Story of Raglan Road – love song along the enchanted way

By Liam O’Heanai

A good party song for which you can learn the words in good time for you to “do a turn” at your Christmas party – that’s if you are allowed to have one within the Covid law.
And, don’t forget that Celtic Connections comes to the Lally Pailais – or the Royasl Concert Hall as it’s officially known – to brighten up those long, dreary days come January.
Raglan Road is a wistful song about unrequited love – all the more poignant because the singer knows at the outset that he is likely to get hurt, but he presses on anyway.

Raglan Road song story and meaning

The words were written originally as a poem by the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh and published in the Irish Press in 1946 under the title, Dark Haired Miriam Ran Away.

Kavanagh’s words were set to an old Irish melody

Kavanagh’s poem was later set to the melody of an old Irish song called, Fainne Gael an Lae, which was loosely translated as The Dawning of the Day.

Raglan Road, Luke Kelly

It was widely reported that Luke Kelly of the Dubliners was responsible for putting the lyrics to music after meeting Kavanagh in a pub called Baileys in Dublin in the 1960s.

Kelly, however, contradicted this. In the book, Luke Kelly A Memoir by Des Geraghy, Kelly describes meeting Kavanagh in the pub with other poets and singers.

Luke Kelly solo artist and member of Irish traditional folk group The DublinersLuke Kelly

Kavanagh recited poem, Kelly sang

At the request of their drinking companions, Kavanagh recited a poem and Kelly sang a song.

Then Kavanagh leaned across to Kelly and said: “You should sing my song.” When Kelly asked what the song was, Kavanagh replied, Raglan Road.

This would suggest that Kavanagh had already set his poem to music. Luke Kelly described this meeting with Kavanagh years later when he was interviewed by the Irish television station, RTE.

Kavanagh set his poem to Dawning of the Day

The writer and journalist Benedict Kiely was also interviewed by RTE.

He described how Kavanagh asked him if his poem Dark Haired Miriam Ran Away could be set to the Dawning of the Day.

The two of them proceeded to sing, rather badly, in the empty newspaper office where they worked.

Whatever the exact details of the genesis of the song, it was certainly Luke Kelly who made it popular to a wider audience. He felt he had been given permission by the great man to sing it and he wanted to do it justice.

Recordings of Raglan Road

Kelly accepted Kavanagh’s challenge and started singing the song in solo performances and with the Dubliners. In doing so, he brought it to the attention of other singers on the folk circuit who soon picked it up.

In addition to Luke Kelly, Raglan Road has been recorded by numerous performers including The Young Dubliners, Sinead O’Connor, Loreena McKennitt, Orla Fallon and many others.

It has also been recorded by rock stars including Van Morrison, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and Roger Daltrey of The Who.

See picture at top of page: This year’s opening Celtic Connections concert,’Neath the Gloamin’ Star, will be a poignant moment for many, featuring a ream of talent from a younger generation of musicians and songwriters.The show, named after a beloved old Scots folk song, sets the scene as a celebration of a precious heritage that is now being taken forward into a new tradition. Three musicians who will play as part of the evening, (left to right at top ofstairs) Innes White, Hannah Rarity and Paul McKenna,visited Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall to launch the programme.

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