Nora Harkin and Peadar O'Donnell

by Glenswilly NS

The bike would squeak down the rusty road from Ballybofey to Letterkenny
Delivering the unknown letter to Peadar O’Donnell from her father.
What is in the letter no one knows?
Cycling down the rusty road it’s tempting to open
Did you hum the tune to your father’s song?

It is these cruel English laws, they curse our native isle
Must Irishmen always live like slaves or else die in exile?
There’s not a man to strike a blow or to keep down tyranny
Since Lord Leitrim like a dog was shot not far from Glenswilly

On the road through Drumkeen did the soldiers wave you down?
Did the sweaty letter slip as the handle bars you gripped?
Did your hair flow in the breeze, cycling beside the trees?
Did you cycle hard and fast as the sweaty moments passed?
Were the last words that you sang from your fathers’ song?

Attention pay, my countrymen, and hear my native news
Although my song is sorrowful, I hope you’ll me excuse
I left my peaceful residence a foreign land to see
And I bid farewell to Donegal, likewise to Glenswilly

The soldier at the dry arch rose, and asked you for your name
You didn’t say McGinley because of your father’s fame
You used your mother’s maiden name Nora McDevitt
He waved you through the checkpoint and on your bike you sped

No more beside the sycamore I’ll hear the blackbird sing
No more to meet the blithe cuckoo to welcome back the spring
No more I’ll plough your fertile fields, a chuisle geal mo chroIdhe
On foreign soil I’m doomed to toil far, far from Glenswilly

Inspired by the traditional song ‘Glenswilly’, a recording of which can be found here via the Irish Traditional Music Archive.

Nora (McGinley) Harkin was born near Glenswilly National School. She first met Peadar O’Donnell at age 13 when she had to cycle from Ballybofey to Letterkenny carrying a secret letter for him. 60 years later, she would live with him for the last 6 years of his life.

Written by Molly Michelle Bourne, Layla Rose McCloskey, Erin Lafferty, Abbey Burke, Isabella Carberry and Ciara Harold as part of Poetry as Commemoration workshops for 6th Class, Glenswilly N.S., Co. Donegal, led by Frank Galligan in May 2022.