Cork hurlers have not had to send for help to the bold Thady Quill since 1895. They don’t need to. Nowadays, even the opening chords of the song are enough to raise the spirits of the team.

The tune, Cill Aodáin, is now more associated with one of Ireland’s best known sporting ballads, albeit about someone who played matches only in his imagination.

In recent years, monuments have been erected to the author of the song and to the subject, someone remembering mocking his tendency to overstate his sporting prowess.

Timothy “Thady” Quill from Macroom is an unlikely hero, but that is the point of the song. An enthusiastic bowls player, he was otherwise unathletic.

He was an itinerant cattle jobber, not a Parnellite orator or Land League activist. His 1891 prison sentence was for fighting the police, not for patriotic activities. As a teetotaller, in later life at least, he was not familiar with swilling black porter. He never courted young maidens and died unmarried.

Distinctive songwriting

The songwriter, Johnny Tom Gleeson, might have been the subject of a mock-heroic parody himself. According to a 1994 biography by James Chisman, he slept on a leaky featherbed in his clothes, which were covered in feathers as a consequence.

Gleeson wrote hilarious comic songs, which he delivered in a distinctive tenor voice. His parody of the local fox hunt tells us that the fishermen heard the sound of the hooves 100km away in Castletownbere.

The ballad

Three infuential Corkmen helped the Thady Quill song on its way to reaching its audience. Sean Ó Siocháin, ballad singer and director general of the GAA, was also from the hinterland of Macroom in Kilnamartyra.

Thady was born in Ballinagree, Johnny Tom in Rylane. Ó Siocháin brought the song to the attention of the Martin Walton group in Dublin. Martin Walton’s influence was enormous, through his friendship with Peadar Kearney and the leading Irish songwriters of the period, his record label – Glenside Recordings, his shop in North Great Frederick Street and his sponsorship of a Saturday lunchtime music programme on RTÉ Raidio Éireann, which ran between 1952 and 1981.

Thady Quill's headstone

Walton’s biographer says his group helped create “a distinctively nostalgic and sentimental Irish musical style, an adaptation of earlier raw unaccompanied folk songs into a recognisably Irish variant of mid-twentieth-century commercial popular music.”

Thady joined that genre as enthusiastically as he did the fictional hurling match. Walton had the song arranged by Joseph Crofts, another patriot songwriter best remembered nowadays for his arrangement of The Irish Rover for Ronnie Drew.

Crofts’ treatment was professionally recorded and brought to a national audience for the first time on Walton’s programme. The singer, as with many of the Walton-Croft productions, was Joe Lynch from Mallow, best remembered as the character Dinny in the RTÉ soap Glenroe.

Thady also became part of the repertoire of Jack Lynch from Cork city, later to become Taoiseach, who sung the song to great aplomb at social events attended by heads of state from around the world.

International stardom

When the Clancy Brothers recorded the song in 1959, Thady became an international star, as famous as Walter Mitty, his exploits echoing through the Carnegie Hall.

Thady Quill was described by music composer Seán O’ Riada in 1970 as a real anthem – not just of Cork – but of all the counties of Ireland, because it was sung so often at social functions.

What would the real Thady think? We are told he had gotten over his initial discomfort at being parodied later in life, and had begun to enjoy the notoriety.

He outlived Johnny Tom by eight years and died in 1932. There is now a monument to his memory in Ballinagree and a Jim Morrison-esque epithet on his grave in Macroom: In Memory of Timothy Quill (Bould Thady), died 28 Oct 1932.

His deeds are sung today at sessions from Ushaia to Sydney.

There is even a version in French.

Not bad for someone who never laced his hurling boots.

The Bold Thady Quill

Ye maids of Duhallow who are anxious for courting

A word of advice I will give unto ye

Proceed to Banteer, to the athletic sporting

And hand in your names to the club committee

And never commence any sketch on your programme

Till a carriage you see flying over the hill

Right down through the valleys and lands of Kilcorney

With their own darlin’ sportsman the bold Thady Quill.

For rambling, for roving, for football or courting

For drinking black porter as fast as you’d fill

In all your days roving you’d find none so jovial

As the Muskerry sportsman the bold Thady Quill.

At the great hurling match between Cork and Tipperary

Twas played in the park on the banks of the Lee

Our own darlin’ lads were afraid of being beaten

So they sent for bold Thady to Ballinagree.

He hurled that ball left and right in their faces

And showed the Tipperary men action and skill

If they touched on his lines, he would certainly brain them

And the papers were full of the praise of Thade Quill.

At the Cork Exhibition there was a fair lady

Whose fortune exceeded a million or more

But a bad constitution had ruined her completely

And medical treatment had failed o’er and o’er.

Her mother said she “Sir I know what will ease me

And cure this disease which will certainly kill

Give over your doctors and medical treatment

I’d rather one squeeze out of bold Thady Quill.”

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