‘Ballad-Maker Supreme’: The Patriotic Songs of Thade Gouran of Duagh

If you are doomed to meet the call, and die for Erin dear,
A soldier stand, a soldier fall, like the blacksmith volunteer

– ‘The Blacksmith Volunteer’ by Thade Gouran

Castleisland District Heritage has acquired a copy of the CD, The Songs of Thade Gouran produced in 2007.[1]  Twenty-one ballads are recorded on the CD, which features Eileen Curtin, Maighread Curtin, Frankie Forde, Luke Keane, Jim Lyons, Neilus Roche, Deirdre Scanlan and Karen Trench.


Timothy (‘Thade’) Gouran was born in Meenscovane, Duagh, Co Kerry on 7th June 1868, the youngest child of nine of John Gouran and Bridget Collins.[2]  He was described as a patriotic man, who wrote many ballads about the Civil War period.  In songs like The Boys from Sweet Duagh, he expressed his longing for Irish freedom.


In 1895, Thade Gouran married Hannah Dillon (Dillane) of Moynsha and they had seven daughters and a son, John Patrick (Johnny).[3]  In 1901, Thade was resident with his family at Moynsha with his mother-in-law, Johana Dillane, a widow.  His occupation then was ‘agent for Singer Co.’ The later census records him living at Knocknacrohy with his family, his occupation farm labourer.


Thade Gouran did not enjoy robust health.  In appearance he was tall and thin, and dressed in an overcoat which he wore even during the summer.  J B Keane described him as ‘a pale-faced, rather lanky man, the kind of man country people would describe as rawly.’[4]


The Knocknacrohy Cottage Affair


In 1908, Thade Gouran had issues with work and rent.  In early 1908, he took his concerns about the administration of direct labour to the Irish Land and Labour Association in Ballybunion.[5] His difficulties did not resolve because the following year, Listowel District Council evicted Thade Gouran from his cottage at Knocknacrohy, the eviction taking place in April 1909.[6]


Mrs Gouran applied to Listowel Board of Guardians for her family to be reinstated. At a meeting of the Irish Land and Labour Association soon after, the case was described as ‘the most heartless … even this very evening those poor little children were all sick, and the rain pouring down on them through the kind of a roof over them.’[7]


Thade Gouran, an ‘evicted cottier,’ attended a subsequent meeting of the Irish Land and Labour Association and the matter had clearly escalated:


A letter from Mr Mangan was read promising every support to Mrs Gouran within his power, and promising Mrs Gouran that he would get Michael Joseph Flavin MP to interest himself on behalf of her and her helpless family.[8]


As 1909 drew to a close, Mrs Gouran informed the Board that Mr R Walsh (RO) from Listowel had attended her temporary home and told her that ‘the little hut she now had shelter in was not fit for human habitation and that she would have to get a home somewhere else.’[9]


The Gouran family’s dire situation entered another year as the politics of the affair was debated. An appeal went out in February 1910:


We, the undersigned, make an appeal to the public for subscriptions to build a hut for Timothy Gourane of Knocknacrohy, Duagh, and his family, who are during the past six months living in a miserable hovel unfit for human habitation, victims of the Cottiers agitation, and the tyranny of some members of the Listowel RDC.  His cottage was taken four days after his eviction by a lady, Mrs Barry, whose family own hundreds of acres of land.  She is a lady of means and holds another house and farm, and a poultry station.[10]


The writers showed no compassion for the new owner:


Mrs Barry, formerly Miss Creaghe-Harnett, accompanied by Constabulary, holds poor Gouran’s house.  Now, we appeal to the generous and sympathetic people of North Kerry for help to shelter this poor family.  Signed: Michael Mangan, Kilfeighney, F C O’Keeffe, Meenscurrane, Abbeyfeale


At the beginning of May 1910, amid discussion about the land and property of Mrs Barry and of giving her notice to vacate the cottage, it was learned that she intended leaving it herself.  As Mr Mangan put it, ‘the sooner the better.’[11]


As far as can be seen, the Gouran family were subsequently reinstated in their home, as the following suggests:


At a meeting of the Lixnaw Cotters’ Association in May 1910, a resolution was proposed thanking T M O’Connor for the interest he took in Gouran’s case, several of the members saying that only for he taking up the case poor Gouran would be a long time out of his cottage.[12]


The Ballad-Maker Supreme


In 1913, Thade was working as a water bailiff.[13]  He was also known to work as a water diviner which took him to neighbouring parishes in North Kerry and West Limerick.  It was during these excursions that he heard many stories which formed the basis of his compositions.


