Boys of Kilkenny

In Brief

The anonymous Irish song that Kevin Egan taught his son Patrice, "The boys of Kilkenny," lauds the charms of the town. But it concludes on a note of exilic loneliness, which probably explains Egan's attachment to it.

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In the version reproduced in Alfred Moffat's The Minstrelsy of Ireland: 206 Irish Songs (4th ed., 1897), the song begins,

Oh! the boys of Kilkenny are stout roving blades
And if ever they meet with the nice little maids,
They kiss them and coax them, they spend their money free.
Oh! of all towns in Ireland, Kilkenny for me.
Oh! of all towns in Ireland, Kilkenny for me.

The second and third stanzas wax lyrical about the beauty of the town's natural setting and the beauty of a woman whom the singer knew there. But she apparently rejected him, and in the last stanza this sadness gives way to the deeper sadness of nostalgia:

Oh! Kilkenny's a town that shines where it stands,
And the more I think on it, the more my heart warms,
And if in Kilkenny I'd think myself home,
For it's there I'd get sweethearts but here I get none.
For it's there I'd get sweethearts but here I get none.

As Zack Bowen observes (Musical Allusions in the Works of James Joyce, 77), these melancholy words are "much closer to Egan's exiled position" than the rest of the song. Stephen is apparently familiar with them, because in the following sentences he thinks of two more exiles' laments, alluding to "Napper Tandy" and to the Jews' longing for "Sion." The words also evoke Egan's separation from his wife: "Loveless, landless, wifeless. She is quite nicey comfy without her outcast man, madame in rue Git-le-Coeur,  canary and two buck lodgers. Peachy cheeks, a zebra skirt, frisky as a young thing's."

JH 2016
The melody of The Boys of Kilkenny. Source: www.8notes.com.