Spancil Hill or in original spelling Spancilhill is a traditional Irish folk ballad composed by Michael Considine (1850-1873), who was born in Spancil Hill and emigrated to the USA. It bemoans the plight of the Irish immigrants who so longed for home from their new lives in America, many of whom went to California with the Gold Rush. This song is sung by a man who longs for his home in Spancill Hill, County Clare, his friends and the love he left there. All the characters and places in this song are real.
Spancil Hill is located in County Clare, Ireland, just outside Ennis on the road to Tulla. Spancil Hill Fair is one of the oldest horse fairs in Ireland. It is held annually on 23 June. Spancil refers to the practice of "spancilling," which was to use a short rope to tie an animal's left fore-leg to its right hind leg, thereby hobbling the animal and stopping it from wandering too far.
Michael Considine of Spancilhill was born about 1850. In 1851, after the Great Famine, there were fewer than 20 houses, so its population was not recorded separately from the townland, whose total population had fallen from 278 in 46 houses to 174 in 34. Considine emigrated to the United States of America around 1870. He left intending to make enough money to send for his sweetheart so they could be married. Her name was Mary MacNamara, and she is mentioned in the song as ‘Mack the Ranger's daughter’.
Considine worked in Boston for two years or so before moving to California. In failing health, he wrote the poem in memory of the hometown he would not live to see again, and posted it to his young nephew in Ireland. Michael Considine died in California in 1873 at the age of twenty-three.
The rendition of the late singer/song writer Robbie McMahon, who died in 2012 at the age of eighty-six, is widely regarded as the definitive version of Spancil Hill.
The best known version of the songis that sung by the Dubliners and Christy Moore, which is highly abbreviated and makes a number of changes to the lyrics - for example renaming the protagonist "Johnny" instead of "Mike", and describes his love as daughter of a farmer instead of the local ranger.
- Last night as I lay dreaming, of the pleasant days gone by,
- My mind being bent on rambling and to Erin's Isle I did fly.
- I stepped on board a vision and sailed out with a will,
- 'Till I gladly came to anchor at the Cross of Spancilhill.
- Enchanted by the novelty, delighted with the scenes,
- Where in my early childhood, I often times have been.
- I thought I heard a murmur, I think I hear it still,
- 'Tis that little stream of water at the Cross of Spancilhill.
- And to amuse my fancy, I lay upon the ground,
- Where all my school companions, in crowds assembled 'round.
- Some have grown to manhood, while more their graves did fill,
- Oh I thought we were all young again, at the Cross of Spancilhill.
- It being on a Sabbath morning, I thought I heard a bell,
- O'er hills and vallies sounded, in notes that seemed to tell,
- That Father Dan was coming, his duty to fulfill,
- At the parish church of Clooney, just one mile from Spancilhill.
- And when our duty did commence, we all knelt down in prayer,
- In hopes for to be ready, to climb the Golden Stair.
- And when back home returning, we danced with right good will,
- To Martin Moylan's music, at the Cross of Spancilhill.
- It being on the twenty third of June, the day before the fair,
- Sure Erin's sons and daughters, they all assembled there.
- The young, the old, the stout and the bold, they came to sport and kill,
- What a curious combination, at the Fair of Spancilhill.
- I went into my old home, as every stone can tell,
- The old boreen was just the same, and the apple tree over the well,
- I miss my sister Ellen, my brothers Pat and Bill,
- Sure I only met my strange faces at my home in Spancilhill.
- I called to see my neighbors, to hear what they might say,
- The old were getting feeble, and the young ones turning grey.
- I met with tailor Quigley, he's as brave as ever still,
- Sure he always made my breeches when I lived in Spancilhill.
- I paid a flying visit, to my first and only love,
- She's as pure as any lilly, and as gentle as a dove.
- She threw her arms around me, saying Mike I love you still,
- She is Mack the Rangers daughter, the Pride of Spancilhill.
- I thought I stooped to kiss her, as I did in days of yore,
- Says she Mike you're only joking, as you often were before,
- The cock crew on the roost again, he crew both loud and shrill,
- And I awoke in California, far far from Spancilhill.
- But when my vision faded, the tears came in my eyes,
- In hope to see that dear old spot, some day before I die.
- May the Joyous King of Angels, His Choicest Blessings spill,
- On that Glorious spot of Nature, the Cross of Spancilhill.
Spancil Hill has been recorded by:
- "Spancill Hill Fair Today". Clare FM. 23 June 2009. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
- "County of Clare, Barony of Bunratty Upper, Parish of Clooney". Census of Ireland 1851. 1852. pp. 8, fn.f. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
- Carroll, Jim. "Spancil Hill", Clare County Library
- "Singer whose 'Spancil Hill' was hailed as finest version", Irish Times, 29 December 2012