Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Rowan McCombe


Mr. Rowan McCombe was manager of the  Barrow Navigation. In about 1870 he had a cottages built for the boatmen in Graignamanagh and Graiguecullen, many of them are still inhabited today.

Croppy Grave Memorial, Graiguecullen.

It was unveiled on the Centenary year as a memorial to those who fell at the Battle of Carlow. The tablet beside the Celtic Cross was erected by Rowan McCombe. This gentleman was the Superintendent of the Barrow Navigation Company and Town Councillor of Carlow. He was also well known as the rhymer in the local area.

Source: Carlow County Library  website

A memorial slab on the gable of a nearby house was the gift of a former Orangeman, 2 Rowan MacCombe.  The slab is inscribed: "To the memory of the 640 United Irishmen who fell in Tullow Street, 25 May 1798" This was the tribute of a generous foe. MacCombe may have been an Orangeman in his native Co. Antrim, but in Carlow he seems to have adopted to a great extent the outlook of the people of Carlow. Rev. Mr. Gash, Archdeacon of Carlow about 1958, met MacCombe’s people in Co. Antrim and put them in touch with Mr. Paddy Purcell who wrote a fine article on Rowan MacCombe in Carloviana 1964. MacCombe lived opposite a house later occupied by Freemans and opposite the P.P’s gate in Graiguecullen. He had a printing press there and wrote several books, It was probably Michael Brophy, author of Carlow Past and Present, who wrote for the Nationalist.

Source: P.MacSuibhne in 1972 in his book 'The Parish of KILLESHIN, Graiguecullen'. pp.75

Tower Hill, Carlow

Tower Hill, CarlowTower Hill, Carlow Formally the home of the old Royal Constabulary (R.I.C) barracks  on the corner of Killeshin Road and Chaff Street, Graiguecullen. It was built in 1867 by Rowan McCombe from Ulster who used the building to operate his own printing works. Built of granite cut stone, it is decorated with gargoyle style heads. On the Chaff Street side of the tower there is a plaque with the inscription underneath: Erected A.D. 1867 by Rowan McCombe.

Source: "Carloman"

Rowan McCombe

Carlow Poet or Rhymer

By Patrick Purcell

Somewhere about the middle or third quarter of the nineteenth century there flourished in Carlow, a poet, or perhaps, it would be more correct to say a rhymer, Rowan McCombe by name. He cannot be termed an altogether forgotten bard, for he is still held in remembrance by the fast dwindling generation amongst which he moved and had his being. He filled the position of local manager, or agent, for the Barrow Navigation Company, and if one can judge from the tone of some of his lyrics, he was a staunch Tory, a firm upholder of British Rule or fervent loyalist, and an ardent admirer of her Majesty Queen Victoria. Some of his emanations touching on local events are distinctly humorous, and must have caused much amusement amongst his contemporaries. In the 'seventies he published a little volume of poems. The book was extremely well brought out as regards letterpress and binding, and the author and publisher is justified in claiming credit for its production in his own printing office in Carlow-Graigue,

"Croppy Hole"

That McCombe had more than one side to his character is proved by the fact that at his own expense he erected a tablet at "Croppy Hole" to the memory of the 640 insurgents of '98, who were slaughtered in their unsuccessful attack on Carlow, and were thrown into unhallowed pits dug for the reception of the bodies. This reads as follows: —

Erected by Rowan McCombe

 Superintendent of The Barrow Navigation Company and Town Councillor of Carlow to the six hundred and forty men who gave their lives in Tullow Street on 26th May 1798 and whose remains lie beneath this mound, sleeping the sleep that knows no waking.

"Who fears to speak of Ninety Eight"

This kindly act has caused him to be held in grateful remembrance and there is no doubt that it led to the movement for the decent enclosure of the ground where rest the men who took arms and sacrificed their lives in an effort to win liberty for their native land.

We propose to give a few of McCombe's pieces. The first deals with an episode at a meeting of the Carlow Town Commission. It is prefaced by a passage evidently culled from a report in one of the local papers. It is headed: —

 Carlow Town Commission Scene

"An adjourned meeting of Carlow Town Commission was held on Thursday evening, present: Messrs Mathias Tynan (chairman); Edward Clarke, Matthew Byrne, James Bolger, Patrick Bolger, Benjamin Coleman, Edward Tracey, Michael McDonald, Michael Murphy, James Graham and Rowan McCombe.

 A Friend in Court

William Vass presented in person a bill for £9 odd, for lighting and caring the street (paraffin) lamps, and urgently demanded payment.

