Thursday, January 08, 2009

Paddy's Holler

Molasses Creek's recent performance at Williamsburg's First Night Celebration reminded me again of Walter Howard's most well-known island song, "Paddy's Holler." Many of our readers know and love this fast-paced tune. So I decided to print the lyrics, along with a few comments in brackets, to clarify the local history.

Paddy's Holler
Written by Walter Howard

Many, many years ago I can truly tell you so
There was a spot that wasn't worth a dollar
Where the folks were gay, so the people say
Everybody called it Paddy's Holler [the Ocracoke village area, roughly parallel to, and between, the Back Road & Howard Street, from about the intersection of Fig Tree Lane and Back Road, past the back yards of houses now facing Back Road, then turning on a foot path behind the Methodist Church & Howard cemeteries and joining Howard Street and Lawton Lane, and/or continuing past the back of the Health Center to the schoolhouse] .

'Twould put us all to shame how the holler got its name
Legends have been told by the millions
But the one that I like best was no doubt told in jest
Told by ol' fiddlin' Wid Williams [Ocracoke's most celebrated old-time fiddle player]

Wid was on a spree; he had fiddled all night free
And they had to hold him up by the collar
But like a knight of old he grew mighty bold,
And hollered out "Hooray for Paddy's Holler!" [Some local sources suggest that Paddy's Holler was named after a Philadelphia tap room popular with Ocracokers who had moved up north to work in the early 20th century]

Now in the olden days nobody offered praise
For anybody livin' up the holler
As the years rolled by , moved in on the sly
Now it's "Mrs. Jones" of Paddy's Holler. [Mrs. Jones would be Mary Ruth Kelly Jones, the first wife of early island developer and eccentric millionaire, Sam Jones. She was the grand-daughter of George Gregory Howard, island sea captain who built the large house with widow's walk that backs up to Howard Street.]

Paddy's Holler, Paddy's Holler
Why, they come from near and far to Paddy's Holler
And the town was in a lurch, 'cause when they'd go to church
They'd all have to pass through Paddy's Holler [one early Methodist Church was located on Howard Street, where "Dicey's House" sits today, and the present Methodist Church, completed in 1943, is also located in the Paddy's Holler area.]

The Howards, the O'Neals, the Burruses, the Peales
Why they've all found their way to Paddy's Holler
Choicest spot in town, nobody seems to frown
When someone hollers, "Let's go up the holler!"

They built a naval base just to give the subs a chase [the WWII Navy Base was built where the NPS Visitors Center is today]
So everybody there could earn a dollar
When Uncle Sammy came he put 'em all to shame
Paved the only road through Paddy's Holler. [Ocracoke's first paved road was a one-lane concrete strip starting at the Navy Base, turning where the Anchorage Inn is today, turning again down the Back Road, through Paddy's Holler, then turning across from the fire hall, and "T-ing" at the end of the road. From the "T" the Navy added short aprons, and there they dumped spent ammunition shells, hence the local name "Ammunition Dump Road," though it is officially called "Sunset Blvd."

Paddy's Holler! Paddy's Holler
They come from near and far to Paddy's Holler
It's the choicest spot in town, nobody seems to frown
When someone hollers, "Let's go up the holler!"

Now folks down there were kind to the sick and blind
So everybody ponied up a dollar
To build a little home for Maggie all alone [Maggie is "Mad Mag Howard," wife of John Simon Howard, sea captain, who took Margaret Eaton from Rockland Maine, when she was only fifteen years old, married her, and brought her to Ocracoke. She became legendary for her quirky, odd, and very peculiar habits, hence her local name, Mad Mag.]
Livin' on a hill in Paddy's Holler.

But one was mighty bold, his heart set on gold
His mind was on the almighty dollar
Some said "listen here, don't put that line post there!
'Cause that's the choicest spot in Paddy's Holler!"

I hope you enjoyed this tidbit of local history reflected in one of our most popular songs.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter celebrates the majestic live oaks on Ocracoke Island. You can read it here.

To read about Philip's new book, Digging up Uncle Evans, History, Ghost Tales, & Stories from Ocracoke Island, please click here.


  1. Anonymous3:22 PM


    You should have reminded your readers that Edgar's tunes (four of 'em) are included on the Smithsonian Folkways album "Between the Sound and the Sea: Music of the North Carolina Outer Banks."

    In addition, if you go to and search for Edgar Howard you can listen (or download) the four songs.

    They are, "Let's Keep the Holler Alive," "Matilda Jane Lee," "Paddy's Hollow," and "Tom Dan'ls."


  2. Anonymous7:08 AM

    Are you saying a census tract would indicate residents in this area are of a tax bracket commonly seen if this is a second/vacation house location? Also, If the navy dumped spent munition shells on sunset Blvd are heavy metals leaching into the soil thus qualifying the area as a love canal type of handling or it seems a come what may attitude of Island residents is necessary to grin and bear it. I thought the Mad in someone's madness was a product of their environment maybe there is something in the water?