Brian O'Lynn (aka Brian O'Linn)

Traditional Irish

Audio

This example of "Brian O'Lynn" is performed by Máirtín de Cógáin on his album The False Start, available from the Chivalry Music store
Please refer to Cantaria's Copyright information

Background notes

This song is found in Sam Henry's Songs of the People (Huntington, 1990) and Folksongs of Britain and Ireland (Kennedy, 1975) , with extensive notes and citations of this song being collected in England, Scotland and Ireland.  See excerpts below the lyrics.

Oh Brian O'Lynn was a gentleman born,
His hair it was long and his beard was unshorn
His teeth they went out and his eyes they went in
Oh fantastical features had Brian O'Lynn
(Or: I'm a natural beauty, says Brian O'Lynn)

Oh Brian O'Lynn had no coat to put on
He bought a big buckskin to make him a one
He clamped the two horns right under his chin
Like a pair of tin whistles, says Brian O'Lynn
(or: They'll answer for pistols, says Brian O'Lynn)

Oh Brian O'Lynn had no trousers to wear
He bought a big sheepskin to make him a pair
With the woolly side out and the fleshy side in
There's pleasant and cool, said Brian O'Lynn

O Brian O'Lynn had no watch for to wear
He got a big turnip and scooped it out fair
He put a live cricket into it then
They'll think it's a-ticking, said Brian O'Lynn

Oh, Brian O'Lynn had an old grey mare
Her legs they were long and her sides they  were bare
He galloped away through thick and through thin
I'm a wonderful beauty, says Brian O'Lynn

Brian O'Lynn and his wife and wife's mother
They were all crossing over the bridge together
The bridge it broke down and they all tumbled in
We'll find ground at the bottom, says Brian O'Lynn

Excerpts from the song notes found in Sam Henry's Songs of the People (Huntington, 1990) and Folksongs of Britain and Ireland (Kennedy, 1975),

From Kennedy:
The earliest citation is from a book by Halliwell, 1849:
        All went over a bridge together
        The bridge was loose, and they all tumbled in
        What a precious concern, cried Brian O'Lin
   "Halliwell found this one verse 'in a little black-letter work by W. Yager, printed about the year 1560,' which is given as nursery Rhymes of England (1842), but he admits to it being 'slightly altered.'

From Sam Henry's Songs of the People (Huntington, 1990):

Other titles: Brian (Tommy) O' (A') Lin(n) (O'Flynn), Old Tombolin, Tam o' the Lynn, Tom Bolyn
Tune:  Scots tune Laird o' Cockpen.

Sam Henry wrote in his column on 11 February 1933 in the Northern Constitution, a newspaper in Co. Derry:

In the old records of the Manor of Cashel (Portglenone) we find under date 18th April, 1786, the name of Bryan O'Lynn as a Grand Juror, and on that same day he was appointed an "Apprizer." Under the signature of the Grand Jurors is written:

    Bryan O'Lynn was a Scotchman born, His head it was bald and his beard it was shorn.

This hero of a comic song that has amused five generations was a real perosn. He was not a "Scotchman born," but of the ancient clan of the O'Lynns, of Hy Tuirtre, who were descended from Colla Ua.s [sic], King of Ireland about the third century.

Bryan was a popular and distinguished character in those days, at whose expense any Tom, Dick or Harry might add a verse to the song that had taken the people's fancy.

He is first recorded in the manorial records as an "apprizer" in 1770. On 17th October, 1775, it was decided that he was a proper person to serve as overseer of the market. On Tuesday, 15th October 1782, he was appointed "pownkeeper for the ensuing year," and he was keeper of the pound for 14 years. On 10th October, 1786, Bryan was appointed to "view a march ditch." He was a grand juror from seven consecutive years from 1786 to 1793.

The innocent gibes at his expense he must have taken in good part. He seems to have been a happy-go-lucky man, easily contented and with a ready answer for all emergencies.

If any reader knows any verse that is not here included, it will be appreciated if it is sent to us complete this amusing record of a side light on local history.

Sam Henry's speculation is very interesting, but it's impossible to know for certain if that particular Brian O'Lynn was the inspiration for the song. Other versions of the song were collected in Scotland and England

Here are the verses as Sam Henry collected them:

Bryan O'Lynn was a gentleman born
He lived at a time when no clothes they were worn
But as fashions went out, of course Bryan walked in
"Whoo, I'll lead the fashions," says Bryan O'Lynn

Bryan O'Lynn had no breeches to wear,
He got him a sheepskin to make him a pair
With the fleshy side out and the woolly side in
"Whoo, they're pleasant and cool," says Bryan O'Lynn

Bryan O'Lynn had no shirt to his back
He went to the neighbors and borrowed a sack
Then he puckered the meal bag up under his chin
"Whoo, they'll take them for ruffles," said Bryan O'Lynn

Bryan O'Lynn had no hat to his head
He thought that the pot would do him instead,
Then he murdered a cod for the sake of his fin
"Whoo, twill pass fpr a feather," says Bryan O'Lynn

Bryan O'Lynn was hard up for a coat
He borrowed a skin of a neighboring goat
With the horns sticking out from his oxtsters, and then
"Whoo, they'll take them for pistols," says Bryan O'Lynn

Bryan O'Lynn had no stockings to wear
He bought him a rat's skin to make him a pair
He then drew them on and the fitted his shin,
"Whoo, they're illegant wear," says Bryan O'Lynn

Bryan O'Lynn had no brogues to his toes
He hopped on two crab shells to serve him for those
Then he split up two oysters that matched just like twins
"Whoo, they'll shine out like buckles," says Bryan O'Lynn

Bryan O'Lynn had no watch to put on
He scooped out a turnip to make him a one
Then he planted a cricket in under the skin
"Whoo, they'll think it's a-tickin'," says Bryan O'Lynn

Bryan O'Lynn to his house had no door
He'd the sky for a roof and the bog for a floor
He'd a way to jump out and a way to swim in
"Whoo, it's very convenient," says Bryan O'Lynn

Bryan O'Lynn, his wife and wife's mother
They all went home o'er the bridge together
The bridge it broke down and they all tumbled in
"Whoo, we'll go home by water," says Bryan O'Lynn

oxsters = armpits

In "Folksongs of Ireland and England," Kennedy cites versions collected in England and Scotland, including a reference to a printed song from 1558 called "Ballet of Thomalynn."