“The Banks of the Roe”


"Too long have I travelled the land of the stranger...." The singer wishes to return to "the land of O'Cahan," whom he recalls with pride. But those free men are long dead; he is left, and in exile, but "How I long to return to the banks of the Roe"


The monastery of Dungiven (in Ulster) is believed to have been established in the eleventh century, well before the English invaded Ireland. Many leaders of the O'Cahans were buried in what became Dungiven Priory.

The most famous of these O'Cahans was "Cooey-na-Gal" ("Terror of the Stranger"). Legend has it that "Cooey-na-Gal" was buried in a fine tomb in Dungiven, covered by an excellent carving of a warrior with a sword, surrounded by small figures of kilted soldiers. The work is regarded as one of the finest tomb sculptures in Ireland.

Unfortunately, the tomb is almost certainly not that of Cooey-na-Gal O'Cahan, because it is firmly dated to the fifteenth century. The best bet is that the man buried there is Aibhne O'Cahan, murdered in 1492.

Cooey-na-Gal has managed to get his name into a number of songs, mostly in the Henry collection and mostly obscure; see the cross-references. But there is also "The Benady Glen," recorded by Deanta. That song is listed as by Manus O'Kane, and another Cooey song ("Slieve Gallen Brae") is listed as by James O'Kane. Coincidence? - RBW

Historical references

  • 1385 - Death of "Cooey-na-Gal" O'Cahan

Cross references


  1. SHenry H24b, pp. 217-218, "The Banks of the Roe" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. BI, HHH024b


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1924 (Sam Henry collection)
Found in: Ireland