The mystery of “The Galtee Mountain Boy”

The Galtee Mountain Boy, by Patsy O’Halloran (fourth verse by Christy Moore)

I joined the Flying Column in 1916
In Cork with Seán Moylan, Tipperary with Dan Breen
Arrested by Free Staters and sentenced for to die
Farewell to Tipperary said the Galtee Mountain Boy

We crossed the pleasant valleys and over the hilltops green
Where we met with Dinny Lacey, Seán Hogan and Dan Breen
Seán Moylan and his gallant band they kept the flag flying high
Farewell to Tipperary said the Galtee Mountain Boy

We crossed the Dublin mountains, we were rebels on the run
Though hunted night and morning, we were outlawed but free men
We tracked the Wicklow mountains as the sun was shining high
Farewell to Tipperary said the Galtee Mountain Boy

I’m bidding farewell to old Clonmel that I never more will see
And to the Galtee mountains that oft times sheltered me
To the men who fought for liberty and died without a sigh
May the cause be ne’er forgotten said the Galtee Mountain Boy

This song is written from the point of view of a Tipperary Volunteer during the War of Independence and Civil War. In the latter conflict he is an anti-treaty soldier. He laments his fate as a captive of the Free State army and awaits his summary execution.

When I visited this site last year, I learned that some people found the lyrics of the third verse unusual: surely a band from Tipperary would cross the Wicklow mountains before the Dublin mountains, presuming that they were on the way from Tipperary to Dublin?

However, assuming the song is intended to make logical sense, there were only a few specific occasions on which a band of Tipperary soldiers went from Tipperary to Dublin during the period referred to.

One such occasion occurred in the Spring of 1922, when group went to assist in the takeover of the Four Courts (see Ernie O’Malley, The Singing Flame).

Two months later, at the beginning of the Civil War, Harry Boland called for reinforcements from Tipperary for the Dublin anti-treaty garrison. Commandant Michael Sheehan led a flying column to Dublin, but they arrived after the fall of the Four Courts and too late to be of any help. However, they did head, first to the Dublin and then to the Wicklow hills, where the remnants of Dublin anti-treatyites were continuing the fight. Harry Boland took part in these battles, while Éamon de Valera travelled directly to Field General Headquarters in Clonmel.

The Tipperary column, bolstered by some Four Courts refugees, then went to Enniscorthy where they took part in the fighting, and from there headed back to FGHQ, Clonmel via Carlow and Kilkenny. Thus, the (presumably fictional) Galtee Mountain Boy would have crossed the Dublin and Wicklow mountains on his way back to Tipperary.

The author seems knowledgeable about the leaders of the 3rd Tipperary Brigade, who were all based around the general vicinity of Tipperary town – Seán Treacy, Seán Hogan, Seán Fitzpatrick, Seamus Robinson, Dinny Lacey and Dan Breen.

The references to Seán Moylan possibly refer to the occasional co-operation between the Cork No. 2 Brigade (of which Moylan was commandant), the East Limerick Brigade and the 3rd Tipperary Brigade, such as the Glencurrane ambush of December 19 1920, in which companies from all three brigades took part.

Tipperary hurler Pat Kerwick famously sang The Galtee Mountain Boy after Tipperary’s All-Ireland hurling final win of 2010:

Edit, Sept. 2010: a guest on Mudcat.org says:

Galty Mountain Boy refers to Paddy Davern who died about 14 years ago. He worked as a labourer for most of his life. He was illiterate. Recruited one day as he worked with his father he fought in the war of independence and civil war. He was arrested by both British and Free state and sentenced to death by both… he escaped his first death sentence by escaping and the second – as I recall – by reprieve at the ending of the civil war.

Davern was an associate of George Plant, who was in Michael Sheehan’s flying column (Michael Moroney, ‘George Plant and the Rule of Law – The Devereux Affair 1940-1942’ , Tipperary Historical Journal, 1988). Plant and Davern continued in the IRA after the Civil War and were both convicted of the 1941 killing of their IRA colleague, Michael Devereux, who they wrongly believed to be a Garda informer. Davern’s sentence of death was commuted to a prison sentence, but Plant was executed by firing squad. His killing was probably unconstitutional, and created long-lasting bitterness against the Irish government among republicans.

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5 thoughts on “The mystery of “The Galtee Mountain Boy”

  1. From the early 70s to the mid-90s there were many “Galtee Mountain” boys and girls who often confronted the Crown forces north of the Border.

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