When Oliver Cromwell took over Ireland, his infamous decree of “to hell or to Connaught” was enacted. Popularly thought to be all the Irish, it was not, but in the traditional English way of dealing with the Irish clans, it was the nobility or higher classes that were moved and the common folk, powerless without leaders, allowed to remain on their traditional grounds as they were too valuable to lose, and to weak to offer substantial trouble. This verse sees the exile from the vantage point of one of the vanquished about to leave for the distant lands of the West of Ireland from their traditional domain…
May Day 1652 was the deadline to be gone by, those not gone could be killed on sight.
All men and all women, with children at knee
Of blood that is noble for generations passed
We from our new masters have got the decree
We must soon the Shannon to the west have gone past.
Lest we be found on our former ground
From where by the order we cannot remain
We by word or by gun for law and for fun
We shall by the cruel Saxon be slain.
They change over there before they come here
Each one is worse than the cruel one before
We of the Gael, of the blood, flee in fear
We are masters of our kin and our lands no more.
We have pitiful lands and do not understand
How to handle the horse when attached to the plough
Our labourers and tradesmen all stay on on our land
We will die of starvation if we do not learn how.
Cruel winter and wild roads, mere tracks for the summer
The truth of the horrors of our trail will be told
When Erins proud nobles perished through the hard winter
Those not slain by the sword are cut down by the cold.
The roads lead west to Connaught beyond the wide Shannon
That flows rapid and swollen in its winter flood
We pray by the saints, God, Jesus and Mary
The tomorrow that’s sure should we not die will somehow be good!