It’s thought the young McCorley was in his late teens at the time his father was executed. Following the execution, the family were evicted from their farm.
The anger at the injustice may have led to McCorley becoming more active in the growing calls for rebellion at the end of the 18th century.
There’s some uncertainty as to whether he joined the Catholic group known as the Defenders or the Ulster United Irishmen who were largely Presbyterian.
He fought in the Battle of Antrim and managed to avoid capture when the rebels were defeated.
The rebel and the gang of outlaws
McCorley then went into hiding and joined a group known as the Archer gang. This was a disparate group of soldiers, some of whom, like the leader Thomas Archer, had been part of the British army but had switched sides to the Irish cause.
This swapping of sides was seen as desertion and meant the soldiers had no protection under the terms imposed on the United Irishmen by the British and so they were constantly on the run and trying to evade capture.
It’s thought McCorley was trying to emigrate to America when he was betrayed by informers, captured and executed.
McCorley was buried beneath the gallows
McCorley’s body was dissected and he was buried beneath the gallows on the bridge where he was hanged.
This was part of the main Antrim to Derry road. The British hoped the hanging and the burial would act as a warning to other potential rebels as they used the road and passed the burial spot.
The body remained there for more than 50 years until a new bridge was built. The foreman of the building work was Hugo McCorley, Roddy’s nephew.
Hugo recovered his uncle’s remains and provided a Christian burial at Duneane – the town where Roddy McCorley was born.
The melody to the song
The origin of the melody is unknown. The great Irish song collector, Colm O Lochlainn described it as a “splendid march tune” but admitted he didn’t know where it came from.
It’s possible therefore that it was written by Carbery or her husband, the folklorist Seamus Macmanus, but neither were known for writing music so it is unlikely.
The most likely explanation is that Carbery set the poem to a local melody that had been part of the area’s rich oral tradition but had never been published or collected. The tune was later used in the song, Sean South from Garryowen.