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Quigley and Picco

Originally published in the St John’s Evening Telegram on 24 December 1891 (vol. 13/291:19) and reproduced as “Quigley on Picco” in James Murphy’s Old Songs of Newfoundland (1912), this song was composed by Johnny Quigley—the “Bard of Erin” (for details about Quigley and the history of this song, visit the GEST Song Index).

During the 19th century, sectarian tensions marked Newfoundland society and politics. Though tensions between Catholic and Protestant populations were dissipated through political negotiations, power sharing, and alliances between partisans, there were moments of violence during the 1870s and ‘80s.

When Aidan O’Hara recorded “Quigley and Picco” a century later, those present remarked that one had to be careful about singing such songs; there was a time when performing it would have been considered treasonous.

Listen to Ben Nash and Tom Murphy sing “Quigley and Picco,” view Aidan O'Hara's transcript, and download your own copy of the words.

Quigley and Picco / Bernard Nash ; Tom Murphy

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Quigley and Picco / Bernard Nash ; Tom Murphy

Quigley and Picco, song (Ye sons of Erin please pay attention …) Originally published in the St John’s Evening Telegram on 24 December 1891 (vol. 13/291:19) and reproduced as “Quigley on Picco” in James Murphy’s Old Songs of Newfoundland (1912), this song was composed by Johnny Quigley—the “Bard of Erin” (for details about Quigley and the history of this song, visit the GEST Song Index). During the 19th century, sectarian tensions marked Newfoundland society and politics. Though tensions between Catholic and Protestant populations were dissipated through political negotiations, power sharing, and alliances between partisans, there were moments of violence during the 1870s and ‘80s.  When Aidan O’Hara recorded “Quigley and Picco” a century later, those present remarked that one had to be careful about singing such songs; there was a time when performing it would have been considered treasonous.

Ben Nash and Tom Murphy's version of “Quigley and Picco”

Oh ye sons of Erin please pay attention,
To those few lines that I have in brief,
It’s of a hero that is worse than Nero,
A perfect traitor and a cruel thief.

In Newfoundland he was born and reared,
As many an Irishman well may know,
His name I’ll mention without hesitating,
His apprehension[1] was John Picco.

Now the winter is fierce in this dreary region,
Where all things fail but the laurel green,
The shady bower and fragrant flower,
Are all decayed that no more are seen.

Now the waves are rolling on the briny ocean,
Where bitter bore though keenly blow,
Now the barren plains of St John’s Harbour
Are all decayed with frost and snow.

As I proceeded upon my journey,
The road being dark and it late at night,
When like a mendicant, sick, wet, and weary,
I boldly faced where I saw a light.

With heartly mensure,[2] I humbly ventured,
And the door I entered with hat in hand,
And with humility to implore relief,
From the glooming tyrants of Newfoundland.

Straightway he asked me my name and nation,
From whence I came and where I was bound,
And I told him my relatives were of old Erin,
I was situated near Ferrans town.[3]

Now, Johnny Quigley it is my name,
And with my parents I dwelled at home,
And a Roman Catholic I was bred and born,
Until death will seek me I’ll never disown.

When he found out my name and nation,
He boldly seized me and turned me out,
If I was a haythen,[4] a Jew, or pagan,
He’d entertain me without a doubt.

With courage failing and tears bewailing,
I went a-knocking from door to door,
But no admittance was for the stranger,
No more than jewels was for the poor.

That night I spent in sad meditation,
Oh thinking of Erin, my native ground,
And next morning I sailed o’er to Bell Isle Harbour,[5]
Where hospitality was to be found.

It’s there you’ll find relief for strangers,
Let them be haythens that come the way,
May God protect every friendly neighbour,
And safely guard them on land and sea.

Here’s a length of days unto Paddy Neary,
Likewise your children and beloved wife,
May the heavens guard them over night and morning,
He entertained me and saved my life.

And now I’ll turn to that other heathen,
And I’ll wish him neither rich nor poor,
But when hell is full of monstrous creatures,
May he be sported upon the door.


[1] Editor’s note: In a variant version of this song, this word is ‘appellation’ (see GEST song index).
[2] Editor’s note: In a variant version of this song, this line is ‘The door I entered, I only ventured …’ (see GEST song index).
[3] Editor’s note: Ferrans is a townland on the Meath/Kildare county border, located along the Royal Canal. Given the origins of many Irish immigrants to Newfoundlands, this may instead be a reference to the town of Ferns, Co Wexford. Ferns is believed to have been established in the 6th century, when a monastery was founded in 598 dedicated to St Mogue (St Aidan) who was a Bishop of Ferns. 
[4]  Editor’s note: Possibly ‘heathen.’
[5] Editor’s note: Johnny Quigley was a resident of Bell Island, an island in Conception Bay to the west of St John’s.