Patrick and his family are forced from their home by the landlord. His mother dies in the poorhouse. Patrick has little choice but to join the British army. He is blinded at Sevastopol, and ends as a wandering beggar
The author attribution to Charles Kickham is from the Bodleian broadsides cited.
Yates, Musical Traditions site _Voice of the People suite_ "Notes - Volume 8" - 1.3.03, re "The Glen of Atherlow" instrumental: "Text written by Charles Joseph Kickham (1828 - 1882), who based it on a true story of one Patrick Sheehan who was blinded at Sebastopol. Sheehan was later jailed for begging in Grafton Street, Dublin, his British army pension having expired after six months. Kickham's poem was first published in 1857."
Zimmermann: "On 28th September, 1857, _The Freeman's Journal_ published the following information: 'A young man named Patrick Sheehan was brought up in custody of Police-constable Lynam, charged with causing an obstruction to the thoroughfare in Grafton-street. The constable stated that the prisoner was loitering in Grafton-street for the purpose of begging, having a placard on his breast setting forth that he had served in the Crimea in the 55th regiment; that he had lost his sight in the trenches before Sebastopol, and that he was discharged on a pension of six pence per day for nine months; and that this period being now expired, he was now obliged to have recourse to begging to support himself. A Crimean medal was found on his person... The prisoner was committed for seven days for begging.'"
Notes to IRClare01: "The ballad was soon to be heard in the streets all over Ireland, and was thought to have shamed the government into enquiring about the ex-soldier, to whom a life pension of a shilling a day was granted." - BS
Kickham's most important work is generally considered to be the novel _Knocknagow._ His dates seem to have caused some uncertainty; Laws quotes Barry to the effect that he was born in 1826; earlier editions of the Index quoted a birthdate of 1825, on what basis I no longer recall. But the majority of my references give his birth date as 1828.
Kickham had seemed destined for a career as a doctor when a shooting accident left him half-blind, almost deaf, and badly disfigured. He nonetheless became a successful author and poet -- and a vigorous nationalist, strongly attacking the Catholic church for its passivity in the quest for Irish independence.
By 1848, he was involved in nationalist causes. In 1861, he joined the Fenian Brotherhood, which evolved into the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Around 1873, he became president of the IRB's Supreme Council, holding the post until his death and rebuilding it after the debacle of the Fenian Rebellion.
It will be evident that his personal experiences contributed at least somewhat to the content of this song, though Kickham's family was sufficiently well-off that there was never any threat of him being forced from his home.
Healy-OISBv2, pp. 159-160, prints a piece, "The Immortal Kickham Is No More." There is no evidence that it's traditional, but it shows his historical importance. - RBW