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The Creggan White Hare
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; Mudcat 3588
The Creggan White Hare relates the hunting of hares with greyhounds, a popular pastime in many rural areas in Ireland. However, “the white hare of Low Creggan was too smart for them all”.
Andy Irvine learned The Creggan White Hare from the singing of Vincent Donnelly from Castle Caulfield, Co. Tyrone, on an old BBC disc recorded in 1952 by Sean O’Boyle and Peter Kennedy. He sang it in 1982 on his and Dick Gaughan's album Parallel Lines.
Maggie Murphy sang The White Hare of Golan to Keith Summers in 1982 in her cottage in Tempo. This recording was included in 2014 on his Musical Traditions anthology of traditional songs from around Lough Erne's shore, I Pray You Pay Attention.
This is a version of The Creggan White Hare—which Kevin Mitchell sings so well [see below]— and which had only been found twice before; from Vincent Donnelly of Castlecaulfield, Co Tyrone, in 1952, and from Paddy Tunney.
What's particularly interesting is that, here, the locations and participants names have been changed to suit local interest. Nothing unusual in that, except that the main protagonist has changed from Barney Conway to Michael Hicks—the same Michael and Jenny Hicks who were so helpful to Keith Summers in meeting these singers in the first place!
Golan is a townland east of Omagh, County Tyrone. But the more likely location for this song is an area that is near Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh. Golan Road is next to Ballagh Cross Roads.
Kevin Mitchell sang The Creggan White Hare on his and Ellen Mitchell's 2001 Musical Traditions anthology Have a Drop Mair. He and Rod Stradling commented in the accompanying booklet:
Hare coursing has always been popular on the Armagh/Tyrone Border. I have had this song for a long number of years and have recently taken to singing it again.
One solitary example of this superb song exists in the Roud Index: Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle recorded it for the BBC from Vincent Donnelly in Castlecaulfield, Co Tyrone, in 1952. It's on BBC recording 18532.
Daoirí Farrell sang The Creggan White Hare on his 2009 CD The First Turn. He noted:
I learned the words of this song from an Andy Irvine album. The song means a lot to me as I have kept dogs since childhood. Each time I sing this song I can see the story unfold and it brings me back to my childhood. Like me the song is not really that old. It can be traced back to the 1930s when it was written by a Tyrone man Barney Conway (he appears in the 2nd verse). The song is dedicated to my friend Mick Kelly who owned a dog called Bonny Black Belle, which he had for a short period of time before she was taken on him.
Crosswind sang The Creggan White Hare in 2014 on their CD Swift As a Swallow.
Niamh Boadle sang Creggan White Hare on her 2015 WildGoose CD Maid on the Shore. She commented:
Another song learnt from Karen Casey—Tyrone ‘sportsmen’ go down to help Barney Conway hunt the legendary white hare. It turns out to be a little unsuccessful.
Andy Irvine sings The Creggan White Hare
In the lowland of Creggan, there lives a white hare,
As swift as the swallow that flies through that air.
You may tramp the world over but none can compare
With the pride of low Creggan, the bonnie white hare.
One clean autumn morning, as you may suppose,
The red golden sun o’er the green mountain rose.
Barney Conway came down and he did declare,
“This day I’ll put an end to that bonnie white hare.”
He searched through the lowlands and down through the glens
And among the wild bushes where the white hare had ends,
Till at last, coming home o’er the heather so bare,
From behind a wild thistle jumped out the white hare.
“Bang! bang!” went his gun and his dog it slipped too,
As swift as the wind over the green mountain flew.
But the dog soon came back, which made poor Barney sigh,
For he knew that the white hare had bid him goodbye.
We’re some jolly sportsmen down here from Pomeroy,
From Cookstown, Dungannon, and likewise the Moy.
With our pedigree greyhounds we’ve travelled afar
And we’ve come down to Creggan in our fine motor car.
Away to the lowlands these huntsmen did go
In search of the white hare they look high and low.
Till at last Barney Conway on a bog bank so bare
Shouted out to these huntsmen, “There lies the white hare.”
They call up their greyhounds from off the green lea
And Barney and the huntsmen they jumped high with glee.
For there on the turf bank all gathered around,
Seven dogs and nine men did that poor hare surround.
No wonder the white hare did tremble with fear
As she stood on her toes and would raise her big ears.