Little is known about Thade Gouran’s later years, but his music and verse earned him popular appeal in North Kerry.  He died on 28 January 1927 aged 58 and was laid to rest in Abbeyfeale.


Fortunately, many (but not all) of Thade Gouran’s ballads were collected, recorded, published and launched at Duagh Heritage Centre on 1 December 2007. The CD – with accompanying booklet – was sponsored by the Byrnes family, Coolanelig, Duagh, Andy and Liz Keane, Meenscovane, and Joseph Galvin, Ballymacelligott.[14]


A memorial plaque was erected in St Mary’s Cemetery, Abbeyfeale and on the gable wall of Duagh Family Centre in November 2008, funded by the sale of the CD.[15]


Gouran (McGouran)
This plaque is dedicated to the memory
Thade Gouran
(Timothy McGouran)
Knocknacrohy, Duagh
Ballad-Maker Supreme
7 June 1868-28 January 1927

‘Brave Youths and Fair Maidens
My Songs will be Singing
When I’m Sleeping at Rest
On the Banks of the Feale.’

Also Remember his Wife Johanna,
Son Johnny and Daughters.



The Ballads


A cursory glance at Thade Gouran’s ballads shows a rich collection of contemporary nationalist songs, and with a distance now of more than a century, each would make a considerable research project.[16] Many patriots are recalled by name, and as the following examples show, they throw up considerable histories.


‘Bob Browne’ conveys the tragic tale of two brothers:


A loving heart, a nerve of steel, like lightning at the gun,
His name he scorned to conceal, they found him on the run,
No cowardly mercy did he crave, they quickly shot him down,
He’s resting in a Fenian’s grave, remember poor Bob Browne.
His house was burned by the foe, who raided night and day,
His youthful brother shot also, he died at Gortatlea.
But God will blast that murderous crew, in country and in town,
To Him we leave the vengeance due, farewell to poor Bob Browne.


Robert ‘Bob’ Browne, native of Beheenagh, Knocknagoshel, was shot and killed by British forces at Knockalougha, Knocknagoshel on 8th February 1921.  He was a member of the Irish Volunteer company in Ballymacelligott attached to the 2nd Battalion, Kerry No 2 Brigade.[17] His ‘youthful brother,’ mentioned in the verse above, was John Browne, whose memory is also enshrined – with Richard Laide – in Gouran’s tribute, The Gortatlea Ambush:


A long farewell two comrades dear, in martry’s place you stood,
Your gallant deeds will be admired and it is right they should,
But we will crack that ancient foe and break their spirits down,
While grass is growing and water flowing, remember Laide and Browne.[18]


The Thade Gouran collection of songs has been assigned Ref No: IE CDH 181 in the archive of Castleisland District Heritage.


[1] The copy was donated by Mary Cogan, Listowel to whom sincere thanks are extended.

[2] John McGowran of Meenscovane and Bridget Collins were married in Duagh on 4 March 1851.  The surname has many variants, including McGouran, Gowran, McGowran, Magouran and McGovern. 

Thade’s siblings were Mary (Mai Nan) 1852 married Timothy Kirby; Daniel 1853, Patrick (Paddy) 1855 married Margaret Dillane; Hanora (Nanno) 1857 married widower Edmond Walsh, Knocknagoshel; John (Jack) 1860, married, died in Blessington, Co Wicklow; Maurice 1862, may have gone to Clare; Bridget 1864; James (Jim) 1866, remained single.

In October 1912, Rev J Beazley, Parish Priest of Duagh, appealed for funds to build a new church at Corrigcannon, among the subscribers was J Gouran, ex-Sergt, RIC, Meenscovane.

[3] The girls were Joanna (Hannie), Bridget (Bridgie), Sarah, Nora, Kitty, Mary Agnes (Aggie), and Peggy.

[4] http://www.odonohoearchive.com/echoes-of-1921-holzers-paranormal-investigation-of-a-north-kerry-tragedy/ Notes on some of Thade Gouran’s songs can also be found at this link.