 Chairman: Unfortunately we cannot pay anything until Mr. Palmer is paid.
Vass: Until what?
Mr. McCombe: We pay Mr. Palmer of the bank.
Chairman: We must pay the National Bank first.
Vass: Can't you renew the bill and pay the amount? How do you think I could work the whole winter and not be paid? I'll just walk away, but you know I've a friend and he's the barrister, (laughter)
Mr. McCombe: Tell me, Vass, does he wear a wig? (renewed laughter in which Vass joined heartily)
Vass: Gentlemen, before I go do youse all say without giving me any more trouble that in a week or a fortnight you'll give me a small amount?
Several Commissioners: Certainly,
Vass: Well, then, no law for me. To h..... with the law. (laughter)
Mr. J. Bolger: You will be the first that will be looked to.

A Scene

"At this stage of the proceedings and as the Board was about to adjourn, Mr. Duggan, pump contractor, who had made an unsuccessful demand for payment of his account on the previous board day, entered the room and made an urgent appeal for a settlement. Having failed however to entreat any money from the Board, he became very excited, and having locked the door of the board-room, he resolutely refused to give up the key until paid his account. The scene, which followed baffles all attempts at description. After considerable parleying and several rather serious encounters in which "fire irons" were rather freely used and the unfortunate Vass, who attempted to pick the lock, was rather roughly handled, the door was ultimately burst in by the Nuisance Inspector, and others attracted to the place by the strange, and noisy proceedings inside. This exciting scene was prolonged for some time, when the meeting broke up in disorder, and fortunately before any severe injuries were sustained by any of the actors in the melee. At one time the affray appeared to be assuming such formidable proportions that the presence of the police was considered advisable but their services were not called into requisition.

Rowan McCombe's version of the proceedings was as follows: —

Minutes of the Meeting

The Pump-borer came like a wolf on the fold,
His eyes gleaming fiercely for notes or for gold,
He sought not for favours, he asked but his own;
Appealing oft to them—but cash there was none.
Enraged like a Sampson he bolted the door
And wildly he menaced, and fiercely he swore.
The roar of the lion was ne'er heard so high,
Whilst the fire of a Vulcan shot forth from his eye.
The Lamp-lighter entered, dishevelled and black,
His hair streaming wildly, bent on the same task
He strove with the poker to open the door,
But found himself soon making love to the floor.
The pump-borer flew at this glimmering light—
I hope I shall ne'er again see such a sight;
Imagine a cat in the grasp of a bear
And you have an idea of what occur'd there.
And low lay the Lighter, with nostril all wide,
The poker and tongs were the broad-sword he plied;
The Chairman grew paile, the reporters took flight,
And ail the Commissioners fled with the fright.
The angels recording escaped through the roof,
And fleet as a thunderbolt issued their "proof
The "Sentinel" shook at tile tramp of the host,
While the cold sweat of death struck the gods on the "Post".
And the "palis" of Carlow were true to their post,
And title Watchman was glorious and talked far the most;
And the Nuisance Inspector, with Herculean strength,
Cleared out the Town Hall of officials at length.
And the windows and sashes did quiver and quail,
As an old cracked piano rang out "Granuaile";
And  the whole Town Commission dissolv'd like a drum,
And the minutes were tombed by the lamp's feeble gleam.

Here is another piece in a different strain

The Barrow and the Nore

O! Erin, my darling, tho' tail folks may dine,
On Switzerland's heights and the banks of the Rhein
Thank goodness we've pastime and pleasure galore,
By the clear winding  Barrow and broad swelling Nore.
Acush'la machree, just venture and see
These beauties that nature intended for thee.
One day in a -life-time, to shake off dull care,
And see the ould country, so charming and fair,
Is only what nature dictates all should claim—
Then see Erin's beauties—if not, you're to blame.
Acushla machree, just venture and see
These beauties that nature intended for thee.
To view noble Brandon, with peak to the sky,
Blackstair, and Mount Leinster, and Borris hard by;
And the ivy-dad walls of St. Mullins so green
Where the kings of the past lie in slumber between.
Acushla machree, nor Shannon nor Lee
Blackwater, nor Liffey, are nothing to thee.
Sweet vale of Clashganny, where murmuring sweeps
The wild mountain river down rapids and steeps:
Still wending its course o'er the Scars to the sea,
With the More and the Barrow in wild jubilee.
Acushla machree, roll on to the sea,
Thy murmuring sounds like some soft lullaby.
O! shades of Bahanna, the perfumes exhale,
And sweet Graignamanagh and fair Brandondale,
Show once and forever how perfect the bore
Of wasting one's time on the rocks of Tramore.
Acushla machree, by land or by sea,
There's no spot in Erin can equal to thee.
The time-honoured tales and legends of yore,
That cling to thy beautiful ruins, asthore,
Shall never from memory's vision depart;
Then drink to old Erin, with full flowing heart.
Acushla machree, a bumper to thee,
Dear Erin, dear Erin, a bumper to thee.
For the sake of the past, could each fair one renege,
But kiss the stone cross of fair Innistague?
They've charms like the "Blarney", a good reason why
They were kissed by the lady of bould Colonel T—.
Acushla machree, none fairer than she,
Then kiss the stone cross, 'like fair Lady T,
All hail with high welcome the fair coming day,
When light hearts can mingle with all that is gay;
When the hum of contentment, the toast and the song
Shalt ring through the air as we gaily steer on.
Acushla machree, if pleasures there be,
A cruise on the Barrow's the pleasure for me.

