Spancil Hill

This song was written by an Irish emigrant to the United States in the 1870s, Michael Considine of Spancilhill in County Clare.  Spancil Hill sung here by Jim McCann of The Dubliners. It’s one of many songs by emigrants longing for the home, family, and friends they left behind in search of a better life. According to Frank McGrath on the mudcat café discussions:

In the late 1930s or early ’40s, Robbie McMahon, a local folk singer and composer, during an Irish traditional music session in Spancilhill, was going to sing “Spancilhill”, when the woman of the house, Moira Keane, a relative of Michael Considine, handed Robbie McMahon the original text of the song. According to Raymond Daly[3] and Derek Warfield, she said:”If ye are going to sing that song ye might as well sing it right.”

This text was confirmed some time later, around 1953, at another session in the parish, when Robbie McMahon was asked to sing “Spancilhill”, and a local, old man first resisted him, saying: “Don’t sing that song.” When asked why not, the old man replied “because ye don’t know it”. According to Daly and Warfield, McMahon sang the song anyway using the version given to him by Moira Keane. As McMahon got into the song, he noticed the old man paying more attention, fiddling with his cap and looking a little flustered.

When the song was finished the old man asked: “Where did ya get that song?” McMahon told him and the old man seemed both perturbed and pleased at the same time. The old man was John Considine, the nephew of the songs’s composer Michael Considine. John was 76 at that time and had kept his uncle’s song safe for 70 years. He gave his approval to McMahon’s performance after hearing that he had sung the original version.

Spancil Hill

Last night as I lay dreamin’
Of pleasant days gone by
Me mind bein’ bent on travelin’
To Ireland I did fly
I stepped aboard a vision
and followed with my will
‘Til next I came to anchor
At the cross near Spancil Hill

Delighted by the novelty
Enchanted with the scene
Where in my early boyhood
Where often I had been
I thought I heard a murmur
And think I hear it still
It’s the little stream of water
That flows down Spancil Hill

It being the 23rd of June
The day before the fair
Where Ireland’s sons and daughters
In crowds assembled there
The young, the old, the brave and the bold
They came for sport and kill
There were jovial conversations
At the cross near Spancil Hill

I went to see my neighbours
To hear what they might say
The old ones were all dead and gone
The others turning grey
I met with tailor Quigley
He’s as bold as ever still
Sure he used to make my britches
When I lived in Spancil Hill

I paid a flying visit
To my first and only love
She’s white as any lily
And gentle as a dove
She threw her arms around me
Saying Johnny I love you still
She’s Meg the farmers daughter
And the pride of Spancil Hill

I dreamt I stooped and kissed her
As in the day of ‘ore
She said Johnny you’re only joking
As many the times before
The cock crew in the morn’
He crew both loud and shrill
And I woke in California
Many miles from Spancil Hill


2 thoughts on “Spancil Hill

  1. The Full version Spancilhill

    Last night as I lay dreaming, of the pleasant days gone by,
    My mind being bent on rambling and to Erin’s Isle I did fly.
    I stepped on board a vision and sailed out with a will,
    ‘Till I gladly came to anchor at the Cross of Spancilhill.

    Enchanted by the novelty, delighted with the scenes,
    Where in my early childhood, I often times have been.
    I thought I heard a murmur, I think I hear it still,
    ‘Tis that little stream of water at the Cross of Spancilhill.

    And to amuse my fancy, I lay upon the ground,
    Where all my school companions, in crowds assembled ’round.
    Some have grown to manhood, while more their graves did fill,
    Oh I thought we were all young again, at the Cross of Spancilhill.

    It being on a Sabbath morning, I thought I heard a bell,
    O’er hills and vallies sounded, in notes that seemed to tell,
    That Father Dan was coming, his duty to fulfill,
    At the parish church of Clooney, just one mile from Spancilhill.

    And when our duty did commence, we all knelt down in prayer,
    In hopes for to be ready, to climb the Golden Stair.
    And when back home returning, we danced with right good will,
    To Martin Moylan’s music, at the Cross of Spancilhill.

    It being on the twenty third of June, the day before the fair,
    Sure Erin’s sons and daughters, they all assembled there.
    The young, the old, the stout and the bold, they came to sport and kill,
    What a curious combination, at the Fair of Spancilhill.

    I went into my old home, as every stone can tell,
    The old boreen was just the same, and the apple tree over the well,
    I miss my sister Ellen, my brothers Pat and Bill,
    Sure I only met my strange faces at my home in Spancilhill.

    I called to see my neighbors, to hear what they might say,
    The old were getting feeble, and the young ones turning grey.
    I met with tailor Quigley, he’s as brave as ever still,
    Sure he always made my breeches when I lived in Spancilhill.

    I paid a flying visit, to my first and only love,
    She’s as pure as any lilly, and as gentle as a dove.
    She threw her arms around me, saying Mike I love you still,
    She is Mack the Rangers daughter, the Pride of Spancilhill.

    I thought I stooped to kiss her, as I did in days of yore,
    Says she Mike you’re only joking, as you often were before,
    The cock crew on the roost again, he crew both loud and shrill,
    And I awoke in California, far far from Spancilhill.

    But when my vision faded, the tears came in my eyes,
    In hope to see that dear old spot, some day before I die.
    May the Joyous King of Angels, His Choicest Blessings spill,
    On that Glorious spot of Nature, the Cross of Spancilhill.

    Michael Considine… born circa 1850 and died circa 1873

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