Tipperary radio documentary: The Ballad of Patrick Sheehan

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Tipperary documentary: The Ballad of Patrick Sheehan

Sheehan was illiterate as indicated by the 'X mark' next to his name on his army service record

In 1857 The Freeman's Journal contained a news item about a young man named Patrick Sheehan who was arrested for begging in Grafton Street, Dublin. He insisted it was the only recourse open to him for he had lost his sight fighting with the British army in the Crimean War and the pension of 6 pence per day for 9 months which had been granted on his discharge had now expired. Despite this the prisoner was committed for 7 days.

On reading it in the newspaper, Charles Joseph Kickham from Mullinahone, outraged by his shameful treatment, wrote a ballad under a pseudonym entitled 'Patrick Sheehan', which quickly became popular, aimed at discouraging other Irishmen from enlisting in the British army and suffering a similar fate. In it, he ascribed this poor blind soldier to the Glen of Aherlow.

Much to the infuriation of Dublin Castle, the ballad quickly became popular and had the desired effect, with some accounts over the years claiming that, largely so as to defuse the situation, Sheehan's pension was restored by the British government - other accounts were more sceptical.

Although immortalised through the ballad, which can still be heard in Co. Tipperary today, little is known about Patrick Sheehan in terms of his life before, during or after the Crimean War and what became of him upon his release from confinement. Was he really from the Glen of Aherlow, what were the circumstances of his blindness and was his pension truly restored by the British government? Also why did C.J. Kickham compose the ballad under a pseudonym despite being a well-known revolutionary, novelist, poet and journalist at the time?

Now with contributors from the Premier County and further afield Patrick Sheehan's compelling story is to be the subject of a 4-part documentary to be aired on Tipp Mid West Radio. The details behind Kickham's composition of the ballad over 160 years ago are also investigated in-depth. A lot of new information has been uncovered, including the cause of the actual soldier's blindness and the location of where he ended his days.

In addition to being provided with an insight into the Crimean War and how it impacted on Ireland, listeners with get a sense of the general popularity of ballads in 19th century Ireland followed by an idea of the enduring appeal of C.J. Kickham's composition right up to the present day.

Interviewees for the programme include R.V. Comerford, Mary Fitzpatrick, Marie Gildea, Dick Hogan, Michael Kenny, Betty McKeon, Helen Morrissey, Susan Mullaney and David Murphy.

The much anticipated 4-part documentary entitled 'Reward of Valour' by Tom Hurley will be aired over four consecutive Wednesdays just after the 11:00 am news on Tipp Mid West Radio beginning on April 25th. The programmes can be heard outside the county on www.tippmidwestradio.com.

The Ballad of Patrick Sheehan

My name is Patrick Sheehan, and my years are thirty-four;
Tipperary is my native place, not far from Galtymore;
I’ve come of honest parents but now they're lying low
And many the happy day I spent in the Glen of Aherlow.

My father died, I closed his eyes outside our cabin door;
The landlord and the sheriff, too, were there the day before;
And then my loving mother, and sisters three also,
Were forced to go with broken hearts from the Glen of Aherlow.

For three long months, in search of work, I wandered far and near;
I went into the poorhouse to see my mother dear.
The news I heard nigh broke my heart; but still, in all my woe,
I blessed the friends who made their graves in the Glen of Aherlow.

Bereft of home, of kith and kin and plenty all around;
I starved within my cabin, I slept upon the ground.
But cruel as my lot was, I ne'er did hardship know
Till I joined the English army, far away from Aherlow.

'Arise up,' says the corporal, 'you lazy Irish hound,
Why don’t you hear, you sleepy dog, the call to arms sound?'
Alas I had been dreaming of days long, long ago.
I awoke before Sebastopol, and not in Aherlow.

I groped to find my musket, how dark I thought the night;
Oh, blessed God, it is not dark; it is the broad daylight;
And when I found that I was blind, my tears began to flow;
I longed for even a pauper’s grave in the Glen of Aherlow.

Oh, Blessed Virgin Mary, mine is a mournful tale,
A poor blind prisoner here I am in Dublin's dreary jail;
Struck blind within the trenches where I never feared the foe,
And now I'll never see again my own sweet Aherlow.

A poor neglected mendicant I wandered through the streets,
My nine months' pension now being out, I beg from all I meet;
As I joined my country's tyrants my face I’ll never show,
Among the kind old neighbours in the Glen of Aherlow.

Now Irish youths, dear countrymen, take heed of what I say,
For if you join the English ranks you'll surely rue the day,
And if ever you are tempted a-soldiering to go,
Remember poor blind Sheehan from the Glen of Aherlow.