Spancill Hill

Spancill Hill

Spancill Hill is a traditional Irish folk song which bemoans the plight of the Irish immigrants who so longed for home from their new lives in America, many of them who went to California with the Gold Rush. This song is sung by a man who longs for his home in Spancill Hill, his friends and the love he left there. All the characters and places in this song are real.

Spancil Hill (or "Spancilhill") is also the name of the "District Electoral Division" as well of a small settlement in East County Clare, about 5 km east of Ennis, on the regional road (R352) to Tulla. However, the actual name of the central settlement is "Cross of Spancilhill", as mentioned in the song. The area was originally called "Cnoc Fuar Choile" (the hill of the cold wood), a name that was somehow anglicised to Spancil Hill. The word "spancil" relates to the practice of "spancelling," which was to use a short rope to tie an animal's left fore-leg to its right hind leg, thereby hobbling the animal and stopping it from wandering too far.

Each year on the 23rd of June, the nearby Fair Green is used for the famous Spancilhill Horse Fair. At one time, Spancilhill was said to be Ireland's largest fair with buyers from Britain, Russia, Prussia, and France competing to purchase the best stock for their Imperial armies.



Michael Considine was born around 1850 and emigrated to the USA from Spancillhill at around 1870. Some of his siblings came with him, but some stayed behind. One of his brothers, Patrick, died, leaving his widow to look after a five month old son called John.

Working in Boston for about two years, he went to the USA with the intention of bringing his sweetheart over and for them to be married when he had made enough money for the passage. His sweetheart was "Mack the Ranger's daughter" and not "Ned the Farmer's daughter" as in the popularised version. The Ranger's house was within eyesight from Michael Considine's home as was the tailor Quigley's.

He stayed in Boston for two years or so before moving to California. At the age of 23, he suffered from ill health for a long time and, knowing he hadn't long to live, he wrote the poem "Spancilhill" to be sent home in remembrance of his love and it was kept safe by his six year old nephew, John Considine.

Michael Considine died sometime in 1873. And it seems that he went home somehow, either dead or alive, as he is buried in the Spancilhill graveyard. Mary MacNamara remained faithful to his memory and never married.

Handing Down the Original Version

On a discussion forum on, Frank McGrath from the Nenagh Singer Circle reports how the original version was handed down:

In the late 1930s or early '40s, Robbie McMahon, a local folk singer and composer, during an Irish traditional music session in Spancil Hill, was in a neighbour's house with some friends singing when someone suggested singing "Spancillhill". The woman of the house, Moira Keane, left the room and when she came back said, "If ye are going to sing that song ye might as well sing it right" and she gave Robbie the original song.

Some time later at another session in the parish Robbie was asked to sing "Spancilhill" when a gruff voice in the corner growled out "Don't sing that song". When asked "Why not?" the voice barked back " 'Cos ye don't know it."

Robbie, however insisted he did and launched into the version he'd gotten from Moira Keane. After singing a few lines Robbie noticed the gruff man sitting up and paying attention. As Robbie progressed with the song the gruff man foostered more and more with his cap and became agitated. When the song ended, the gruff voice in the corner demanded "Where did ya get that song?". The gruff old man seemed both perturbed and pleased.

Moira Keane was the gruff man's aunt and the gruff man was 76 year old John Considine, who had kept his uncle Mike's song safe for 70 years.


Original Version

Author: "Michael Considine, born ca. 1850, † ca. 1873"

:Last night as I lay dreaming, of the pleasant days gone by,:My mind being bent on rambling and to Erin's Isle I did fly.:I stepped on board a vision and sailed out with a will,:'Till I gladly came to anchor at the Cross of Spancilhill.

:Enchanted by the novelty, delighted with the scenes,:Where in my early childhood, I often times have been.:I thought I heard a murmur, I think I hear it still,:'Tis that little stream of water at the Cross of Spancilhill.

:And to amuse my fancy, I lay upon the ground,:Where all my school companions, in crowds assembled 'round.:Some have grown to manhood, while more their graves did fill,:Oh I thought we were all young again, at the Cross of Spancilhill.

:It being on a Sabbath morning, I thought I heard a bell,:O'er hills and vallies sounded, in notes that seemed to tell,:That Father Dan was coming, his duty to fulfill,:At the parish church of Clooney, just one mile from Spancilhill.

:And when our duty did commence, we all knelt down in prayer,:In hopes for to be ready, to climb the Golden Stair.:And when back home returning, we danced with right good will,:To Martin Moilens music, at the Cross of Spancilhill.