And this is a Stirring Election Ballad

(Air: 'O'DonneH  Abu!")

The hour's at hand when the bold sons of Erin,
No longer shall cower in silence as slaves
The hour has come when our kith and our kinsmen
No longer shall list to those time-serving knaves,
Then up boys, be doing—the Chief who shall lead you
Is now on his march to the Hustings, hurrah!
Come out, let us meet him, like Irishmen greet him,
Our Chieftain McDonald, the pride of Cloghna.
You all must remember how soon comes November,
And each man that day must appear in the field,
Be mindful of Traitors, and base Agitators,
Be daring as Mars, bearing onward your shield—
That shield shall be borne in triumph that morn
O'er Ossory's plain, in the teeth of their law;
The man of our choice we'll elect with one voice,
McDonald, our Chieftain, the pride of Cloghna.
Come out from the fens, from the mountains and glens,
Be firm and fear not, for right's on our side;
If  foemen should rally again at Stradbally,
Let one faugh-a-ballagh strike fear, far and wide;
From that to Mountmellick, surprise every hillock,
The Heath, Dunamase, strike home terror and awe,
The day shall be ours, if balls come in showers,
We'll vote for McDonald the pride of Cloghna.
The proud autocrat with his lands extending,
For miles o'er the plains may oppose us again;
He'll put on the chain if he finds you but bending,
But woe, to the coward who 'lets it remain;
The man of our choice is the son of old Erin,
The friend of our childhood, then who should withdraw?
But rally around him, and foemen astound them
With cheers for McDonald, the pride of Cooghna.
Come down from Killeshin, ye sons of oppression,
The heel of the monster has crushed you too long;
Come down from Clogrennan, and high hills of Doonane,
Ye sons of Old Leighlin come join in the throng;
Your ground's Ballickmoyler, no artful beguiler
Must lure from the path, but move onward, hurrah!
Your numbers increasing, your efforts unceasing
And cheers for McDonald, the pride of Cloghna.
The day shall be won by McDonald and Dunne,
Fitzpatrick and Digby must march to the rear
The one "agitator", the other a creature
Sent here by the "Church" to bamboozle and 'snare;
The man of our choice we'll elect with one voice.
Hurrah for McDonald, the pride of Cloghna.


"Carlow Poet or Rhymer" by Patrick Purcell was first published in the 1964 edition of the Carloviana.

Source: Peter Walker

Rowan McCombe  Headstone.
Image by Peter Walker c.2009
Rowan McCombe Headstone
Image by Peter Walker c.2009

Recorded on the stone in Killeshin Churchyard  by Michael Purcell 2009:

Anne sister of Rowan McCombe died 1865, aged 38.
William, eldest son of Rowan McCombe died 1869 aged ?.
Rowana Eleanor daughter of  Rowan McCombe, drowned accidentally in 1872, aged 6 and a half years.
Mary daughter of Rowan McCombe died 1877, aged 15 years.

I think Rowan went to USA shortly after Mary died and he may have died there, when his grandson Fred came to Carlow in the 1990s he brought with him a lot of material relating to the Rowan's time on the Carlow Town Commission and Barrow Navigation. I am unable to check Fred McCombe interview as it (along with 57 other interviews) is on VHS format, I hope we can get the videos converted to DVD sometime but that's another story.

Michael Purcell

Footnote 26 January 2010:

This morning I checked the site and environs and found that Rowan's large tombstone is no longer there !. (the Tombstone for Mary is there but the Anchor Chain is gone !) All that remains is the marks of where it once stood. I checked with some of the congregation but they have no knowledge of its present whereabouts!. I have never come across anything like this before. I wonder was it there when Peter Walker took his pictures of the area?

Here is a reminder of what was recorded  by Pat Purcell in 1970:

In Memory of Rowan McCombe who departed this life 6th April 1877. aged 58 years. Also Mary 3rd daughter of Rowan McCombe who died 7th January 1877. aged 15 years. (her death is also recorded on the other tombstone!) and Henry Edwin McCombe 2nd son of Rowan McCombe died 15th June 1885. aged 31 years.

Michael Purcell

Please report any links or images which do not open to
The copying of these images and or text is strictly forbidden without the express permission of the owner of these images and material
© 2001 Ireland Genealogy Projects, IGP TM By Pre-emptive Copyright - All rights reserved

Back to the top