[5] Kerry People, 21 March 1908.  ‘It was resolved to call on the County Council to hold an enquiry about the administration of direct labour, and requesting the Listowel Guardians to treat Timothy M’Gouran leniently.’

[6] A letter from Thade was read at a meeting of the Duagh Cottiers’ League on 20 April 1909 to advise that he was to be evicted in a few days although he offered to pay rent up to the first of the month. It was resolved: ‘We condemn the action of the Listowel District Council for having evicted Mr Timothy M Gouran from his cottage and plot’ Signed John H Roche, Secretary’ (Kerry People, 1 May 1909).

[7] Kerry People, 11 December 1909.  ‘Mr Tim Corridan said they were not really sure of how this case of Mrs Gouran’s ended.  The secretary had met Mr M J Nolan, JP MCO. Mr Nolan maintains that the efforts of Mr J Boland, DC, Liselton, to rescind the resolution of reinstating Mrs Gouran was defeated at Friday’s meeting of the Listowel Board of Guardians.  He said this was the most heartless case he ever had the experience of seeing in his life; an agreement in Creagh and Byrne’s office, signed by our secretary, F C O’Keeffe and Mr P O’Donnell to pay the 27s.  She was expected also to pay cost of eviction and to guarantee two years’ rent.  The men who voted for Mr Boland’s resolution ought to feel they have done a manly act to keep those six little naked children homeless.  Even this very evening he was informed those poor little children were all sick, and the rain pouring down on them through the kind of a roof over them.’

[8] Kerry People, 25 December 1909. 

[9] Kerry People, 25 December 1909.  ‘The Chairman said he wished to thank Mr M J Nolan MCC also Mr P Healy MCC and Mr Pierce MCC for the manly stand they have taken against those whose ideas were that might was right, where your opponent was a helpless poor woman with six young children.  Mrs Gouran sent a note stating that Mr R Walsh RO from Listowel was there on Monday and told her the little hut she now had shelter in was not fit for human habitation and that she would have to get a home somewhere else. Mr Corridan wished to thank the members of the board, especially Mr William McCarthy DC Finuge who has acted so nobly on behalf of this poor woman from the start, in using his powerful influence with the Board, alto to the Kerry People which had given us the assistance of letting the public see the honest facts of this case.  I would wish to state here that it is false for any one to say that Mr O’Donnell or I addressed the Board, as the same gag rule was observed on the day of the previous meeting, even when Mr T O’Connell Co C requested the Board to hear either of us as large and representative ratepayers.  F C O’Keeffe, Hon Sec.’

[10] Kerry People, 26 February 1910. ‘The ratepayers of the townland in his division would pay all rent and costs due, and give security for two years rent in advance, until such time as his young family would be able to go to work and help him to pay the rent of this cottage.’

[11] Kerry People, 14 May 1910.  ‘At a meeting of the Listowel Board of Guardians, Mr T M O’Connor moved, in accordance with notice of motion: ‘That Mrs Barry get one month’s notice to vacate the Knocknacrohy cottage, and that Mrs Gouran be admitted tenant, the ratepayers of the district giving security for the rent.  It is a crying shame to allow a lady of wealth to usurp the rights of Mrs Gouran who had six children and a delicate husband.’  The Chairman asked if there was seconder, and there being no reply, the said resolution fell through.  As the clerk was about to proceed with other business, Mr P Keane said he would second the resolution. Mr Dineen said it was wrong for Mr O’Connor to take up the question; it may be the duty of some Guardian representing the division; he (Mr Dineen) was living as near to the place as Mr O’Connor.  Mr Boland – Mr Chairman, did you not make an order that the resolution fell through? … The clerk said there was a letter from the Local Government Board on the matter stating that they had learned from their Inspector that Mrs Barry, tenant of the cottage at Knocknacrohy, and also that she held six acres of land on the 11 months system as well as being the owner of two cows and a donkey, and her husband on his own admission had not been employed at agricultural labour since last harvest, and under the circumstances Mrs Barry or her husband would not appear to be agricultural labourers, and they therefore asked the Council to terminate the tenancy. Mr Boland – If that applies, half the tenants on the whole union will be evicted.  Mr W L C Harnett stated that it was not a fact that she had two cows and six acres of land.  He understood that Gouran was occupying a house and had paid six month’s rent.  But as a matter of fact he believed it was Mrs Barry’s intention to leave the place very soon. Mr Mangan – It is a case of the sooner the better.  I am very sorry to get into collision with the Harnett family because they are an old and very respectable family, but it was very extraordinary to see a member of it coming into the rights of a destitute man and a woman with six children. This man (Gouran) and the ratepayers were giving a guarantee that the rent would be paid in the future and if this woman (Mrs Barry) was going to leave the country at all she should leave it at once for quietness sake.  Mr Dineen – It is very strange to say that we must go down to Tarbert to get a guardian to move on this, while there are guardians nearer home in the district.  Mr Boland said any guardian has a right.  Mr O’Connor – Mr Dineen is sore because he has not fathered the thing himself.  Mr P Keane said Mrs Barry was about the leave the place in about a week’s time.  Mr O’Connor said he was pressed by several people, some of them with clerical clothes, to move in the matter; some people went into his division and shoved their nose into his business, and as long as they did that he would do the same.  Mr Collins said it was union-at-large rating, and he did not see why any representative had not a right to move in any division he like.  As Ml Keane stated that the cottage would be soon vacated he suggested that they adjourn he matter.’  