:It being on the twenty third of June, the day before the fair,:Sure Erin's sons and daughters, they all assembled there.:The young, the old, the stout and the bold, they came to sport and kill,:What a curious combination, at the Fair of Spancilhill.

:I went into my old home, as every stone can tell,:The old boreen was just the same, and the apple tree over the well,:I miss my sister Ellen, my brothers Pat and Bill,:Sure I only met my strange faces at my home in Spancilhill.

:I called to see my neighbors, to hear what they might say,:The old were getting feeble, and the young ones turning grey.:I met with tailor Quigley, he's as brave as ever still,:Sure he always made my breeches when I lived in Spancilhill.

:I paid a flying visit, to my first and only love,:She's as pure as any lilly, and as gentle as a dove.:She threw her arms around me, saying Mike I love you still,:She is Mack the Rangers daughter, the Pride of Spancilhill.

:I thought I stooped to kiss her, as I did in days of yore,:Says she Mike you're only joking, as you often were before,:The cock crew on the roost again, he crew both loud and shrill,:And I awoke in California, far far from Spancilhill.

:But when my vision faded, the tears came in my eyes,:In hope to see that dear old spot, some day before I die.:May the Joyous King of Angels, His Choicest Blessings spill,:On that Glorious spot of Nature, the Cross of Spancilhill.

Traditional Version

:Last night as I lay dreaming of pleasant days gone by,:Me mind bein´ bent on rambling to Ireland I did fly,:I stepped on board a vision and followed with the will,:When next I came to anchor at the cross near Spancil Hill.

:Delighted by the novelty, enchanted by the scene:Where in my early boyhood so often I had been:I thought I heard a murmur and I think I hear it still,:It's that little stream of water that flows down Spancil Hill.

:Being on the twenty-third of June, the day before the fair,:When Ireland's sons and daughters in crowds assembled there:The young, the old, the brave and the bold, their duty to fulfill,:At the parish church of Clooney, a mile from Spancil Hill.

:I went to see my neighbours, to hear what they might say,:The old ones were all dead and gone, and the young ones turning grey:I met the tailor Quigley, he's as bold as ever still,:Sure he used to make my britches when I lived in Spancil Hill.

:I paid a flying visit to my first and only love,:She's as fair as any lily and gentle as a dove:She threw her arms around me, saying "Johnny, I love you still":Ah she's Nell, the farmer's daughter, the pride of Spancil Hill

:I dreamt I held and kissed her as in the days of yore:She said "Johnny you're only joking, as many's the time before":The cock he crew in the morning, he crew both loud and shrill,:I awoke in California, many miles from Spancil Hill.

Another popular Version

:One night as I lay dreaming of pleasant days gone by:My mind was bent on rambling to Ireland I did fly:I stepped on a vision and I followed with the wind,:When at last I came to anchor at the cross of Spancill Hill.

:Then on the 23rd of June the day before the fair,:When Ireland's sons and daughters and friends assembled there.:The young and the old, the brave and the bold came their duty to fulfill:At the Parish Church in Clooney a mile from Spancill Hill.

:I went to see my neighbours to see how they did fare,:The old ones were all dead and gone the young ones turning grey.:I met with tailor Quigley he's as funny as ever still,:And I used to patch his britches when I lived in Spancill Hill.

:I paid a flying visit to my one and only love,:She's as gentle as a puppy and as pretty as a doll:She threw her arms around me saying, "Johnny I love you still,":Sure she's Ned the farmer's daughter and the pride of Spancill Hill.: [Alt: She was Meg, the farmer's daughter, and the pride of Spancill Hill.]

:I dreamt I held and kissed her as many a time before,:Oh Johnny you're only joking as many a time before.:The cock he crowed in the morning, he crowed both clear and shrill,:And I woke in California many miles from Spancill Hill.

Alterations and Revisions in Modern Music

The lyrics of "Spancil Hill" have inspired many songs up to date, for instance "Fairmount Hill", a track on the album The Meanest of Times from the Celtic Punk band the Dropkick Murphys.

ee also

*List of Irish ballads
*Music of Ireland


* [ Robbie McMahon's story behind "Spancil Hill" as told by Frank McGrath]
* [ The Original Lyrics as handed down by Robbie McMahon]
* [ Séamus Mac Mathúna is confirming "Robbie's" Version]
* [ Story and Lyrics]
* [ About the Place and the Fair]
* [ Traditional Version]
* [ Another popular version]
* [ The tune (notes) and further details]
* [ Lyrics and a MIDI version]
* [ Google Earth Spancelhill]
* [ TV report on the research to find out about the composer]
* [ Chords and Lyrics and a Video]

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