A Letter from Ireland:
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Elvis Presley and the Shillelagh

When the Irish immigrated to the four corners of the earth, they brought a portable piece of home with them, their music. In this letter we will visit how Irish folk music has gone on to influence musical movements the world over, even producing one Elvis Presley in America.

A View of Avoca, County Wicklow.

Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to your Letter from Ireland for this week. We’ve just returned from a very fruitful Green Room expedition to Counties Roscommon, Longford and Westmeath. We stayed in a place overlooking Lough Ree right in the geographic centre of Ireland and, I must say, the weather was second to none – lighting up the countryside in a way that had to be seen to be appreciated. How is the weather in your part of the world today?

I’m having a nice cup of Barry’s tea as I write – and I do hope you’ll have a cup of whatever you fancy as we start into today’s letter. This week, we’re going to start off with a “bonus” letter. Here is a letter I wrote round about this time last year. It was all about “The Fighting Irish” – and how “faction fights” evolved into the Irish sport of Hurling today.

Click here to read more about the Fighting Irish and the birth of modern Irish sports.

A Shillelagh Display

I hope you enjoyed that – and it nicely sets us up for todays story. You see, the name of the stick that the men used in these fights were called “Shillelaghs” (pronounced “Shill-lay-lee). You’ll find reference to the Shillelagh in many Irish songs, including this one, “The Rocky Road to Dublin”:

“Hurrah me soul” says I, me Shillelagh I let fly.

Some Galway boys were nigh and saw I was a hobbling,

With a load “hurray !” joined in the affray.

We quitely cleared the way for the rocky road to Dublin.

One, two, three four, five,

Hunt the Hare and turn her down

the rocky road and all the way to Dublin,

Whack follol de rah !”

The Shillelagh stick got it’s name from the old Oak forests around the village of Shillelagh in the south of County Wicklow. Although many were originally made from this oak, over time the preferred wood for the Shillelagh came from the Blackthorn bush.  So, let’s head down to south County Wicklow.

A Group of Hound Dogs Assault Our Wicklow Boy.

The townland of Stranakelly lies close to the village of Shillelagh. It’s there that our man – let’s call him the “Wicklow Boy” – had his home. However, sometime in year 1775, the Wicklow boy became involved in a land dispute with some neighbours. On a visit to nearby Hacketstown, he was set upon by a group of men associated with these neighbours. He was badly beaten by a combination of sword and shillelagh – and later brought legal proceeding against his assailants.

The court took his application seriously, and on August 25th, 1775 did note:

‘a band of yeomen and many other evil disposed persons did riotously, riotously and unlawfully make an assault and did beat, wound and ill treat him so that his life was greatly despaired of.’

So, it seemed that the Wicklow Boy would have some justice coming his way. However, the whole affair must have left him all shook up, as sometime over the next 12 months – he arrived in the port of New Orleans with his brother, Andrew. They made their way to Carolina, and after a number of years our Wicklow Boy acquired a family of his own, and then headed west into Tennessee where he lived until his death in 1802.

His descendants settled in the area over the following decades. Since about 1955, the Wicklow Boy’s surname has become very well known around the world because of just one of those descendants. You see, the Wicklow Boy went by the name of William Presley, and his great great great great grandson’s name was one Elvis Aaron Presley.

So, it would appear that a newly discovered court document has put County Wicklow firmly on the map as the point of European departure for the ancestors of Elvis Presley. It will be very interesting to see how all those Elvis fan clubs out there react to this newly discovered information.  But for now, sure isn’t Elvis one of our own?

I thought it would be nice to finish with a recording of Elvis singing that perennial Irish favourite – Danny Boy – I hope you enjoy it as you consider the possibilities of Mr. Presley’s Irish Roots:

That’s it for this week. As always, do feel free to leave a comment below if you would like share a story or the Irish surnames in your family.

Slán for now,

Mike and Carina : )

  • […] Céad Míle Fáilte – and you are very welcome to this week’s Letter from Ireland. A few weeks back, it was the 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, and I was reminded of a time lying in bed late at night listening to Radio Luxembourg with an ear-piece when I heard that news. It really was a global event at the time. Do you remember where you were when you heard the news? The occasion also reminded me of a very interesting story that we uncovered last year linking the Presleys to a small village in County Wicklow. […]

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