Theresa O’Connor

Nell Flaherty’s Drake — Irish History in Song

Irish blessings and curses are renowned the world over. This song is famous for cramming as many Irish curses as possible into the lyrics. I mean, really, it goes to 11.

It’s said to be a crypto-rebel song, with the drake standing for Robert Emmet, who led a failed rebellion in 1803. Under such an interpretation, the grandmother is Kathleen Ni Houlihan, and the grandsons, nephews, and cousins are potential participants of future Irish rebellions.

The tune is the same as Bold Thady Quill, which I posted last year.

Oh me name it is Nell, and the truth for to tell,
I come from Cootehill which I’ll never deny;
I had a fine drake, and I’d die for his sake,
That me grandmother left me, and she goin’ to die.
The dear little fellow, his legs they were yellow;
He could fly like a swallow or swim like a hake
’Til some dirty savage, to grace his white cabbage,
Most wantonly murdered me beautiful drake.

Now, his neck it was green oh, most fit to be seen,
He was fit for a queen of the highest degree.
His body was white, and it would you delight;
He was plump, fat, and heavy, and brisk as a bee.
He was wholesome and sound, he would weigh twenty pound,
And the universe ’round I would roam for his sake.
Bad luck to the robber, be he drunk or sober,
That murdered Nell Flaherty’s beautiful drake.

May his spade never dig, may his sow never pig,
May each hair in his wig be well thrashed with the flail;
May his door never latch, may his roof have no thatch
May his turkeys not hatch, may the rats eat his meal.
May every old fairy from Cork to Dún Laoghaire
Dip him snug and airy in river or lake,
That the eel and the trout, they may dine on the snout
Of the monster that murdered Nell Flaherty’s drake.

May his pig never grunt, may his cat never hunt,
May a ghost ever haunt him at dead of the night;
May his hens never lay, may his horse never neigh,
May his goat fly away like an old paper kite.
That the flies and the fleas may the wretch ever tease,
May the piercing March breeze make him shiver and shake;
May the lumps of a stick raise the bumps fast and thick
On the monster that murdered Nell Flaherty’s drake.

Well the only good news that I have to infuse is
That old Paddy Hughes and young Anthony Blake,
Also Johnny Dwyer and Corney Maguire,
They each have a grandson of my darling drake.
Me treasure had dozens of nephews and cousins,
And one I must get or my heart it will break;
For to set me mind easy or else I’ll run crazy—
So ends the whole song of Nell Flaherty’s drake.