“O'Donnell Aboo (The Clanconnell War Song)”


"Proudly the note of the trumpet is sounding, Loudly the war-cries arise on the gale... On for old Erin -- O'Donnell Aboo!" Tirconnell, and all Ireland, are urged to join O'Donnell in his fight against the English


Zimmermann, p. 112 fn. 100, "According to _The Nation_, 28th January, 1843, "O'Donnell Abu" was meant to be sung to the tune 'Roderick Vick Alpine Dhu' (the 'Boat Song' in Walter Scott's _Lady of the Lake_); it became famous with another tune composed by Joseph Haliday." - BS

First published c. 1843 as "The Clanconnell War Song." The NLScotland site accepts the attribution of the tune to Haliday; few other sources cite a composer.

"Red Hugh" O'Donnell's hatred of England was based on a personal experience; as a teenager, the English had gotten him drunk and taken him prisoner. He escaped a few years later (1591), but the unfair imprisonment affected his opinions for the rest of his life (see Peter and Fiona Somerset Fry, _A History of Ireland_, pp. 127-128).

The "O'Neill" of the song is Hugh, third Baron of Dungannon and second Earl of Tyrone, one of the greatest Anglo-Irish barons of the time (1551-1616). He became O'Neill in 1593 when his brother Turlough resigned him the position. Prior to that, he had held the barony of Dungannon from 1569 and the Tyrone earldom from 1587 (see Mike Cronin, _A History of Ireland_, p. 56).

Hugh O'Neill cooperated with the English more than this song might imply. He was more comfortable with English than Irish ways, having lived in Kent when his father was murdered by his half-brother Shane O'Neill, who succeeded to most of the O'Neill lands before the English suppressed him (see Terry Golway, _For the Cause of Liberty_, p. 17; Fry/Fry, pp. 117, 125). Many historians think he was initially loyal, but the threat to his position (Tudor bureaucracy looked likely to overcome the ancient clan loyalties) eventually pushed him toward rebellion. If the rebellion could be said to have a commander (a debatable point), he was it.

The English grip on Ireland still wasn't strong in the aftermath of the rebellion, which is why Tyrone was permitted to keep his earldom after 1603. But in 1607 he was summoned to London (Cronin, p. 64). Too many Irish chiefs had been summoned to London and never returned. Instead of answering the summons, he fled.

The irony is, until the rebellion, Ulster was almost entirely free of English influence. The Flight of the Earls opened Ulster to settlement -- and of course many immigrants came, mostly from Scotland. So this campaign eventually produced the Troubles that still divide Ireland. Don't ask me why an Irish nationalist would write about this most destructive of Irish failures.

It does reveal something about the typical pattern of Anglo-Irish relations, though: The British solved one problem (a bunch of rebellious noblemen) and created another (the Ulster plantation). - RBW

Historical references

  • 1594 - outbreak of war between the Irish of Ulster and the invading English. (England had already conquered most of Ireland and was attempting to enforce Protestantism. At this time Ulster is still independent, and is fighting to remain so.) The next few years see heavy guerilla war, with both sides devastating the others' property. On the whole the Irish have the best of it, as Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, fights the English when he can and carefully buys time (with parleys and even requests for a pardon) when he cannot
  • 1598 - Tyrone and "Red Hugh" O'Donnell, by a pincer movement, defeat the English at Yellow Ford (this is the first major success of Irish arms). Tyrone is able to call on the rest of Ireland to rebel; he is very nearly the de facto King
  • 1599 - Essex leads an army to Ireland. Outmaneuvered by Tyrone (who uses as "scorched earth" policy to starve out the English), he wastes his army on garrisons which Tyrone besieges and defeats piecemeal. Essex, miserably defeated, goes home to England (without permission), bursts in on Elizabeth -- and winds up completely out of favor (so much so that he eventually raises a failed rebellion).
  • 1600- Essex is replaced by Mountjoy, who sets out to isolate the Irish by building strong positions around Ulster. Tyrone's position worsens as Mountjoy's blockade pinches the people who form his power base.
  • 1601 - Battle of Kinsale. Some 4000 Spanish troops had landed in September but let themselves be besieged at Kinsale. Tyrone, O'Donnell, and the Spanish are defeated by the English. O'Donnell (whose over-aggressiveness provoked the action) flees to Spain and abdicates his title to his brother Rory (Ruaidri).
  • 1602 - Rory O'Donnell surrenders in December
  • 1603 - Tyrone makes peace with England (March 30). The English have already destroyed the O'Neills; Tyrone retains only his English title. The English now rule most of Ireland. Rory O'Donnell also becomes an English lord, Earl of Tirconnell.
  • 1607 - Tyrone, Rory O'Donnell and other Irish leaders go into exile (Tyrone had been summoned to London and feared to come). The English seize their lands in Ulster and begin colonization. Later known as the "Flight of the Earls," this was popularly regarded as the end of Irish hopes, though in fact the 1603 capitulation broke the Irish resistance
  • 1608 - O'Doherty's Rebellion. Sir Arthur Chichester, who was responsible for the government of Ulster, had proposed a limited colonization. O'Doherty's revolt was a pinprick, but it convinced London to take over Ulster and suppress the natives.

Same tune

  • New Words to the Tune of "O'Donnel Abu" ("Workers of Ireland, why crouch ye like ravens") (Kathleen Hoagland, editor, One Thousand Years of Irish Poetry (New York, 1947), pp. 717-718)


  • Bodleian, Harding B 11(2769), "O'Donnell Abu," H. Such (London), 1863-1885; also 2806 b.10(216), "O'Donnell Abu"
  • NLScotland, L.C.Fol.70(75a), "O'Donnell Aboo!," unknown, c.1875


  • The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, "O Donnell Aboo" (on IRClancyMakem03)


  1. O'Conor, p. 98, "O'Donnell Abu" (1 text)
  2. PGalvin, pp. 12-13, "O'Donnell Aboo" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Silber-FSWB, p. 319, "O'Donnell Aboo" (1 text)
  4. Healy-OISBv2, pp. 34-35, "O'Donnell Abu!!" (1 text; tune on p. 20)
  6. ADDITIONAL: Kathleen Hoagland, editor, One Thousand Years of Irish Poetry (New York, 1947), pp. 507-508, "O'Donnell Aboo" (1 text)
  7. BI, PGa012


Author: Words: Michael Joseph McCann (1824-1883)
Earliest date: c. 1843 ("The Nation")
Found in: Ireland