maurice leyden - The Verdant Braes of Screen

Hughes House (location 12)


The Verdant Braes of Screen I first heard as a child from my uncle, the late Tomás Ó Canainn. “Screen” is thought to refer to Ballinascreen in County Derry, and it is a song of love that doesn’t work out – a not uncommon theme in love songs right across the world. The glorious lines “Oh I will climb a high, high tree and rob a wild bird’s nest/and back I will bring whatever I do find/to the arms that I love best, she cried/to the arms that I love the best” have haunted me all my life.

As I roved out one evening fair
By the verdant braes of Screen
I set my back to a hawthorn tree
To view the sun in the west country
And the dew on the forest green

A lad I spied by Abhann's side
And a maiden by his knee
And he was as dark as the very brown wood
And she all whey and wan to see
All whey and wan was she

"Oh sit you down on the grass," he said
"On the dewy grass so green
For the wee birds all have come and gone
Since I my true love have seen," he said
"Since I my true love have seen"

"Then I'll not sit on the grass," she said
"Nor be a love of thine
For I hear you love a Connaught maid
And your heart's no longer mine," she said
"And your heart's no longer mine"

"And I will climb a high, high tree
And I'll rob a wild bird's nest
And back I'll bring whatever I do find
To the arms that I love best," she said
"To the arms that I love best"



This small stone building was the boyhood home of a man who became the first Catholic Archbishop of New York and started work on St. Patrick’s cathedral in the city.

John Joseph Hughes was born in 1797 on a small farm near the village of Augher in County Tyrone. A few years later the family moved to this house which was on a nearby farm in the townland of Dernaved, County Monaghan.

The Hughes family were small farmers, adding to their income by weaving linen cloth and growing flax which the females in the house used a spinning wheel to spin into linen thread. They rented extra land at high prices during the Napoleonic Wars when linen was also at a high price. But after the wars although linen prices fell rents remained high and the father and one son left. In 1817 they sent back money for John Joseph to follow them to America.

He had some education but had to take labouring jobs in America and although he wanted to train as a Catholic priest he was rejected at first. However, a nun saw talent within him and he eventually started his training in 1820.

The Church ordained him in 1826 and rose to be a bishop by 1838.

John Joseph’s rise coincided with a great increase in Catholic Irish immigration to the USA and he was known as someone who would fight for their rights.

Look at the jamb wall the single brick structure between the front door and the hearth of the kitchen. It is there to prevent draughts. The occupants have privacy and can see through the small opening in the wall. The house is typical of dwellings in South Ulster at that time.



Maurice Leyden is a folk-song collector, singer, broadcaster and writer with a passion for Ulster folk-song. He quotes the singing of Len Graham, Eddie Butcher, John Maguire, Joe Holmes, John Kennedy and Paddy Tunney as major influences. Originally from Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, his first book ‘Belfast, City of Song’ (Brandon) explores the traditional songs of the city which has been his home for many years. His research for the Belfast book revealed a wealth of children’s songs and street lore and Maurice’s second book ‘Boys and Girls Come out to Play presents a rich collection of children’s singing games. Both books are complemented by recordings of selected songs. Maurice is much in demand as a lecturer and authority on local folk-song and contributed to ‘The Companion to Irish Traditional Music’ (Editor Fintan Vallely) and ‘Irish People Irish Linen’ by Kathleen Curtis Wilson and has lectured at the Library of Congress in Washington. A familiar voice on the airwaves, Maurice presented a weekly folk-music programme ‘Folkal Point’ for 14 years on Downtown Radio. He is a regular performer at folk concerts and festivals, collaborating with his wife Jane Cassidy to present shows combining local history and folk-song.