“The McKenna's Dream”


McKenna dreams of Ireland's heroes: Brian Boru, Sarsfield, St Ruth, Billy Byrne from Ballymanus, Reilly "on the hill of Screen," Father Murphy, the pikemen, Napoleon. "I looked around, but could not see One foeman on the plain... So ends McKenna's dream"


Zimmermann: "Donal O'Sullivan ... tells me that towards the end of the last century, at Buncrana, a street-singer would often be brought before the R.M. who asked: 'What is the charge in this case?' The answer would usually be: 'Singing McKenna's Dream, Sir.'"

At the Battle of Clontarf, 1014, Brian Boru defeated a combined force of Vikings and rebels from Leinster, but died in the battle. [For Brian, see "Remember the Glories of Brian the Brave." - RBW]

At the Battle of Aughrim, 1691, the Irish Catholic forces [are finally defeated] and the commander of their French allies, St Ruth dies [see "After Aughrim's Great Disaster" - RBW].

Sarsfield is the Irish commander in 1691 who is on the field at Aughrim and Limerick (cf. "The Jackets Green")

United commander Billy Byrne is hanged in 1799 (cf. "Billy Byrne of Ballymanus")

The Wexford rebels under Father John Murphy defeat the North Cork militia in 1798. Father Murphy is caught and executed later in 1798 (cf. "Father Murphy (I).")

The pikemen fought for the rebels in the 1798 rebellion (cf. "General Monroe").

Reilly "on the hill of Screen" [i.e., Tara]. I don't know the reference, but "Rebels posted on Tara Hill, County Meath, were routed on May 26." (Zimmermann, p. 155) - BS

Although one would expect, from the contents of this song, that McKenna was a well-known Irish patriot, I have not been able to find any suitable candidate to be the dreamer. - RBW

The ballad is recorded on one of the CD's issued around the time of the bicentenial of the 1798 Irish Rebellion. See:

Franke Harte, "McKenna's Dream" (on "The Croppy's Complaint," Craft Recordings CRCD03 (1998); Terry Moylan notes) - BS

Cross references

  • cf. "Captain Rock" (tune, per Zimmermann, Hoagland))


  • Bodleian, Firth b.25(357), "The Irishman's Vision," E.M.A. Hodges (London), 1855-1861; also Firth b.25(357), "The Irishman's Vision"; 2806 b.10(133), "MacKenna's Dream"; Harding B 19(92), Harding B 26(434), 2806 c.8(115), "M'Kenna's Dream[!]"


  1. Zimmermann 65, "The McKenna's Dream" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Moylan 133, "McKenna's Dream" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Healy-OISBv2, pp. 48-50, "M'Kenna's Dream" (1 text)
  4. ADDITIONAL: Kathleen Hoagland, editor, One Thousand Years of Irish Poetry (New York, 1947), pp. 279-281, "MacKenna's Dream" (1 text)
  5. H. Halliday Sparling, Irish Minstrelsy (London, 1888), pp. 89-92, 513, "MacKenna's Dream"
  6. Roud #2377
  7. BI, Zimm065


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1850's (Zimmermann)
Found in: Ireland