> Folk Music > Songs > Brennan on the Moor

Brennan on the Moor

[ Roud 476 ; Laws L7 ; G/D 2:258 ; Ballad Index LL07 ; Bodleian Roud 476 ; Wiltshire Roud 476 ; trad.]

Robert Cinnamond of Belfast sang Brennan on the Moor in August 1955 to Sean O'Boyle. This BBC recording 24839 was also included on the anthology Fair Game and Foul (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 7; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970).

Charlies Wills of Bridport, Dorset, sang Brennan on the Moor on October 19, 1952 to Peter Kennedy (BBC recording 18693) and in January 1971 to Bill Leader. The latter recording was included a year later in his posthumous Leader album Charlie Wills.

Jeannie Robertson sang Brennan on the Moor, in a recording made at her home in 1955, on her 1957 Riverside album Songs of a Scots Tinker Lady. Hamish Henderson commented in the sleeve notes:

Willie Brennan, the hero of this ballad, was an Irish highwayman who met his fate at the end of a rope in 1804. The ballad has been as popular with Scottish singers as with the Irish. And no wonder, for Brennan displays the very qualities of daring and gallantry that endeared the Border outlaws to the Scots peasantry. Though it sings better than most broadsides, it is definitely of broadside origin, and was frequently printed by stall printers in both Britain and America.

Mrs Fanny Pronger of East Grinstead, Sussex, sang Brennan on the Moor in 1960 to Ken Stubbs. He included it in in 1970 E.F.D.S. book The Life of a Man. Stubbs noted:

It is unusual for a singer, whatever else he or she forgets, to forget the first stanza and chorus, but Mrs Pronger did just this. Brick Harber sang some of this song to a similar air, but in slow and even time. Her version began thus [see the lyrics below].

Jim ‘Brick’ Harber sang Brennan on the Moor on February 10, 1960 at The Plough, Three Bridges. It was recorded by Brian Matthews, and was included in 2001 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs from Sussex country pubs, Just Another Saturday Night. Rod Stradling commented in the album's booklet:

According to James Healey, Willie Brennan was a farm labourer who, having robbed a British army officer for a dare, had to flee to the Kilworth Mountains and the roads of North Cork and Southern Tipperary. Following his capture, he was tried at Clonmel, and hanged in the year 1804. Broadsheets were printed in Cork c.1850 and the song soon spread to England, Scotland and North America, where it became the basis for the song Charlie Quantrell (see Alan Lomax, The Folk Songs of North America. New York, 1960. p. 347). The ten-pence, mentioned in verse 6, was a small musket popular with Irish patriots and which, as the name suggests, could once be purchased for ten-pence each.

It is another song both popular and widespread among the English-speaking peoples of the world, with 92 Roud entries—mostly from books, broadsides and manuscripts. It would appear to have been far more popular in the USA than its native Ireland. Unusually, there's only one entry for Sussex—Ken Stubbs' collection from Fanny Pronger in East Grinstead, though in his book The Life of a Man, Ken mentions that Brick sang “a short version”. Additional verses in italics […] are from Mrs Pronger's text.

Unusually again, there's only one English sound recording—from Charlie Wills of Bridport, Dorset—and only Robert Cinnamond and Jeannie Robertson have also recorded it in these islands.

A very short fragment of the chorus of Brennan on the Moor, recorded by Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker in 1963 or 1966, was included in 2014 on the Queen Caroline Hughes anthology Sheep-Crook and Black Dog.

The McPeakes sang Brennan on the Moor in 1964 on their Fontana album Irish Folk!. This recording was also included in 1970 on the anthology Folk Favourites.

The Exiles sang Willie Brennan in 1966 on their Topic album Freedom, Come All Ye. Gordon McCulloch commented in the liner notes:

Ever since P. W. Joyce first printed this song in his Old Irish Folk Music, it has enjoyed vast popularity, not merely among Irish singers and audiences. The outlaw Willie Brennan, whose favourite haunt was the Kilworth Mountains and the roads of North Cork and South Tipperary was of the later school of Irish highwaymen who flourished at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. He was killed in 1807 by Jeremiah O’Connor, a friend of Daniel O’Connell during a hold-up near Killarney.

The Clancy Brothers with Louis Killen sang Brennan on the Moor live at the Bushnell Auditorium in Hartford, Connecticut, on March 17, 1972. This concert was published in 1973 on their album Live on St. Patrick's Day.

Lyrics

Jeannie Robertson sings Brennan on the Moor

It's of a famous highwayman, a story I maun tell,
His name was Willie Brennan, in Ireland he did dwell;
It was on the lofty mountains where he commenced his wild career,
Where many's a noble gentleman before him shook with fear.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Brennan on the moor, Brennan on the moor
Bold and undaunted stood young Brennan on the moor.

