Eamon An Chnuic (Ned of the Hill)
DESCRIPTION: Gaelic. Ned of the Hill sings at Eileen's bower asking that they marry though he has no wealth. Although her castle is guarded she escapes from the tower and goes with him. He spends his life wandering Ireland seeking shelter from his outlawry
EARLIEST DATE: 1959 (IRClancyMakem03); see NOTES
KEYWORDS: foreignlanguage poverty elopement love exile outlaw
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (2 citations):
OBoyle, p. 33, "Eamon an Chnoic" (1 fragment, 1 tune)
DT, NEDHILL* NEDHILL2* NEDHILL3
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, "Eamon An Chnuic" (on IRClancyMakem03)
NOTES: Sleeve notes to IRClancyMakem03: "Edmond O'Ryan, the hero of this Gaelic song, was born in Kilnamanagh, County Tipperary, before the wars of 1690. After the defeat of James II, whom he supported, he was outlawed and had his estates confiscated.... The song, in describing the outlaw driven by pain and beating on the closed door of his beloved, symbolized the lonely cause of Ireland." - BS
There seems to be confusion about (O')Ryan; the Digital Tradition notes to NEDHILL2 say he was displaced after the Boyne, but by *Cromwell*, who of course had been in his grave for more than thirty years at the time of the Boyne.
There is another O'Ryan item, in Kathleen Hoagland, 1000 Years of Irish Poetry (1947), p. 171, "Ah! What Woes Are Mine"; it's just possible that this is another translation of "Eamon An Chnuic," but if so, it's a very different one. Hoagland also dates O'Ryan to the period after the Boyne.
A search of six different books of Irish history covering this period revealed no references to (O')Ryan. Internet searches were no more revealing; one site which discussed this song said that there was no positive evidence of his existence. This despite a large assortment of tales about him -- one version has it that he was eventually betrayed for the reward money, only to have his murderer learn that his proscription had been lifted. The form of this song varies, too; in some texts, O'Ryan is seeking his love; in others, merely shelter from the English.
A summary of the various legends is given in Daithi O hOgain, The Lore of Ireland, Boydell Press, 2006, pp. 398-399. It gives his full name as Eamonn an Chnoic O Maollriain, which easily shortened to O Riain, and hence to Ryan. Legend gave his birthplace as Knockmeoll Castle near Ashanboe in Tipperary.
O hOgain says that he was proclaimed outlaw in 1702 (about the time of William III's death and long after Cromwell was gone); a reward of 200 pounds was offered for his capture. His girlfriend was said to be named Mary Leahy.
O hOgain speculates that the song "Eamonn an Chnuic" actually predates the person, and gave him his name.
The rest, according to O hOgain, is legend; many of the stories are told of other heroes as well as of Eamon An Chnuic. Clearly, whatever the historical truth, the tale has grown in the telling. My guess is that research on the topic has been limited because historians think Eamon a figure of folklore, while folklorists think him historical.
Jon W. Finson, The Voices That Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song, Oxford University Press, 1994, p. 272, says that "Ah Who Is That, or Emunh a Cnuic, or Ned of the Hill" was published by James Hewitt in "The Music of Erin" (1807). That obviously sounds like the same song, but the text that Finson quotes cannot be sung to this tune, and doesn't really fit either of the plots I've seen in other versions (the exile from Erin or the minstrel courting above his station), so I have not listed that as the earliest date.
Note that the widely heard "Ned of the Hill" by The Pogues is not, properly, a version of this song, but rather an attack on the memory of Oliver Cromwell based loosely on the story that lies behind the song. - RBW
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