“The Rising of the Moon”


"Oh! Then tell me, Sean O'Farrell, Tell me why you hurry so...." The singer is told that the "pikes must be together at the rising of the moon." The pikes gather, but are spotted and defeated. The listeners are told, "we will follow in their footsteps."


John Keegan Casey was a nineteenth century Irish patriot. He wrote this song in prison, where he died at the age of twenty-three. He was regarded as being very promising, but of course died very young; this is the only piece of his to have any wide circulation.

The reference to "pikes" accurately shows one of the problems of the 1798 rising. The rebels in Wicklow, for instance, had over ten thousand men enlisted to their cause -- and guns for only a thousand of them, and too little powder even for that thousand weapons.

Their alternative was the pike. These they had in sufficiency, since local blacksmiths could and did make them. And they also had the advantage of being easy to use: An illiterate farmer boys wouldn't know how to use a musket, but (in theory) anyone could figure out how to stick an enemy with a pike.

Of course, against real soldiers armed with firearms, they would have been quite useless. Pikes had been a genuine military weapon at the time of the last great battles in Ireland, the Boyne and Aughrim (see G.A. Hayes-McCoy, _Irish Battles: A Military History of Ireland_, pp. 219-220), but the ratio of musketeers to pikemen had been steadily rising; even at the Boyne, there were some regiments on the Williamite side with no pikes at all. And, by 1798, the bayonet had replaced the pike in all modern armies.

Still, the British were doing what they could to stop even pike production; Viceroy Camden was concerned about the way blacksmiths were turning them out (see Robert Kee, _The Most Distressful Country_, Volume 1 of _The Green Flag_, p. 68).

To add to the problems, the leadership of the United Irishmen were almost all in British custody by the time the of the 1798 uprising. The uprising was almost forced; the British were determined to root out all hints of rebellion; rather than be rounded up, the local cells went into revolt. But they no longer had leaders to coordinate their activities. - RBW

OLochlainn-More, pp. viii-ix: "John Keegan Casey's 'Rising of the Moon' had to be included for the spendid air my grandfather John Carr of Limerick had to it. (I hate to hear it sung to 'The Wearing of the Green' -- a tune which does not suit at all)." The OLochlainn-More tune is very much the tune as I remember Richard Dyer-Bennet singing it in the early 1950's (probably the one available on the 1957 LP Dyer-Bennet 4000). - BS

Historical references

  • 1798 - Irish Rebellion

Cross references


  • Bodleian, 2806 b.10(189), "The Rising of the Moon," unknown, n.d.; also 2806 b.10(205), "The Rising of the Moon"


  • The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, "The Rising of the Moon" (on IRClancyMakem03)


  1. O'Conor, p. 111, "The Rising of the Moon" (1 text)
  2. PGalvin, p. 35, "The Rising of the Moon" (1 text)
  3. OLochlainn-More 67, "The Rising of the Moon" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Zimmermann 69, "The Rising of the Moon" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Moylan 117, "The Rising of the Moon" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Silber-FSWB, p. 322, "The Rising Of The Moon" (1 text)
  7. Healy-OISBv2, pp. 120-121, "The Rising of the Moon" (1 text, tune on p. 22)
  9. ADDITIONAL: H. Halliday Sparling, Irish Minstrelsy (London, 1888), pp. 21-22, 497, "The Rising of the Moon"
  10. Kathleen Hoagland, editor, One Thousand Years of Irish Poetry (New York, 1947), pp. 550-551, "The Rising of the Moon" (1 text)
  11. Roud #9634
  12. BI, PGa035


Author: Words: John Keegan Casey (1846-1870)
Earliest date: 1867 (reference in _The Nation_, Feb 23, 1867, according to Zimmermann); c.1865 (Zimmermann)
Keywords: rebellion Ireland
Found in: Ireland