Brennen met a packman whose name was Pedlar Brown,
They walkit on together till the day began to dawn;
Till he robbed him of his money, also his watch and chain,
But he once't encountered Brennan when he robbed him back again.

Brennan's wife being down to town, provisions for to buy
She saw her own dear Willie, and she began to cry.
“Come hand to me that tenpenny, you really now forgot,”
But she handed him a blunderbush from out below her cloak.

He held of the Mayor of London, till he robbed him of his gold,
And with their horse an' saddles, to the mountains they did fly;
For infantry an' cavalry to catch them they did try,
But he lay amangst the ferns that was thick upon the fields;
Nine bullet wounds he did receive before he would yield.

Here's to my dear wife and likewise ma bairnies three
But here's to my auld father who's shed many's a tear for me;
But here's to my auld mother who tore her grey locks and cried,
“Oh, I wish young Willie Brennan, in your cradle bed had died!”

Fanny Pronger sings Brennan on the Moor

A brace of loaded pistols he carried night and day
He never robb'd a poor man upon the King's Highway
But what he took off from the rich, like Turpin and Black Bess
He always did divide it with the widows in distress.

He fell in with a packman, his name was Elder Bawn,
They both jogg'd on together till the day began to dawn;
The pedlar finding his money gone, likewise his watch and chain,
He at once encountered Brennan and he robb'd him back again.

Now Brennan finding the pedlar as good a man as he,
He took him on the highway, his companion for to be;
The pedlar threw away his pack, without any more delay,
And he prov'd a faithful comerade until his dying day.

One day upon the mountain high as Willie he sat down,
He saw the Mayor of Castle, a mile outside the town;
The Mayor he knew his features, “I think, young man,” said he,
“Your name is Willie Brennan, you must come along with me.”

Now Brennan's wife had gone to town, provisions for to buy,
And when she saw Willie she began to weep and cry;
“Wife, hand to me that tenpence,” and soon as Willie spoke,
She handed him the blunderbuss from underneath her cloak.

Now with the mounted blunderbuss, the truth I will unfold:
He made the Mayor to tremble, deliver up his gold;
One hundred pounds was offer'd for his apprehension then;
On his horse and saddle to the mountains did prepare.

So they were taken prisoner and bound in iron chains,
And they were took to Clodmore Jail, strong walls did them surround
They were tried and found guilty, and the Judge made this reply,
“For robbing on the King's Highway, you're both condemn'd to die.”

Adieu to all my friends, my wife and children three,
Likewise my aged father who will shed tears for me,
Likewise my aged mother who'll tear her grey locks and cry,
“O I wish that, Willie Brennan, in your cradle you had died!”

Jim ‘Brick’ Harber sings Brennan on the Moor

It's of a fearless highwayman, a story I will tell,
His name is Willie Brennan, in Ireland he does dwell.
And on the Laverock Mountains, where he commenced his wild career,
And many a wealthy gentleman did 'fore him shake with fear.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Brennan on the moor, Brennan on the moor
Bold and undaunted stood young Brennan on the moor.

Now Brennan's wife was gone to town, provisions for to buy
And when she saw Willie she began to weep and cry.
He says, “Hand to me that tenpence”—no sooner had he spoke,
She handed him the blunderbuss from underneath her cloak.

Now with his loaded blunderbuss, the truth I will unfold:
He made the Mayor to tremble and he robbed him of his gold.
One hundred pounds was offered for his apprehension there,
So with his horse and saddle to the mountains did prepare.

Now Brennan being an outlaw upon the mountains high
Where infantry and cavalry, to take him, they did try.
But he laughed at them with scorn until ?? reach
Then nine wounds he did receive before that he would yield.

Now he was taken prisoner, in irons he were bound
Conveyed to Clonwood Jail, strong walls did him surround
He were tried and found guilty, the Judge made this reply,
“For robbing on the King's Highway you're both condemned to die.”

Farewell unto my wife and to my children three
Likewise my agèd father, he may shed tears for,
And to my loving mother who tore her grey locks and cried
Saying, “I wish that, Willie Brennan, in your cradle you had died!”

Links

See also Just Another Tune's study Some Notes on the History of Brennan on the Moor by Jürgen Kloss, and the Mudcat Café thread Origins: Who was Brennan on the Moor?.

Another song about Brennan is The Outlaw of the Hill (Roud 9699). Alasdair Roberts sang it in 2014 on The Furrow Collective's album At Our Next Meeting.