The Bould Thady Quill

My father’s party piece used to be a lusty tongue-in-cheek rendition of “The Bould Thady Quill”. For those who don’t know it, the song is a wonderful mock-heroic come-all-ye that depicts the ultimate Cork superhero:

” For rambling, for roving, for football or courtin’
For drinking black porter as fast as you’d fill
In all your days rovin’ you’d find none so jovial
As the Muskerry sportsman the bould Thady Quill”

I went off to check the lyrics recently (my own version is rusty, not lusty) and immediately found myself down several rabbit holes. First, Wikipedia told me that he was a real person, a landless farm labourer employed by a local Muskerry farmer, Johnny Tom Gleeson, who was also a balladeer, and who paid for Thady’s services with the song instead of his wages, “which pleased Thady no end”.  The picture painted is of a bashful man – “he died a bachelor” – tickled pink to be painted in a ballad as a Corkonian Popeye.

A Corkonian Popeye

And there he was in the 1901 census, a live-in labourer in an O’Sullivan household.  But not in the 1911. Hmmm. Why not? A question that set a hundred threads a-pulling.

An image-search turned up a picture of his gravestone.  It revealed his given name as Timothy, gave an address and a date of death. Three fine threads there. With the address, I got his baptism in Aghinagh parish in 1860, to parents Patrick Quill and Catherine Kelliher in Carrigiulla townland.



A check of 1932 death records in Macroom district uncovered a Timothy the right age and occupation:

But he was a widower. Maybe the real Thady wasn’t so bashful after all.  Away with me to the marriage records. There, in 1906, is the marriage of a Timothy Quill to a Julia McCarthy.

His father is Patrick, his occupation is correct and his address is Kilmartin, one of the areas of Cork omitted from the online 1911. Aha! says I.

On to the newspapers, to flesh things out. The Southern Star of 1932 has a piece:

This was written on November 5, a few days after the burial. But my Timothy’s death was recorded in January 1932. Not possible. Back to the death records. And there, registered in January 1933, and so listed in the index under 1933, is the real bould Thady:

A bachelor after all. But maybe not the retiring flower Wikipedia implies. The Dictionary of Irish Biography has him requesting the ballad be written, not being fobbed off with it. And his prison records suggest someone in no need of assertiveness training:

Cork prison 1884
Cork prison 1884 No. 2
Cork prison 1903

The moral of the story? It’s almost impossible not to construct stories that connect partial records. Beware of them.




7 thoughts on “The Bould Thady Quill”

  1. What a wonderful story. It helps me explain how us genealogists think. Someone else who isn’t would say nice song, but we want to know all about it when you find it is a real person. Now I have to heard the song. Keep up the great work you do and your fun stories.

  2. John I have long admired your unbridled enthusiasm for genealogy and your incisiviness leaves amateurs like myself floundering in your wake. I have tried to use Yr methods to find the death of my gg grandmother Ellen Hough from Lorrha Tipperary. She was witness at the death of her Husband Michael in Ballyquirke Lorrha in 1875 and her name was still stated on the land records in 1880 but all attempts to find her death have failed.. This over many years of searching. Unlike the Bould Thady Quill do you think she was redacted Trump like?
    Thank you for the finely grafted lesson!

  3. The author of the Ballad Johny Tom Gleeson was a relative of mine he was a maternal first cousin of my 2 x great grandfather John ( The Mon) Kelleher. Johny Tom’s father was a brother of John Kelleher’s mother Johanna Gleeson. Johny Tom never married and he was a bit of a lazy man, leaving the family farm go to rack and ruin. He never married either.

  4. So easy for us to go down the wrong genealogy trail. Good for me to see this and not give up on my Mayo roots! And they are deep with missing info! Thanks for this clever insight!

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