Eugene Dunphy tells of unrequited love in Tyrone.
Going from door to door with a sheaf of ballads under his arm, Michael Quinn, a down-on-his-luck street singer from Limerick, asked the good people of High Street, Sligo, to give him a few bob for an oul’ song. Some obliged but others, seeing him as a nuisance, decided to report him to ‘the Gards’. As the Sligo Champion reported, he was arrested on the 9th of November, 1937, by Detective-Officer Reehill, and appeared before Justice Charles A. Flattery three days later, at Sligo District Court.
Leafing through Michael’s collection of ballads, which included Eileen Alannah and The Sash My Father Wore, the judge could not help but comment on the singer’s eclectic taste: “This is a wise selection … it seems that there are no borders in balladry.”
He then read aloud the first line of another ballad: “If I were king of Erin’s Isle’ … and I see it is sung to the tune of ‘The Flower of Sweet Strabane’.” Before dismissing the case, the bemused Judge Flattery offered the following counsel to poor Michael: “Take your ballads, and sing your way to Limerick.”
‘The Flower of Sweet Strabane’ had been doing the rounds in Ireland for decades, possibly as far back as the mid-1840s. The writer is unknown, but the words were published – seemingly for the first time – on the 24th of April, 1909, in the Strabane Chronicle, the editor adding the following footnote: “Perhaps you have a favourite poem or cutting in your scrapbook. Send it along and we will republish it for you.”