‘The Moorlough Shore’

‘The Moorlough Shore’ is a traditional Irish ballad, which first appeared in print in an 1886 broadside, now at the Bodleian Library. Over the years there has been much debate about where the song is set, but it is clear that it must be in County Tyrone, close to Strabane. There are a number of places referred to in the lyrics that link it to Holyhill (usually pronounced Holly Hill), a Sinclair estate in the parish of Leckpatrick, where there is also a Moorlough Road. The Holyhill Sinclairs established themselves in Tyrone and Donegal in the seventeenth century, and by the 1770s had set up a thriving linen business at Holyhill. In 1778, Mrs Elizabeth Sinclair asked permission from the landowner to divert the course of the Glenmornan River (a tributary of the Foyle) to provide water for a flax mill or a bleaching green.

The song has been recorded by a number of musicians: John McGettigan & his Irish Minstrels (USA, 1930s), Paddy Tunney (1963), Peta Webb (1973), The Boys of the Lough (1980), Dolores Keane (1989), Caroline Lavelle (1995), Patrick Street (1996), Susan McKeown (2000), Emm Gryner (2005), and The Corrs (2005). It is also known as ‘Moorlough Mary’ or ‘As Harvest Comes On’ and may have been written by James Devine (with thanks to Wikipedia for this information).

The lyrics here are those beautifully sung by Sinéad O’Connor on her album ‘Sean-Nós Nua’, with kind permission (Hummingbird Records, 2002, RAMCD001). Variant spellings are included in square brackets, drawn from several previous versions, which differ only in small details.

You can also listen to ‘Led er din Sang’, composed by Kristian Blak and sung by the Faroese singer, Eivør Pálsdóttir, which refers to a Captain George Sinclair who was killed in Norway in 1612.


The Moorlough Shore

Your hills and dales and flowery vales,
That lie near the Moorlough Shore.
Your vines that blow by Bordons Grove [Burden’s Row],
Will I ever see you more.
Where the primrose blows and the violet grows,
Where the trout and salmon play,
With my line and hook, delight I took
To spend my youthful days.

Last night I went to see my love,
And to hear what she might say.
To see if she’d take pity on me,
Lest I might go away.
She said, ‘I loved an Irish lad
And he was my only joy,
And ever since I saw his face,
I’ve loved that soldier boy.’

Perhaps your soldier lad is lost,
Sailing over the sea of main [Maine].
Or perhaps he is gone with some other one,
You may never see him again.
‘Well, if my Irish lad is lost,
He’s the one I do adore,
And seven years I will wait for him
By the banks of the Moorlough Shore.’

Farewell to Sinclair’s castle ground [grand].
Farewell to the foggy hill [Holy Hill].
Where the linen webs lie [waves like] bleaching silk
And the bawdeen [falling, purling] stream runs still.
Near there I spent my youthful days,
But alas they are no more,
For cruelty has banished me,
Far away from the Moorlough Shore.

Holyhill near Strabane, Co. Tyrone.

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