Red Haired Mary

by Sean McCarthy (1923 - 1990) c. 1950s


This example of "Red Haired Mary" is performed by Axel the Sot.
Please refer to Cantaria's Copyright information

Background notes:

Sean McCarthy, born in Listowel, Co Kerry, was a prolific songwriter, singer and colorful character who for his many years hosted programs on RTE Radio 1.  His more well-known songs include Shanagolden, Red Haired Mary, Highland Paddy, Murphy's Volunteers, Step it out Mary, Mountain Tae (The Hills of Connemara) and In Shame Love, In Shame. He also wrote several volumes of poetry.  The Sean McCarthy Weekend festival, held at the beginning of August in Linuge, Co. Kerry celebrates his life and songs and includes concert, ceili and ballad competition.

In  the songbook titled: The Road to Song: Sean McCarthy, His Songs, Their Music and Story, (pub Clo Duanaire, Cork Ireland, 1983) Sean wrote the following notes:

The young farmer, walked tall and proud, alnogside the big Spanish Donkey. Sparks from his large hobnail boots looked and sounded like fireworks at a Rose of Tralee Festival. Mary walked barefoot, along the soft edge of the Dingle road, her long red hair streaming like a crimson kite in the autumn wind. They came together at the bend of the road, a mile outside the town.

John Reagan's heifers, which I was driving to market, were bellowing and looking for water, so I passed them in a hurry. I saw the tall young farmer, and the Red Haired girl, alter though fighting a gallant battle, against great odds, outside Murphy's Pub. A battle that encompassed the Donkey, the Law, Mary's father, her brother, several inlaws, and of course, the Tall Farmer.

The victors? why love, of course, instant love. Red Haired Mary, and her tall man, walked into the autumn eve sunshine, with the big Spanish ass braying in approval. It was ten years later that I wrote the song. The song tells all: The fight, the short courtship, the donkey's contribution, and of course, the happy ending. The Wolfe Tones and Danny Doyle were two of the first to make their story famous but scores of other singers have sung the donkey's praises as well.

Sometimes now, when I fiddle with juke boxes in New York, Liverpool or London, I see Red Haired Mary in the titles. The song is being sung by young people that I never met, and it gives me a great feeling to know that Red Mary is known world wide.

As I was going to the Faire of Dingle,
One fine morning last July,
And walking down the road before me,
A red-haired girl I chanced to spy.

Come ride with me, my red-hair maiden,
My donkey, he can carry two.
She looked at me, her eyes a-twinklin'
And her cheeks a rosy hue.

Keep your hands off Red Haired Mary,
Her and I will soon be wed.
We'll see a priest this very morning,
Tonight we'll lie in a marriage bed.


Now when we reached the town of Dingle,
I took her hand to say goodbye.
When a tinker, he stepped up beside me,
And belted me in my left eye.


Well I was feelin kinda peevish,
My poor old eye felt sad and sore,
When I tapped him gently with my hobnails
And he flew back to Murphy's door.


Well he galloped off to find his brothers,
The tallest men I e'er did meet,
When he tapped me gently with his knuckles,
And I was minus two front teeth.


Now a pealer, he came round the corner,
Said, "Young man, you done broke the law."
When my donkey kicked him in the kneecaps
And he fell down and broke his jaw.


Well the red hair girl, she kept a'smiling,
"Young man, I'll come with you," she said.
We'll forget the priest this very morning,
Tonight we'll lie in Murphy's shed.

Keep your hands off Red Haired Mary,
Her and I will soon be wed.
We'll forget the priest this very morning,
Tonight we'll lie in Murphy's shed.