[12] Kerry People, 28 May 1910. T M O’Connor was a member of the Listowel Board of Guardians.

[13] Timothy Gowran and Ed Sheehy, water bailiffs, gave evidence at fishery prosecutions at Listowel Petty Sessions in 1913 (Kerryman, 20 December 1913).

[14] Report in Kerryman, 8 August 2007.

[15] Kerryman, 26 November 2008. The plaque erected at Duagh Family Centre is inscribed: Gouran (McGouran)/This plaque is dedicated/to the memory of/Thade Gouran/(Timothy McGouran)/Knocknacrohy, Duagh/Ballad-Maker Supreme/7 June 1868-28 January 1927/‘Brave Youths and Fair Maidens My Songs will be Singing/When I’m Sleeping at Rest On the Banks of the Feale.’

[16] Content: O’Connor James Was He; Seven Years Since I Ate An Egg; The Boys of Sweet Duagh; Bomber Foley, The Boy from The Hill; The Yorkshire Pig; The Rebel Boy; Get Ready Boys, Sinn Féin; The Burning of Dromlegach School; Jamonie’s Ass; The Jobber from Clare (two versions, pp14 & 26); The Making of the Cheese; Johnnie Linnane; Bob Browne; The Raid in Abbeyfeale; The Banks of the Laune; The High Heeled Shoe; The Blacksmith Volunteer; The Two Asses; The Gortatlea Ambush; The Dawning of the Day; Music Hall.  An accompanying 28-page A5 booklet contains the lyrics of the songs. 

[17] An account of the affair is given in ‘Dying For The Cause – Remembering Robert ‘Bob’ Browne,’ Maine Valley Post, 17 February 2021 http://www.mainevalleypost.com/2021/02/17/dying-for-the-cause-remembering-robert-bob-browne/.

[18] Volunteer John Browne was born at Ballinacartan, Tralee, on 6 March 1894.  He served as an officer in the Irish Volunteers, Ballymacelligott Company, Firies Battalion, No 2 Brigade.  He was killed in the course of his duty during a raid for arms at Gortatlea RIC Barracks on 13 April 1918.  Browne was killed outright and Richard Laide subsequently died from wounds. A memorial to the men erected at Gortatlea is inscribed: Gortatlea Barracks/IRA Assault/(April 13th 1918)/Volunteers/Tom McEllistrim died 1973/Jack Flynn killed on A/S 1921 Mossie Reidy Killed on A/S 1920/Moss Carmody Died in exile 1953/John Cronin Died as a result of A/S 1926/Richard Laide and John Browne Killed in Action here/If our deed has not been sufficient to/win Freedom then our children/will win it by a better deed/P H Pearse

A document in the Military Archives about the 1918 raid names James Wall, Tralee as taking part. There were two attacks on the barracks at Gortatlea, the first in April 1918 and the second in March 1920, during the latter attack five RIC men were wounded, and all arms and equipment taken.

A memorial at Ratass Cemetery, Tralee is inscribed: In Loving Memory of/John & Robert Browne/IRA/Of Ballymacelligott & Fealebridge/Shot in the Fight/For Irish Freedom/April 1918 & Feb 1921/RIP