Declan O’Rourke Connaught Orphan

Declan O’Rourke Connaught Orphan

Declan O'Rourke Connaught Orphan

We may have hoped that the retaliatory exhilaration of  Johnny Hold the Lantern would end the album with its high note, but O’Rourke returns to the Great Famine’s horror and its helpless young victims.

For the centennial of the Easter Rising in 2016, O’Rourke wrote Children of ’16 about the (at least) 40 children under the age of 16 who died in that Easter Week’s fighting.  Crossfire caught most victims, but British soldiers deliberately shot or bayoneted others. (Independent article)

Declan O’Rourke Connaught Orphan

Orphan offerings

It is no surprise that the Great Famine orphaned so many children. It is also no surprise that even the most insensitive laissez faire proponent would do at least something minimal to relieve their conscience if not the orphans’ suffering.

In the Connaught Orphan, we stride beside a barefoot 7-year-old boy walking his younger sister to the poor house ten miles away. Both starving.

There is room only for one. He leaves her there and walks the 10 miles back.

Declan O’Rourke Connaught Orphan

Strings attached

It is still a common requirement that there be a quid pro quo from those who receive relief: demand that the sufferer must demonstrate their worthiness to receive aid.

In the case of the Irish peasants, assistance sometimes  depended on acknowledging the Church of England as the true church. To renounce Catholicism.

In our less religious 21st century world  (at least in terms of church attendance), such a demand might seem an easy one to comply with, but the 19th century Roman Catholic Church taught members that a choice meant damnation.

Declan O’Rourke Connaught Orphan


Declan O'Rourke Connaught Orphan

Quakers were the one religious group that seemed genuinely interested in assistance without strings attached. They formed the Central Relief Committee (CRC) to help coordinate relief.

William E. Forster, a CRC member, traveled throughout Ireland and send letters describing what he saw. In one letter he wrote, “Poor wretches in the last stage of famine, imploring to be received into the (work) house; women who had six or seven children begging that even two or three might be taken in …. some of these children were worn to skeleton, their features sharpened with hunger, their limbs wasted almost to the bone” (more at Irish Famine site)

Unfortunately, even the most kindhearted actions can result in unforeseen consequences.

In this song, the Quaker wants to provide a bath and clean clothing, but the boy realizes that when his neighbors see him that way they will assume that he has renounced his faith or that he has lied about his neediness.

I’ll surely died of hunger now

If they see me with your nie new clothes

They’ll think I’m telling lies, and that

I have a mammy feeds me so.

What kind of world had the British government helped foster? One that forced a starving child in rags to refuse food and clothing?

Declan O’Rourke Connaught Orphan

Declan O’Rourke Johnny Hold Lantern

Declan O’Rourke Johnny Hold Lantern

Declan O'Rourke Johnny Hold Lantern

The album cover of Declan O’Rourke’s Chronicles of the Irish Famine displays a group of eight surrounding a shirtless man on the ground. Without knowing the story, we could easily misinterpret the scene as that of a rescue.

It is not.

Declan O’Rourke Johnny Hold Lantern

Respite and revenge

While it would be possible to fill an album with 13 songs about the peasants starvation and mistreatment during the Famine, having one song that provides a smile, however briefly, for the downtrodden is welcome.

Declan O’Rourke Johnny Hold Lantern

Capt Charles Boycott

Declan O'Rourke Johnny Hold Lantern

Peasants rented the land they worked. The landlord determined the rent. No rent paid? Eviction.

In 1880 after the Famine (but still long before Irish independence) the Irish Land League fought back against unreasonable evictions, particularly those that Captain Charles Boycott was executing for his employer Lord Erne.

The League told the locals they should socially shun the Captain: his workers stopped work in the fields and stables, as well as in his house. Local businessmen stopped trading with him, and the local postman refused to deliver mail.

The name Boycott became the word boycott.

Declan O’Rourke Johnny Hold Lantern


Manning was  a cruel landlord from the town of Delvin in Co. Westmeath. In this case violence was the cure.

When we first listen to the music, it is easy to think of it as a happy-go-lucky tune. Toe-tapping. Raise a glass. Slàinte.

It is all those things, but we must mix in words.

Declan O’Rourke Johnny Hold Lantern

A pistol man

On the road outside of Delvin

From the shadow of the trees

A man drew out his pistol

And a man fell to his knees.

