The ballad's singer is told that the "pikes must be together at the rising of the moon" to engage in rebellion. The pikemen gather, but are defeated. Despite the loss, the listener is told that there are those will "follow in their footsteps" to again revolt.
The lyrics were written by John Keegan Casey who based the poem on by the failed 1798 uprising in Granard, Co Longford  (1846–70), the "Fenian Poet".
The ballad has been in circulation since circa 1865. The earliest verifiable date found in publication is 1867.
The ballad refers to the outbreak of the 1798 rebellion, as United Irish rebels convey the order to rise. The air of hope and optimism associated with the ultimately doomed rebellion was intended to provide inspiration for rebels preparing to take to the field in another ill-fated venture, the Fenian rebellion of 1867.
Multiple variants of the lyrics have been published in folk music collections.
In the late 19th century, the ballad was also published through the printing of broadsides.
The ballad takes the tune of another Irish ballad, "The Wearing of the Green" and was first published in Casey's 1866 collection of poems and songs A Wreath of Shamrocks.
If they aren't able to destroy the desire for freedom, they won't break you. They won't break me because the desire for freedom, and the freedom of the Irish people, is in my heart. The day will dawn when all the people of Ireland will have the desire for freedom to show.
"Oh! then tell me, Shawn O'Ferrall, Tell me why you hurry so?" "Hush ma bouchal, hush and listen", And his cheeks were all a-glow. "I bear orders from the captain, Get you ready quick and soon, For the pikes must be together at the risin' of the moon". At the risin' of the moon, at the risin' of the moon, For the pikes must be together at the risin' of the moon.
"Oh! then tell me, Shawn O'Ferrall, Where the gatherin' is to be?" "In the ould spot by the river, Right well known to you and me. One word more—for signal token Whistle up the marchin' tune, With your pike upon your shoulder, By the risin' of the moon". By the risin' of the moon, by the risin' of the moon, With your pike upon your shoulder, by the risin' of the moon.
Out from many a mudwall cabin Eyes were watching thro' that night, Many a manly chest was throbbing For the blessed warning light. Murmurs passed along the valleys Like the banshee's lonely croon, And a thousand blades were flashing at the risin' of the moon. At the risin' of the moon, at the risin' of th moon, And a thousand blades were flashing at the risin' of the moon.
There beside the singing river That dark mass of men was seen, Far above the shining weapons Hung their own beloved green. "Death to ev'ry foe and traitor! Forward! strike the marchin' tune, And hurrah, my boys, for freedom! 'Tis the risin' of the moon". 'Tis the risin' of the moon, 'Tis the risin' of the moon, And hurrah my boys for freedom! 'Tis the risin' of the moon.
Well they fought for poor old Ireland, And full bitter was their fate (Oh! what glorious pride and sorrow Fill the name of Ninety-Eight). Yet, thank God, e'en still are beating Hearts in manhood's burning noon, Who would follow in their footsteps, At the risin' of the moon! At the rising of the moon, at the risin' of the moon, Who would follow in their footsteps, at the risin' of the moon.
A wreath of shamrocks: ballads, songs, and legends (1867)
Verse 1 The singer is told that men armed with pikes are gathering for an attack at moonrise. ma bouchal: Irish language mo bhuachaill, my boy pike: a long-poled thrusting spear Shawn O'Ferrall/Shawn O'Farrell/Shane O'Farrell/Shaun O'Farrell ma bouchal/my bohal
Verse 2 The men will be assembling at the river, the signal is set.
Verse 3 The assembly waits apprehensively. banshee: Irish language bean sighe, fairy woman, an omen of death chest/heart blades/pikes warning/morning mudwall/mud-built banshee's lonely croon/branches likely moan/branches loudly moan
Verse 4 The mass commences the assault, bearing the flag of the United Irishmen. green: banner of the rebel group, its predominate color
Verse 5 Death to the enemies and traitors! They come, they come. Viewing the myriad of French who come to liberate us.
Verse 6 The uprising fails, yet freedom's desire lives in the next generation. bitter was their fate/better was their faith