But she stood on her toes and with one gallant spring
She cleared over the greyhounds and broke through the ring.
Well the chase I went on, ’twas beautiful view
As swift as the wind o’er the green mountains flew.
But with pedigree greyhounds, they didn’t go far,
They come back and went home in their motor car.
There come another man and you all know him well;
His name is Pat Devlin and Bonnie Black Nell.
In search of the white hare, he says, “I’ll have fun:
Here’s fifty to one that Black Nell does her turn.”
Five turns the hare got then from Bonnie Black Nell,
And the sixth one was given around John Haughey’s well.
‘Twas there we lost sight of the hare and the dog,
And ten minutes later they come o’er the bog.
Well, the chase it went on, it was great for to see.
The white hare and the greyhound they roamed light and free
Till she travelled to Esker where she knew the lands well,
And to Bonnie Black Nell she soon bid farewell.
And now to conclude and finish it’s time,
I hope you’ll forgive me for singing this rhyme.
If there’s any amongst you in Carrick more fair
Let’s drink up a health to that bonnie white hare.
Maggie Murphy sings The White Hare of Golan
In the lowlands of Golan there runs a white hare
She’s as sweet as a swallow and flies through the air.
You may search the world over but none can compare
To the pride of all Golan, this bonny white hare.
One fine Sunday morning as you may suppose
As a grey autumn sun o’er the green fields arose
Michael Hicks he came there saying, “This I declare,
Sure I’ll soon put an end to your bonny white hare.”
He searched through the mountains and down through the glen
And o’er the green bushes where the hare had her den,
But on his way home from his journey so bare,
From behind a big thristle jumped out the white hare.
Then the slips he let loose at that beautiful view
And out over Brookeborough the white hare she flew,
But the dogs soon came back, which made Michael sigh
For the sign of the white hare soon bade them goodbye.
There were some jolly sportsmen come down from Derrylin
From Newtown and Brookeborough, likewise Enniskillen.
With their pedigree hounds that they brought from afar
They landed in Golan in their fine motorcars.
They searched through the lowlands, light-hearted and gay,
Intending to murdera white hare that day,
But sad was their face and long may they rue
For they found the old white hare’s in Golan to stay.
For now to conclude and to finish my song,
I hope in these few words I’ve said nothing wrong,
And if ever you’re out in the mart or a fair,
Drink a jolly good health to the Golan white hare.
Kevin Mitchell sings The Creggan White Hare
In the lowland of Creggan there runs a white hare
She's as swift as a swallow that flies through the air
You may search the world over but none can compare
She's the pride of low Creggan, this bonny white hare.
One fine Sunday morning as you may suppose
As the low autumn sun o'er the green meadows rose
Barney Conway got up and these words did declare
“Today I'll put an end to the bonny white hare.”
He searched though the lowlands and down through the glens
Among the green rushes where the white hare had dens
It was on his way homeward on a lea rigg so bare
From behind a big thistle out jumped the white hare.
And bang went his gun and his dogs he slipped too
As over the green fields like lightning they flew
But these dogs soon came back which made poor Barney sigh
'Twas a sign the old white hare had bid them goodbye.
We have some jolly sportsmen come here from Pomroy
Dungannon and Cookstown and likewise the Moy
With their pedigree greyhounds they came from afar
And they landed in Creggan in their big motor car.
And off to the lowlands, lighthearted and gay,
Determined to murder the white hare that day
And at length Barney Conway he came on its lair
And he cried to the sportsmen, “Here lies the white hare.”
Oh they called up their dogs from off the green lea
Both the sportsmen and Barney they cried high with glee
It was there on the turf bank they all gathered round
Seven men and nine dogs did the big hare surround.
You should see the poor hare now as she trembles with fear
Oh she stood on her toes and did lift her big ears
Oh she stood on her toes and with one gallant spring
Leapt over the greyhounds and broke through the ring
Oh the chase it went on, 'twas a beautiful view
As over the green fields and meadows they flew
But these pedigree greyhounds they didn't go far
They came back and went home in their big motor car.
So now to conclude and to finish me rhyme
I hope you'll forgive me for wasting your time
But if ever you're out at a market or fair
Drink a jolly fine toast to the bonny white hare.
Thanks to Ezio for the transcription of The Creggan White Hare