The song most people now know as Roddy McCorley was written by Ethna Carbery at the end of the nineteenth century and not published until 1904 – two years after Carbery’s death.
This is the song made famous by The Clancy Brothers and other major Irish folk groups
However, there is another song called Rody McCorley – with Rody spelt with only one d – which is totally different to the Carbery version. It is much older and probably dates from the early 1800s – just a few years after the rebellion. It’s not known who wrote it.
This older version also gives more biographical information. We learn that McCorley was from Duneane and that his parents educated him and raised him well.
The family worked hard until they were undone by perjury. This refers to the fact that Roddy McCorley’s father was executed for allegedly stealing a sheep. The family, like thousands of other Irish families, were then put off their land.
The reference to perjury suggests that neighbours or other informers may have lied about them, perhaps for political reasons.
This older version of the song has McCorley being hanged from the gallows tree near to the bridge of Toome rather than on the bridge itself, as in the Carbery version.
It’s thought that after escaping after the Battle of Antrim, McCorley went on the run for over a year and became a member of a gang led by man called Thomas Archer, another veteran of the Battle of Antrim.
The gang included men who, like Archer, had deserted from the British Army and fought on the Irish side in the rebellion. They gathered for self-protection and to exact vengeance against loyalists and informers. However, it’s thought they also engaged in straightforward crime, particularly robbery.
McCorley was captured after being betrayed by informers and the older song mentions them by name, Dufferin and McErlean. McErlean may have been a relative of McCorley on his mother’s side.
There is still some uncertainty if McCorley was a Catholic or a Presbyterian. The original song gives some clues but they are contradictory.
In the fifth verse, McCorley laments that if only he had stayed in his home area among his Presbyterian friends then he would not have been betrayed.
This would strongly suggest that McCorley was indeed Presbyterian but then the tenth verse refers to Father Devlin giving him the last rites. This would suggest he may have been Catholic so the uncertainty remains.
Come tender hearted Christians all, attention pay to me,
‘Till I relate these verses great, these verses two or three.
Concerning of a clever youth who was cut off in his bloom,
And died upon the gallows tree near to the bridge of Toome.
The hero now I speak of, he was proper tall and straight,
Like to the lofty poplar tree his body was complete,
His growth was like the tufted fir that does ascend the air,
And waving o’er his shoulders broad the locks of yellow hair.
In sweet Duneane this youth was born and reared up tenderly,
His parents educated him, all by their industry,
Both day and night they sorely toiled all for their family,
Till desolation it came on by cursed perjury.
‘Twas first the father’s life they took and secondly the son,
The mother tore her old grey locks, she says “I am undone
They took from me my property, my houses and my land,
And in the parish where I was born I dare not tread upon.”
“Farewell unto you sweet Drumaul, if in you I had stayed,
Among the Presbyterians I ne’er had been betrayed,
The gallows tree I’d ne’er have seen had I remained there
For Dufferin you betrayed me, McErlean you set the snare.”
“In Ballyscullion I was betrayed, woe be unto the man,
Who swore me a defender and a foe unto the crown,
Which causes Rody for to lie beneath the spreading thorn,
He’ll sigh and say ‘Alas the day that ever I was born’.”
Soon young Rody was conveyed to Ballymena town,
He was loaded there with irons strong, his bed was the cold ground,
And there young Rody he must wait until the hour has come,
When a court-martial does arrive for to contrive his doom.
They called upon an armed band, an armed band came soon,
To guard the clever tall young youth down to the Bridge of Toome,
And when young Rody he came up the scaffold to ascend,
He looked at east and looked at west to view his loving friends.
And turning round unto the north he cried “O faithless friend,
‘Twas you who proved my overthrow and brought me to this end.
Since ’tis upon Good Friday that I’ll executed be,
Convenient to the Bridge of Toome upon a Gallows Tree.
They called on Father Devlin, his reverence came with speed
“Here’s is one of Christ’s own flock, he said, ‘ye shepherds for to feed”
He gave to him the Heavenly Food that nourishes the soul
That it may rest eternally while his body is in the mould’
And looking up unto the Lord he says, ‘O Lord receive
Here is my soul, I do bestow my body unto the grave
That it may rest in peace and joy without the least surprise,
Till Michael sounds his trumpet loud, and says, “Ye dead rise”