Oh. OK.

The pistol man leaves, but on his way away he lets others know something.

Others show up. Johnny is with them. Johnny holds the light.

Young Johnny’s hands were freezin’

But he held the lantern high

As the day man lay there gazin’

And the flame danced in his eyes.

Revenge is a dish best served cold. And on one cold night during the Great Irish Famine it was the main course.

Not surprisingly the song has become a favorite.

Dublin Live article on album.

Declan O’Rourke Johnny Hold Lantern

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

It is easier to mistreat others as long as we paint “them” as inferior, non-human. The British did just that with the Irish. Even their Punch cartoons dehumanized the Irish.

Pin on Political Cartoons

Bob Dylan excoriated William Zantzinger, the man who killed Hattie Carroll.

Declan O’Rourke does the same to Curry Shaw.

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

Coffin Ships

As the number of Irish fleeing their homeland by sea increased, the conditions on board ships worsened as unscrupulous ship owners realized a golden opportunity. The refugees  literally became ballast. Disease and death spread easily and even the long-hoped for arrival at an American port often meant weeks of quarantine.

In 1847 the US Congress passed the Passenger Act. The Act’s purported intent was to regulate the carriage of passengers in these vessels. In actuality, rather than abide by the new Act, unscrupulous shipping companies  simply changed their destination to Canada and continued using the same ill-equipped ships. The Irish could stay there (as many did) or find their way to the United States.

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

The Hannah

On April 5, 1849, under the command of Captain Curry Shaw, The Hannah set sail for Quebec. Its last cargo had been coal. This time the ship’s cargo was 176 passengers, the great majority of whom were from the Parish of Forkill, South Armagh.

While records are not completely available, there are numerous allegations that Shaw confined the passengers below deck for long periods, cut the rations of food and water and threw the three latrines overboard after a few days at sea.

William Graham, the ship’s English surgeon , witnessed Shaw “crawling into the bunks of unmarried women passengers,” raping them.

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

Cabot Strait

Declan O'Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

The Cabot Strait lies between New Newfoundland and Cape Breton and leads into the Gulf of St Lawrence and thence to the St Lawrence River. At 4 a.m. on April 29, 1849, in gale-force wind, the Hannah rammed a reef of ice in the Cabot Strait.

Shaw ordered the hatch covers nailed shut and despite the efforts of Dr Graham to stop them,  Shaw, the first and second mates and a few crewmen abandoned the sinking ship in the ship’s only lifeboat.

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

Some rescued

As the ship sank, the passengers, able to get out after a crewman opened the hatches, sought the “safety” of the ice floes. There they waited until 6:30 pm when Captain William Marshall of the ‘Nicaragua’ discovered the survivors on the ice. He and his crew were able to rescue of 129 passengers and nine seamen.

The people so suffered from hypothermia that most had to be lassoed by the Nicaragus’ crew and hauled aboard.  Marshall said ‘no pen can describe the pitiable situation and destitution of these passengers’.

He transferred some of the passengers to four other ships and arrived in Quebec fourteen days later; one day after Captain Shaw who had reported the total loss of all on board the ‘Hannah’.

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw


Captain Marshall received an inscribed silver goblet from the Irish in Quebec. Most of the surviving passengers continued to North Crosby, Westport, Ontario, which their descendants still call ‘little South Armagh’.

Surgeon Graham testified against Curry Shaw, Shaw received no punishment. Graham had broken his ankle jumping from the ship and trying to stop Shaw. Shaw had repulsed Graham’s attempt by hitting him with a cutlass.

Graham died from his various injuries and frostbite a month later.

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

Two passenger stories

John Murphy

John Murphy had put his 6-year-old twin boys, Owen and Felix, aboard an ice floe, thinking it safe. He swam off to rescue 3-year-old Rose. Murphy then turned to his boys as they drifted away. He lost them in the darkness, forever. He lost all of his teeth from frostbite.

Ann McGinn

Ann McGinn husband had emigrated in 1848. She traveled with their six children to join him in Ontario.

She arrived in Quebec alone.

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

Lowest of the Low

O’Rourke sings:

You villain Curry Shaw!

Your name forever dwell

As captain of the cowards

On the lifeboat down to hell.

Hell hath no fury like a poet scorned.

Links to two articles about the event: The Star and the Ring of Gullian

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw