“Rossa's Farewell to Erin”


O'Donovan Rossa, on a ship, bids "Farewell to friends of Dublin." He will return sometime. He recalls joining the Fenian Brotherhood in 1864, curses "those traitors Who did our cause betray ... Nagle, Massey, Corydon, and Talbot" and sent him to jail.

Supplemental text

Rossa's Farewell to Erin
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          *** A ***

O'Donovan Rossa's Farewell
to Dublin

From James N. Healy, ed., The Mercier Book of Old Irish Street
Ballads, Volume Two (1969), #61, pp. 136-137. Source not indicated.

Adieu my friends in Dublin town I bid you all adieu
I cannot yet appoint the day when I'll return to you
I write these lines on board of ship where stormy billows roar,
May the heaves save our Fenian boys until I return on shore.

(5 additional stanzas)


(Source Ireland's Own site "Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa (1831-1915)" from George Treanor, Irish Heritage Group): Formed the Phoenix Society of Skibbereen for the fight for independence. That organization joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), or Fenians, which formed in 1858. Rossa was arrested in 1858 for association with the Fenians, and again in 1865 after the Fenian Rising. His sentence was for writing seditious articles. He was treated badly in jail, and released in 1871 by amnesty on condition that he go into exile. In New York Rossa continued writing in support of the Fenian movement and was involved in planning bombing attacks in England. He died in the United States.

Rossa and four others -- the "Cuba Five" -- arrive in New York on January 19, 1871 on board the steamer Cuba (Source: History Cooperative site; Irish Culture and Customs site) - BS

In Charles Sullivan's _Ireland in Poetry_, p. 101, there is a poem, "The Returned Picture," credited to Mary O'Donovan Rossa (and she was a poet, having published _Lyrical Poems_ in 1868). If this item is to be believed, Rossa's guards never let him see his wife, or the child still unborn when he was imprisoned, nor even let them see their picture. I cannot verify this. But certainly his was a difficult life; in addition to the above, Terry Golway, in _For the Cause of Liberty_, p. 113, his father was one of those who starved to death during the potato famine.

Not that his behavior was exactly above reproach; Golway on p. 148 reports that he was known for flinging the contents of his chamber pot at his jailors. In context, one can hardly blame them for tying his hands behind his back for a month (see also Robert Kee, _The Bold Fenian Men_, being Volume II of _The Green Flag_, p. 62).

In his life, Rossa wasn't a particularly effective figure, and he died senile in New York at the age of 84 -- but his body, shipped back to Ireland, proved a powerful rallying point for nationalists. (This even though Kee, p. 238, says that Rossa toward the end of his life inclined toward the moderate methods of John Redmond.) Padraig Pearse gave his funeral elegy, and used it to call for Irish independence -- even as thousands of Irish boys were volunteering to serve in the British army.

Rossa was another of those Irishmen (like, e.g. Cathal Brugha) who changed his name to make it more "Irish"; according to Kee (p. 4), he was born Jeremiah Donovan Rossa (not O'Donovan).

The informers mentioned in the song are a varied lot. Corydon was a Fenian courier who worked for the headstrong Captain McCafferty, who revealed a plan to attack the Chester Castle military storehouse (Kee, p. 36). Nagle was a worker at the _Irish People_ who was more spy than informant; he carried off correspondence coming through the paper's offices (Kee, p. 23). Thomas Talbot was a professional detective who infiltrated the Fenians under the name John Kelly (Kee, p. 25).

Gordon Massey was the most important but most equivocal; it's not sure if he turned informer before or after he was taken by the British (Kee, pp. 32-33). A Crimean veteran who had gone to America and changed his name several times; he was given high seniority in the Fenian movement based on his alleged command experience, but was betrayed by Corydon (Kee, p. 39). - RBW

Historical references

  • Jan 5, 1871 - Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa is freed from jail by amnesty on condition that he exile himself. He arrives in New York Jan. 19, 1871. (see Notes)


  1. OLochlainn 34, "Rossa's Farewell to Erin" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Zimmermann 70, "O'Donovan Rossa's Farewell to Dublin" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  3. Healy-OISBv2, pp. 136-137, "O'Donovan Rossa's Farewell (to Dublin)" (1 text)
  4. ST OLoc034 (Partial)
  5. Roud #3040
  6. BI, OLoc034


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1939 (OLochlainn); c.1865 (Zimmermann)
Found in: Ireland