After Zozimus

The lost street poets and tenement balladeers of 19th century Dublin: a project by Dr Catherine Ann Cullen, IRC Enterprise Partnership Postdoctoral Fellow at UCD and Poetry Ireland

Academic mentor: Dr Lucy Collins                 

EP Mentor: Dr Jane O’Hanlon

"THESE WERE the times when the printers of almanacks and street ballads did a brisk trade in dying speeches, last declarations, and melancholy lamentations in prose and verse, when Blind Biddy or Peggy, with babe in arms, and Blind Sadler, warbled and howled their plaintive ditties, or fierce Repeal or war songs, when Blind Zozimus walked the flags singing sedition & high treason."

 – C.C. Hoey, The Irish Builder,  XX.440 (1878)


Zozimus (Michael Moran, 1795-1846) is celebrated as the blind street poet of Dublin’s Liberties, but there were many ‘unsung’ balladeers of the city. This research partnership with Poetry Ireland reclaims the forgotten generation of poets and performers who continued in the street tradition after Zozimus died.

One such was Joseph Sadler, another blind poet, who flourished from about 1850 to 1870. I have identified upwards of fifteen broadside ballads printed in Dublin and scattered in collections in Ireland, Britain and America which bear Sadler’s name or can be attributed to him.

Sadler was essentially a news balladeer who focussed on politics and religion. Although on the Catholic side of various disputes, he also celebrated the British crown in ‘Lines Written on the Royal Visit of the Prince of Wales’ in 1868. His works commemorate Irish participation in conflicts abroad, especially in the Crimea and the Papal army. You can read a fuller post on Sadler with some song extracts here. Among his contemporaries to be researched in this project are James Kearney from Limerick or Clare, Tom Shalvey, a gardener from the Tenters in Dublin, and a number of women balladeers whose first names and nicknames have been mentioned in reminiscences (including ‘Blind Peggy’, ‘Ranting Sal’ and ‘Limping Kitty’) but whose real names and works have yet to be identified in print artefacts.

I am also researching the printers who rushed out the works of these street poets on executions, court cases and political events. Both poets and printers often found themselves in the courts charged with sedition, so court records, as well as letters seeking advice on prosecution in the Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers (1818-33) at the National Archive, are vital sources for details of their lives. The street poets also appear in court reports on charges of begging, loitering and obstruction of the pavement.

As well as completing a monograph, I will provide public-facing resources on these male and female poor, disabled and working class artists of 19th-century Dublin by disseminating selected texts and background here, and I am also planning an event with Poetry Ireland in Winter 2024 featuring performances by singers and spoken word poets of these works, which have not been heard in 150 years, and responses to them.

Thanks to the ITMA for use of The Ballad Singer (1881), above, a sketch  by Harry Furniss from the ITMA collection, and to John Matthews, multimedia specialist at UCD, for his time and care in the website design and development.


Raising Kane

One of the characters often mentioned with Dublin singer-songwriter James Kearney (1822-62) is‘Kane’. PJ McCall tells us that Kearney’s songs were all purchased by him from others – all Liberty men, or natives of the district – from the witty

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From Rogues to Riches

This month’s treasure is a new song by tinsmith and entertainer James Kearney (1822-1862) or, perhaps I should say, an old song newly attributed to him. I’ve been researching James Kearney for the past six months or more, along with

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Make your own 19th century songbook

One of the speakers at our Broadside Extra conference was Ireland’s foremost student of the printed ballad, Dr John Moulden, who presented a fascinating paper on the Drogheda weaver, poet and balladeer John Sheil (c1784-1872.) He also gave us the opportunity to make our own 19th century songbooks from A4 printed sheets, and he has kindly shared the PDFs so you too can make a Sheil songbook. Do try this at home! John will be pleased to engage with other students through his website here.


  1. Print the PDF as a double-sided A4 sheet, and make sure the orientation is as in the PDF
  2. Hold the sheet in landscape and fold in half vertically, keeping the title page to the outside. Carefully slit the folded edge.
  3. Hold the resultant pair of A5 sheets horizontally, again keeping the title page to the outside. Carefully slit the folded (top) edges, but not quite to the centre, leaving some uncut to hold the pages.
  4. Fold these pages vertically to make a booklet of 16 pages, with the title page on the front. Check the sequence of pages!
Songbook sample images

Dr Catherine Ann Cullen

Dr Catherine Ann Cullen is an Irish Research Council Enterprise Partnership Postdoctoral Fellow with UCD and Poetry Ireland, researching a monograph on nineteenth century Dublin’s lost street poets and tenement balladeers. She was the inaugural Poet in Residence at Poetry Ireland 2019-2022. Cullen is an award-winning poet, children’s author and songwriter, and recipient of the prestigious Kavanagh Fellowship in 2018. Her latest publication is a broadsheet, 11 x 11 for Number 11: Poems for Poetry Ireland (June 2023). She has published three collections: The Other Now: New and Selected Poems (Dedalus 2016), Strange Familiar (Doghouse 2013) and A Bone in My Throat (Doghouse 2007). Her four children’s books are The Song of Brigid’s Cloak (Beehive 2022); The Magical, Mystical, Marvellous Coat (Little, Brown, 2001), which won a gold award for poetry and folklore from the US Parenting Products Association; Thirsty Baby (Little, Brown 2003) and All Better: Poems on illness and recovery (Little Island 2019).

Cullen co-chaired (with ballad expert Steve Roud) a conference at TU Dublin in October 2022, Broadside Extra: News, Songs and Provocations in the History of Cheap Print and Street Literature, where she gave a paper on women in the ballad trade in 19th century Ireland. She has presented her research into Irish and British broadside ballads at Broadside Day at the University of Strathclyde in 2019, at Cecil Sharp House, London in 2020 and 2023, and online in 2021 and 2022. Some of her academic work is published by The Ballad Partners in London. She has also presented on poetry, children’s lit, creative writing, women in the arts and arts in education, including the keynote address at Middlesex University’s Summer Conference 2018; a public lecture at DCU on songs and children’s books in 2022;  Women in Traditional and Folk Music Symposium, NUIG, in 2019 (with Imogen Gunner), and the ISSCL Symposium 2015. She has performed her poetry and songs in academic settings at Montclair University, NJ (2021) and Glucksman House NYU (2017).

She has twice won the nationwide Business to Arts Award for Best Use of Creativity in the Community (2017 and 2022), and is twice winner of the Francis Ledwidge Poetry Award. She won the 2022 Cercle Littéraire Irlandais Celebrating Women with Words Competition, was joint winner of the Joyce-Cycle Poetry Award 2019 and won best song in Dublin City Council’s Camac Competition 2018. Her lyrics to Ode to Joy were sung by choirs, families and individuals across Ireland on World Music Day 2020 as a tribute to frontline staff. Her poem Triskele was shortlisted for Irish Poem of the Year 2020.

Cullen holds a PhD in Creative Writing (Public Works) from Middlesex and an M. Phil (Creative Writing) from Trinity College Dublin. She was born in Drogheda, Co Louth, and lives in Dublin.

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