Follow Me Up To Carlow – Lyrics Explained

Here are the lyrics to Follow Me Up To Carlow. The song has three verses and a chorus.

After the lyrics, we explain all the characters and places in the song.

First Verse Of Follow Me Up To Carlow

Lift MacCahir Óg your face

Brooding o’er the old disgrace

That Black Fitzwilliam stormed your place,

And drove you to the Fern

Grey said victory was sure

Soon the firebrand he’d secure;

Until he met at Glenmalure

With Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne.


Curse and swear, Lord Kildare

Fiach will do what Fiach will dare

Now FitzWilliam, have a care

Fallen is your star low

Up with halbert out with sword

On we’ll go for by the Lord

Fiach MacHugh has given the word,

Follow me up to Carlow.

Second Verse

See the swords of Glen Imaal,

They’re flashing o’er the English Pale

See all the children of the Gael,

Beneath O’Byrne’s banners

Rooster of a fighting stock,

Would you let a Saxon cock

Crow out upon an Irish rock?

Fly up and teach him manners!

Third Verse

From Tassagart to Clonmore,

There flows a stream of Saxon gore

O, great is Rory Óg O’More,

At sending loons to Hades.

White is sick, Grey is fled,

Now for Black FitzWilliam’s head

We’ll send it over dripping red,

To Queen Liza and her ladies.

Who Wrote Follow Me Up To Carlow?

The lyrics of “Follow Me Up To Carlow” were written by P J McCall. Patrick Joseph was born in Dublin in 1861. He collected traditional songs and tunes.

His biographer states that he found the tune to Follow Me Up To Carlow at a musical gathering in Wexford in 1887. McCall also wrote Boolavogue and “Kelly, The Boy From Killane”.

Here’s the biography, “Glory O! Glory O!: The Life Of P.J. McCall” by Liam Gaul.

Who Recorded Follow Me Up To Carlow?

There are many great recordings of the song. It was revived and popularized by folk band Planxty and their singer Christy Moore.

This is from their debut album in 1973.

Here’s a live recording from Jim McCann.

The High Kings released a recent (and faster) version on their album “Grace & Glory”. And here are the boys playing live.

And how about a heavy metal version? Here is the inimitable Cruachan belting out the marching song.

Explanation Of The Lyrics

There are a lot of characters in this song.

The rest of this article gives an explanation of each character, along with a description of the places.

Who Was MacCahir Og?

MacCahir means “the son of Cahir” and Óg means “young”. The MacCahir Óg in the song is Brian, the son of Cahir Art Kavanagh. Their clan lands were in Carlow.

Brian MacCahir Óg was married to Fiach’s sister Elinor.

The old disgrace refers to when the Kavanagh lands were confiscated by the Lord Deputy William Fitzwilliam in the 1570s.

Who Was Black Fitzwilliam

Black Fitzwilliam was Lord Deputy for two periods in Ireland. He was not popular, and his tenure was known for poverty amongst the people.

In between, he returned to England where he was governor of Fotheringay Castle. There, he presided over the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Who Was Grey?

Grey was Baron Grey de Wilton who served as Lord Deputy when Fitzwilliam was in England.

He traveled to Ireland with thousands of English soldiers to quell the rebellions. One of his targets was Fiach McHugh O’Byrne who led the O’Byrne clan in Wicklow.

Grey marched three thousand men to Wicklow to defeat Fiach McHugh. He did not doubt that he’d secure victory and capture the firebrand Wicklow chieftain.

What Happened At Glenmalure?

The Battle of Glenmalure lives on as a famous defeat of the Crown by a band of clan armies led by Fiach McHugh O’Byrne.

You can read more in our article on the history of the O’Byrne Clan.

Who Was Lord Kildare?

The Lord Kildare in the song was Pierce Fitzgerald who was serving as Sheriff of Kildare.

Fiach’s sons attacked Fitzgerald’s stronghold, Ardree Castle, in 1594. They burnt it to the ground and killed Pierce, his wife, and her sisters.

Fiach said he had nothing to do with this act, but that was not believed at the time.

What Is A Halbert?

A “halbert” is the archaic name for a halberd, which is like a long axe.

Here’s one laid horizontally.

Why Carlow?

I’ve seen various speculation about why this rousing song exerts listeners to follow Fiach McHugh up to Carlow.

Some people are surprised because the O’Byrne heartland was in Wicklow. They speculate that the songwriter chose Carlow to represent any garrison town (a town with English troops barracked in it).

But I don’t see what’s so surprising. MacCahir Óg’s stolen homelands were in Carlow. Surely, it’s a battle cry to follow Fiach to regain the lands.

By the way, the wily Brian MacCahir would go on to regain his father’s lands through politicking and intrigue.

Who Wielded The Swords Of Glen Imaal Over The Pale?

The Glen of Imaal is a valley in the Wicklow mountains.

It was a stronghold of the O’Toole’s, who were strong allies of the O’Byrnes. The O’Tooles fought with the O’Byrnes on raids into Dublin.

The English stronghold of Dublin was known as the English Pale. The swords of Glen Imaal flashed when Fiach led raids into Dublin,

Fiach had united many of the Irish clans i.e. the children of the Gael marched beneath his banners.

Tassagart and Clonmore

Tassagart is now known as Saggart, and is a village in what is now South Dublin. Clonmore is a village in County Carlow.

They are sixty km apart, which is a long stream of Saxon blood.

Who Was Rory Óg O’More?

Rory Óg O’More was married to one of Fiach McHugh’s sisters.

He was a serial rebel against the crown and participated in several rebellions. In alliance with the O’Connors, he attacked The Pale and burnt Naas.

Who Was White?

Sir Nicholas White was the Seneschal (military governor) of Wexford.

Fiach McHugh and Brian MacCahir were charged in 1572 with the murder of White’s son-in-law, Robert Browne, a wealthy landowner in Wexford.

White was furious and returned from England to capture Fiach and Brian. However, he never managed to take them.

White’s health deteriorated in the early 1590s, as referenced in the song.

Was It Grey Or Lane Who Fled?

The current version of the song says that Grey had fled. But the original version said “Lane has fled”.

This was Sir Ralph Lane who became Muster Master General of Ireland in 1592.