“The Molly Maguires”


A song "in praise of Molly's sons." "They can root out all Defenders and plant the Laurel Tree." Seeing them in St Patrick's day finery "while the Ribbon Bands did play" the singer prays "That the Lord may enable Molly's sons to tear down tyranny."


Morton-Maguire: "Tradition has it that the Molly Maguires were formed in the early nineteenth-century after the Catholic neighbors of a Co. Tyrone widow, Molly Maguire, had successfully foiled an attempt to evict her. The success spurred them to combine to carry out similar defensive action in other areas." Morton continues "I find John's song somewhat confusing for various reasons": The Defenders were a Catholic organization that you would expect to be on the same side as the Molly Maguires but, since there was no great Orange threat in Fermanagh, there could have been conflict between Catholic organizations; on the other hand there was no alliance between the Molly Maguires and the more extreme Catholic Ribbonmen.

Why a "laurel tree"? I don't find any association, for example, between the Liberty Tree and laurel (see "The Liberty Tree," "Ireland's Liberty Tree," "Plant, Plant the Tree" and Zimmermann's discussion of the Liberty Tree: pp. 41-43, 85-86, 255-256). - BS

In classical mythology, and in Roman history, the laurel, or the bay, is associated with victory, and is also said to ward off evil spirits. I don't know of any overwhelming reason to connect that legend with Ireland, but it's probably more likely than a link between "laurel" and "liberty."

The Molly Maguires were not a particularly noteworthy group; I checked seven histories without finding a single mention of them. But they loomed larger in legend. Benet's _Reader's Encyclopedia_ described them as "An Irish secret society organized in 1843. Stout, active young Irishmen dressed up in women's clothes,blackened faces, and otherwise disguised themselves to surprise those employed to enforce the payments of rents. Their victims were ducked in bog-holes, and many were beaten most unmercifully." And this Irish group inspired the American Molly Maguires, which fought against the Pennsylvania coal bosses -- and largely failed. The American Mollies are the chief subject of "Muff Lawler, the Squealer." [Laws E25].

The Mollies, in both their American and Irish forms, inspired sundry other songs -- e.g. there is one by Phil Coulter in the Digital Tradition. Few if any made it into tradition. - RBW


  1. Morton-Maguire 9, pp. 21-22,103,158, "The Molly Maguires" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Roud #2923
  3. BI, MoMa009


Author: John Maguire (source: Morton-Maguire)
Earliest date: 1973 (Morton-Maguire)
Found in: Ireland