“Moses Ritoora-li-ay”


A policeman sees a man peddling in the street and hauls him in. A trial ensues in which the court tries to find out if Moses Ri-too-ral-i-ay is Irish. He turns out to be a Jew related to the judge. Moses is released, and the unhappy policeman fired


In the period around the Easter Rising, it was a crime in Ireland to preach rebellion. Apparently many revolutionaries got around this by preaching in Irish (though this raised the possibility that the listeners couldn't understand them!). The police, who were often English and almost always anglophone, were told to learn Irish to try to figure out what was going on.

This didn't work out all that well. (Gee, where have we heard that story before? The Habsburg Empire? Iraq?) The amused Irish created songs like this to celebrate the problem.

Brian O'Higgins wrote a song about this topic, according to Frank Harte. But Harte believes the song on this topic is "The Limb of the Law", found in _Songs of Dublin_, second edition, Ossian, 1993, pp. 36-37. Could he have written two such songs? I don't know.

Robert Kee, on p. 48 of _Ourselves Alone_ (being volume III of _The Green Flag_) cites a Sinn Fein speech from 1918 claiming that "there were by then five hundred people in Ireland imprisoned under the Defence of the Realm Regulations on chrages ranging from singing a song written seventy years before to presenting their names in Irish when accosted by a policeman." Unfortunately, he does not cite a precise source. - RBW

Cross references

  • cf. "Vilikens and his Dinah (William and Dinah) [Laws M31A/B]" (tune & meter) and references there
  • cf. "The Sergeant's Lamentation" (theme)


  • Margaret Barry, "Moses Ritoora-li-ay" (on IRMBarry-Fairs)


  2. Roud #5197
  3. BI, DTmosesr


Author: (attributed to Brian O'Higgins in the Digital Tradition, but see NOTES)
Earliest date: 1952 (recording, Margaret Barry)
Found in: Ireland