“The Rights of Man”


Shiel dreams of a meeting at Athlone. Granua says "Britannia No more shall rob you of the rights of man." A man from the sky brings a shamrock. Granua promised to free them before long. The meeting parts "in exultation" at daybreak as Shiel wakes


Sheil was Daniel O'Connell's chief assistant when O'Connell founded the Catholic Association in 1823. (source: "Roman Catholic Relief Bill" in _The Catholic Encyclopedia_ at the New Advent site. Also see "Richard Lalor Sheil" at the same site.)

Broadsides LOCSinging as111750 and Bodleian 2806 b.9(62) appear to be duplicates.

Broadside NLScotland RB.m.143(013) commentary: "Granua (also spelt Grainne). The daughter of the mythical Irish warrior and folk hero, Finn McCool, Granua is also used as a symbol for Ireland - much like the figure of Britannia is employed as a symbol for Great Britain."

The man from heaven with the shamrock, "the three leaved plant ... it is three in one, To prove its unity in that community, That holds lenity the Rights of Man," could be Saint Patrick. Zimmermann p. 43: "According to a fairly recent legend, St. Patrick held a trefoil [shamrock] as an illustration of the Trinity. The plant had become a religious emblem and a badge of nationality about 1700. In 1778, the Cork Volunteers sang a song entitled 'The Shamrock Cockade', and by then the colour itself had acquired a political meaning."

Broadside LOCSinging as111750 is the basis for the description.

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 and Donal Lunny, "Rights of Man" (on Franke Harte and Donal Lunny, "1798 the First Year of Liberty," Hummingbird Records HBCD0014 (1998)) - BS

"Strongbow" is Richard de Clare (Richard FitzGilbert), one-time Earl of Pembroke (died 1176), who led the first English invasion of Ireland in 1170.

Tom Paine (1737-1809) published _The Rights of Man_ in 1791-1792, and it was an inspiration to the more intellectual of the 1798 rebels; most histories of the period contain multiple references to his writing. It's ironic to note that Ireland's French allies would imprison Paine for a time during the the quasi-war with the United States -- and even more ironic that Paine's last major work before the 1798 was _The Age of Reason_, which attacked several important Catholic doctrines.

For a discussion of this type of song as a example of the genre known as the "aisling," see the notes to "Granuaile."

There is, of course, a fiddle tune, "The Rights of Man." There is no reason to think the two have anything to do with each other. - RBW

Cross references


  • Bodleian, 2806 b.10(214), "Rights of Man" ("I speak in candour, one night in slumber"), H. Such (London), 1863-1885; also 2806 b.9(62), Firth b.26(432), "Rights of Man"
  • LOCSinging, as111750, "Rights of Man," unknown, 19C
  • NLScotland, RB.m.143(013), "Shiel's Rights of Man," unknown, c.1870


  1. Moylan 18, "The Rights of Man" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. BI, BrdTRoM


Author: Richard Lalor Shiel (1791-1851)
Earliest date: before 1886 (broadside, Bodleian 2806 b.10(214))