Mary from Dungloe - the Lyrics to a Tale of Tragic Love

Who Was the Mary from Dungloe They Sing About so Much?

The Donegal coastline, maybe the last glimpse of home both Mary from Dungloe and her one true love ever had
© 2016

The popular Irish song "Mary from Dungloe" was originally the work of a Donegal stonemason called Pádraig Mac Cumhaill, it first appeared in 1936. Today, it is regarded as part of the folk tradition in Ireland, with a similar (shorter and often more popular) version coming from Colm O'Laughlin. Both versions are essentially telling the old story of love and heartbreak. Always popular in an Irish context ...

Mary from Dungloe - the Lyrics

Oh, then fare ye well, sweet Donegal, the Rosses and Gweedore.
I'm crossing the main ocean, where the foaming billows roar.
It breaks my heart from you to part, where I spent many happy days
Farewell to kind relations, for I'm bound for Amerikay.

Oh, my love is tall and handsome and her age is scarce eighteen;
She far exceeds all other fair maids when she trips over the green;
Her lovely neck and shoulders are fairer than the snow.
Till the day I die I'll ne'er deny my Mary from Dungloe.

If I was at home in sweet Dungloe a letter I would write;
Kind thoughts would fill my bosom for Mary my delight;
'Tis in her father's garden, the fairest violets grow
And t'was there I came to court the maid, my Mary from Dungloe.

Ah then, Mary, you're my heart's delight my pride and only care,
It was your cruel father would not let me stay there.
But absence makes the heart grow fond and when I'm o'er the main
May the Lord protect my darling girl till I return again.

And I wish I was in sweet Dungloe and seated on the grass
And by my side a bottle of wine and on my knee a lass.
I'd call for liquor of the best and I'd pay before I would go
And I'd roll my Mary in my arms in the town of sweet Dungloe.

Mary from Dungloe - the History

Actually, this rather non-descript story (boy loves girl, girl loves boy, parents disagree, everybody emigrates, and dies) claims a historical background.

Which, in itself, is basically the same story:

Paddy and Annie Gallagher, married since 1840, lived in the Rosses, setting up home in Lettercaugh - as farmers and shopkeepers, achieving a rural middle-class status. And raising a family with four children, Manus, Bridget, Annie (also known as Nancy), and Mary. The youngest, Mary, was also known as the most beautiful girl in the area, she "stood out" (being quite tall and having good clothes helped).

Mary accompanied her father to the summer fair in Dungloe in 1861, which doubled up as a sort of matchmaking event for unmarried sins and daughter. There she met (upon the introduction of her father) a young man, wealthy, originally from Gweedore, but lately residing in the USA. A man with enough money to provide for a wife and home in Ireland. He became a frequent visitor and was welcome in the Gallagher household. A wedding was actually planned for September - when things went sour. Apparently neighbours had been spreading gossip about the young man, and everything was called off. Leaving the two young lovers heartbroken.

But as things did not change, the "returned emigrant" found live in the area unbearable ... and turned to emigration once more.

Whirlwind style ... already on October 6th, 1861, he left Ireland for the USA again.

Having nothing left to live for in the Rosses, Mary in turn corresponded with her brother Manus, who had been evicted in 1860, made his way to New Zealand, and settled there quite successfully. So she upped sticks as well in a short time ... six months and a day after the summer fair, on December 5th, 1861, she started her emigration journey to New Zealand, planning to join her relatives there. And to begin a new life. Which also happened quite quickly - on the emigrant ship she met a certain Dónal Egan, marrying him soon after. But even that was not for long, as after giving birth to a baby boy she died within four months, with her son surviving only a few months more.

A story to warm your cockles ...

Mary from Dungloe - the Festival

The Emmet-Spiceland Ballad Group (one of the members was respected Irish folk musician Donal Lunny) released a version of "Mary from Dungloe" in the 1960s, and this actually reached number 1 in the Irish singles music chart on the February 24th, 1968.

You can listen to it on YouTube if you dare ...

Suddenly, Dungloe was on the map ... and the "Mary from Dungloe International Festival", was born. A typically Irish music festival held at the end of July in Dungloe - somewhat similar to "The Rose of Tralee" (which, incidentally, is also based on a tragic love story enshrined in the song "The Rose of Tralee"). The festival also runs a pageant to find the (feamle) contestant that most embodies the "spirit of the festival", she then is crowned and known as "Mary from Dungloe" for a year. Believe it or not, tens of thousands flock to this festival ...