Aug 192011

Count John McCormackThe Fairy Tree, Clogheen

Of all the Irish songs recorded by the celebrated Irish tenor Count John McCormack (pictured), perhaps the best loved, in Ireland at any rate, is ‘The Fairy Tree’. Katie Ryan who lived just outside the village for most of her eighty seven years, provided the inspiration for the author of the lyrics, Temple Lane.

Temple Lane was the pen-name of Isabel Leslie, daughter of the Rev. Canon Leslie, who at one time ministered in St. Mary’s Protestant Church in Clonmel, later at St. Paul’s Church of Ireland in Clogheen (now the Community Centre), and later still in Lismore where he is buried. She took her name from the Temple lane that ran near her former home in Clonmel.

This tune was written in 1930 by Dr. Vincent O’Brien, who had been choirmaster to John McCormack when the singer was still an unknown student. O’Brien dedicated it to the tenor’s wife. It reads: ‘To Lily. Countess McCormack. In kind remembrance’. This captivating piece contains traits of paganism and Christianity – a duality often found in the Celtic tradition. (thanks to the Mudcat Cafe for information on the song’s writer).

Katie Ryan died in 1960 and is buried in Shanrahan Cemetery, a number of years ago a stone cross with plaque was erected to her memory.

The actual Fairy Tree no longer exists but it was, apparently, located on a hill in Kilcaroon (half way  between Clogheen and Ballyporeen). If anyone has a photo of the tree or exact details of its position we’d appreciate it.

This is John McCormack’s version of the song. You’ll have to forgive the quality as it was recorded in December 1930.


Here is a rendition of the song by famed Irish harpist, Mary O’Hara:


The words to the The Fairy Tree are:

All night around the thorn tree,
The little people play,
And men and women passing
Will turn their heads away.
From break of dawn til moonrise,
Alone it stands on high,
With twisted springs for branches,
Across the winter sky.

They’ll tell you dead men hung there,
Its black and bitter fruit,
To guard the buried treasure
Round which it twines its root.
They’ll tell you Cromwell hung them,
But that could never be,
He’d be in dread like others
To touch the Fairy Tree.

But Katie Ryan who saw there
In some sweet dream she had,
The Blessed Son of Mary
And all His face was sad.
She dreamt she heard Him saying:
“Why should they be afraid?”
[Repeat: “Why should they be afraid?”]
When from a branch of thorn tree
The crown I wore was made?

From moonrise round the thorn tree
The little people play
And men and women passing
Will turn their heads away.
But if your heart’s a child’s heart
And if your eyes are clean,
You’ll never fear the thorn tree
That grows beyond Clogheen.

  3 Responses to “The Fairy Tree, Clogheen”

  1. thanks to google for providing words of fairy tree.

  2. beautiful words,lovely singer mary ohara

  3. I lived right across the road from the fairy tree in Kilcarroon growing up. Beautiful place with much folklore surrounding the tree. They planted a new tree in the spot where the original tree was which is still there today. The fairy tree had been cut down years prior from a local farmer. No luck ever came to owners of the land.

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