> Anne Briggs > Songs > Sullivan’s John

Sullivan’s John

[ Roud 16718 ; Paddy ‘The Pecker’ Dunne]

Sweeney’s Men—Andy Irvine, Johnny Moynihan and Terry Woods—recorded Sullivan’s John in 1968 for their first LP, Sweeney’s Men. Johnny Moynihan’s then girlfriend Anne Briggs recorded this song later, in 1973, for her album Sing a Song for You. On this track she was accompanied by Barry Dransfield and Ragged Robin. Sadly the album remained unpublished until 1996 when it finally appeared on CD. Anne Briggs commented in the sleeve notes:

I learnt this song in Ireland. Reputedly it was written by Pecker Dunne [1932-2012], a travelling man and itinerant musician and entertainer, but there are traditional connotations from similar versions among the travelling community. I subsequently travelled and busked with Pecker and various members of the Dunne family. For me this song conjures up the hardship of the way of life of the Travelling people of Ireland and elsewhere.

In 2004, Anne’s recording was included in the 2 CD anthology The Legend of Sweeney’s Men.


Anne Briggs sings Sullivan’s John

Sullivan’s John, to the road you’ve gone
Far away from your native home.
You’ve gone with a tinker’s daughter
For along the road to roam.
Sullivan’s John, you won’t stick it long,
Your belly will soon get slack.
You’ll be roaming the road with a mighty load
And a tooten box on your back.

I met Katy Coffey, she’d her neat baby
Tossed behind on her back strapped on.
She’d an old ash plant all in her hand
To drive her donkey along,
Enquiring at every farmer’s house
That along the road she passed.
Oh it’s where would she get an old pot to mend?
Or where would she swap an ass?

I heard of a fair in the County Clare
At a place call Spancil Hill
Where my brother James got a rap of the hames [harness],
Poor Paddy they tried to kill.
They loaded him up on an ass and cart
While Pat and Mary looked on.
Oh, bad luck to the day that I went away
To join a tinker’s band.

(repeat first verse)