“Nell Flaherty's Drake”


"Oh, my name it is Neil, quite candid I tell, And I lived in Clonmell, which I'll never deny, I had a large drake..." which she describes in loving terms. One day a thief steals (and kills) the drake. The rest of the song is an extended curse of the thief


Tommy Makem describes this as a song about Robert Emmet (executed 1803). I can't prove it wrong -- but if so, it's the most indirect song I know. Certainly later singers (such as those in Australia) seem to have lost consciousness of any anti-British sentiment. For background on Emmet, see "Bold Robert Emmet" and the songs cited there. - RBW

I have not found "Nell Flaherty's Drake" collected in Newfoundland but Johnny Burke's "Betsy Brennan's Blue Hen" is so close that he must have known "Nell Flaherty's Drake." There is no entry for "Nell Flaherty's Drake" in _Newfoundland Songs and Ballads in Print 1842-1974 A Title and First-Line Index_ by Paul Mercer.

Commentary to broadside NLScotland L.C.Fol.70(142a): "'Nell Flaherty's Drake' is an anonymous Irish ballad from the nineteenth century. The drake of the title is believed to be a coded reference to Robert Emmet (1778-1803), who helped to plan and led an uprising against British rule in Dublin in 1803. The uprising went wrong after an explosion at an arms depot, and Emmet was captured and hanged for his part in the uprising and the assassination of the Lord Chief Justice. Irish Home Rule was a volatile subject in Britain in the nineteenth as well as the twentieth century, hence the coding in this song."

This song has the same relationship to "The Bonny Brown Hen" [this adds a villain and curses] that "Betsy Brennan's Blue Hen" has to "Blue Hen" on MacEdward Leach and Songs of Atlantic Canada site, copyright owner Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive.

Broadside LOCSinging as113120: J. Andrews dating per _Studying Nineteenth-Century Popular Song_ by Paul Charosh in American Music, Winter 1997, Vol 15.4, Table 1, available at FindArticles site. - BS

Cross references


  • Bodleian, Harding B 11(2612), "Nell Flaherty's Drake", M. Stephenson (Gateshead), 1838-1850; also 2806 b.11(218), 2806 c.16(21), Harding B 15(216b), 2806 b.11(279), 2806 c.8(306), Johnson Ballads 1220, Johnson Ballads 2696, Harding B 11(2610), Harding B 11(2613), Harding B 11(2614), Harding B 11(2615), 2806 c.16(3a), Harding B 11(2611), "Nell Flaherty's Drake"; 2806 b.9(236), Harding B 26(461), 2806 b.11(132) [lines only partly legible], "Nell Flagherty's Drake"
  • LOCSinging, as109390, "Nell Flaugherty's Drake", J. Andrews (New York), 1853-1859; also sb30356b, "Nell Flaugherty's Drake"
  • Murray, Mu23-y1:062, "Nell Flaherty's Drake," James Lindsay (Glasgow), 19C; also Mu23-y4:054, "Nell Flaherty's Drake," unknown (Cork), 19C
  • NLScotland, L.C.Fol.70(142a), "Nell Flaherty's Drake," unknown, c. 1845


  • The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, "Nell Flaherty's Drake" (on IRClancyMakem03)


  1. Meredith/Covell/Brown, pp. 128-129, "Nell Flaherty's Drake" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. SHenry H228b, pp. 18-19, "Nell Flaherty's Drake" (1 text, 2 tunes)
  3. O'Conor, pp. 14-15, "Nell Flaherty's Drake" (1 text)
  4. Hayward-Ulster, pp. 68-69, "Nell Flaherty's Drake" (1 text)
  6. ADDITIONAL: Kathleen Hoagland, editor, One Thousand Years of Irish Poetry (New York, 1947), p. 289, "Nell Flaherty's Drake" (1 text)
  7. Roud #3005
  8. BI, MCB128


Author: unknown
Earliest date: before 1851 (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 11(2612))
Found in: Ireland Australia