Work-House lán agus ní glacfear ann isteach níos mó.

Nach mór an cliú do phoball Carna ó thosuigh an lánmhain seo ag dul thrid
Ba deise breághtha méin na mná ná an Morning Star nuair d’eirigheócha sí
Tá an Bhanríoghan tinn is i na luighe lag síos, deir na dochtúirí go bhfaoi sí bás
Sé fios m’údair go ndeir siad liomsa faoi nach bhfuil sí pósta ag Mr Joyce.

Contributed by dq82 - 2015/11/11 - 12:44

Language: English

English translation
Johnny Joyce (1), you are my glory and the brightest hope I have
You shine like the brightest star in the temple of the Lord
Your voice is the flower of youth since I was born
And from the bosom of Christ I ask you to give me relief on Christmas Eve

On the following day I will obtain papers and I will be satisfied and I will go walking
I need an answer today but myself and my children are out in the rain
I am tired, scourged, worked, and have cuts from hard walking
And Mr. Joyce, the workhouse is full and there is no more room inside

You have much reputation in the town of Carna, and this couple passing through
It appears to the women the morning star rising
The queen is lying in bed sick and the doctor says that she will die
And they say the only reason for this is she is not married to Mr. Joyce
(1) Johnny Seoighe was a playboy who abandoned his wife and family in Oughterard and ran off with Peggy (Pegsy) Barry, daughter of the bailiff who was in Carna at the time…. It was reported that Johnny Seoighe had stolen the relief book from the Relieving Office, and that he started to share out the yellow meal as he saw fit. Tim Robinson, in his book Connemara: Listening to the Wind says “This cannot be quite right, as Joyce was in fact a relieving officer for Roundstone, but it is probably not far from the truth, as he was eventually dismissed for corruption….”’ (Liam Mac Con Iomaire, Seosamh Ó hÉanaí: Nár fhágha mé bás choíche, 118; also Tim Robinson, op. cit. 205-6.)

Contributed by dq82 - 2015/11/11 - 12:48

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