"Skibbereen" is a haunting and melancholic Irish ballad that tells the story of the Great Famine that occurred in Ireland in the mid-19th century. The song is named after the town of Skibbereen, located in County Cork, which was one of the worst affected areas during the famine.

The lyrics of "Skibbereen" are a poignant reflection on the devastating impact of the Irish Famine on the Irish people, particularly the forced emigration of millions of people to escape starvation and disease. The song is narrated by a young man who has been forced to leave his homeland and family behind to seek a better life in a foreign land. He laments the loss of his loved ones, his home, and the beauty of the Irish countryside that he may never see again.

The chorus of the song captures the despair and longing of the narrator as he remembers the homeland he has left behind:

"Farewell to Skibbereen, where I was bred and born Where the River Lee runs down to the sea Where the willows and the rushes grow Farewell to Skibbereen"

"Skibbereen" has been recorded by many artists over the years, including The Clancy Brothers, The Dubliners, and Sinead O'Connor. However, the most famous rendition of the song is by the American folk singer Pete Seeger, who popularized it in the 1960s during the folk revival. Seeger's version is notable for its simple, yet powerful arrangement, with just his voice and a guitar.

Despite the somber tone of the song, "Skibbereen" has endured as a beloved part of Irish musical heritage, and its themes of loss, longing, and resilience continue to resonate with audiences today.

Listen to some great versions of "Skibbereen" on IrishCentral's Spotify here:

"Skibbereen" lyrics: 

Oh father dear, I oft-times hear you speak of Erin's isle
Her lofty hills, her valleys green, her mountains rude and wild
They say she is a lovely land wherein a saint might dwell
So why did you abandon her, the reason to me tell

Oh son, I loved my native land with energy and pride
Till a blight came o'er the praties; my sheep, my cattle died
My rent and taxes went unpaid, I could not them redeem
And that's the cruel reason why I left old Skibbereen

Oh well do I remember that bleak December day
The landlord and the sheriff came to take us all away
They set my roof on fire with their cursed English spleen
I heaved a sigh and bade goodbye to dear old Skibbereen

Your mother too, God rest her soul, fell on the stony ground
She fainted in her anguish seeing desolation 'round
She never rose but passed away from life to immortal dream
She found a quiet grave, me boy, in dear old Skibbereen

And you were only two years old and feeble was your frame
I could not leave you with my friends for you bore your father's name
I wrapped you in my cóta mór in the dead of night unseen
I heaved a sigh and bade goodbye to dear old Skibbereen

Oh father dear, the day will come when in answer to the call
All Irish men of freedom stern will rally one and all
I'll be the man to lead the band beneath the flag of green
And loud and clear we'll raise the cheer, Revenge for Skibbereen!