McCall was a brilliant songwriter and he took trouble to make sure his songs sounded as though they had stepped right kout of the oral folk tradition.
He manages this superbly with Kelly the Boy From Killane. It is full of topical references and there are also numerous references to locations in Wexford, places that McCall knew very well.
Shelmalier is an area of Wexford and the word could also describe someone who came from the area.
Forth and Bargy are local town lands. By mentioning such small places by name, McCall emphasises just how much this was a local rebellion relying on the support of farm labourers who had little experience of fighting.
The reference to the Shelmalier and his “long barrelled gun” is very specific to Wexford.
Farm workers from the Shelmalier area used a long barrelled gun to hunt wildfowl.
These same guns were used when the rebels went to war. Although they were better than the pikes used by most of the rebels, they were no match for the superior guns and artillery available to the British.
There are no references to the melody used in the song before 1911 when it was first published.
P J McCall was a keen collector of folk melodies, especially from the Wexford area where he spent a great deal of his spare time. It is quite possible that he used a melody he came across during the many musical evenings he spent with musicians in Wexford.
But McCall was also a capable composer and it’s possible he may have written it himself.
Whether he wrote it or discovered it, he is certainly responsible for making it popular because there is no known reference to it before 1911.
Kelly the Boy From Killane quickly became popular with folk singers and their audiences as soon as it was published in 1911.
It has remained popular ever since and has been recorded by numerous performers, most notably perhaps by Luke Kelly and The Dubliners.