05 Sep

The Lass Among the Heather

As I was coming home from the fair at Baltimor-e-o,
I met a pretty lass, she was fairer than Diana-o,
I asked her where she lived as we jogged along together-o,
“On bonnie mountain side,” she replied, “Among the heather-o.”

“Oh lassie I’m in love with you, you have so many charms-o,
Oh lassie I’m in love with you, to you my bosom yearns-o,
A blink of your blue eye, your person is so charming-o,
Right gladly would I wed with you, dear lass among the heather-o.”

“Oh young man do you think that I am so easy taken-o?
Oh young man do you think I believe what you are saying-o?
I’m happy and I’m well with my father and my mother-o,
‘Twould take a cunning lad for to coax me from the heather-o.”

“Oh lassie condescend and do not be so cruel-o,
Oh lassie condescend grant a kiss to your own jewel-o,”
“If I should grant you one, you would surely want another-o,
So take it as you will, I’m the lass among the heather-o.”

This month’s song has been traced by Irish song scholar John Moulden back to its original County Antrim composer Hugh McWilliams (born 1783). McWilliams was a schoolmaster and prolific writer of songs that had an unusual knack for entering tradition including the well-travelled “When a Man’s in Love He Feels no Cold.” That song and “The Lass Among the Heather” both appear in McWilliams’ Poems and Songs on Various Subjects Vol. II, published in 1831. “The Lass Among the Heather” crossed over into Scotland where it enjoyed some popularity. It was also sung in Cork by Elizabeth Cronin and in the north woods of the United States.

My principle source for the above transcription was a version that appears in the book A Heritage of Songs compiled by Maine singer Carrie Grover (1879-1959) from her own family repertoire. The melody is entirely Grover’s (though it is similar to that given by Moulden in his pamphlet “Songs of Hugh McWilliams, Schoolmaster, 1831”). The text is a mix of Grover’s and the original printed by McWilliams. Both McWilliams and Grover sprinkle in some Scots language (hame, frae, amang, etc.) but I have cheated my version away from the Scots for the most part. I omitted Grover’s last verse (which doesn’t appear in McWilliams’ original) about the couple living happily ever after in favor of the ambiguous open-ended nature of Grover’s fourth verse.

20 Aug

Darby O’Leary

I strayed far away from the old County Down,
Aiming for riches for fame and renown,
I wandered ‘til I came to Galbally town and was hired to Darby O’Leary.

When we entered his kitchen, I entered it first;
It seemed like a kennel or a ruined old church:
Says I to myself, “I am left in the lurch in the house of old Darby O’Leary.”

Two praties he gave me for supper at night,
With a cup of sour milk that would sicken a snipe,
He was stingy and heartless I ne’er saw the light; oh, a hard man was Darby O’Leary.

The silly old miser he sat with a frown,
While straw was brought in for to make my shakedown,
I wish I had never seen Galbally town or the sky over Darby O’Leary.

I worked in Tipperary, the Rag, and Rosegreen,
I worked in Knockainey and the Bridge of Aleen,
But such woeful starvation I’ve never yet seen as I got from old Darby O’Leary.

Also known as “The Galbally Farmer,” this song is a fine example of a worker’s complaint song about a bad boss and unpleasant working conditions. Oxford’s Bodleian Library has a broadside version of this (probably from the early 1800s) entitled “The Spalpeen’s Complaint of Darby O’Leary” and another version also appears in P. W. Joyce’s 1909 Old Irish Folk Music and Songs.

The version above takes its melody from New Brunswick singer Angelo Dornan. The verses are based on those sung by Dornan (verse 4), New York/New Hampshire singer Lena Bourne Fish (verses 1 and 3) and Tom Lenihan of County Clare (verses 2 and 5). Fish’s opening verse is the only one I have seen that has the protagonist hailing from County Down. Galbally, County Limerick is in the southeastern corner of the county on the border with Tipperary.

19 Aug

The Jolly Roving Tar (Get Up Jack, John Sit Down)

Ships may come and ships may go as long as the sea doth roll,
Each sailor lad’s just like his dad he loves the flowing bowl,
A trip ashore he does adore with a girl that’s plump and round,
When his money’s gone it’s the same old song, “Get up Jack, John sit down,”

Come along, come along you jolly brave boys there’s lots of grog in the jar,
Let’s plough the briny ocean with the jolly roving tar.

When Jack gets in ’tis then he steers for some old boarding house,
He’s welcomed in with rum and gin, they feed him on port souse,
He’ll lend and spend and not offend ’til he lies drunk on the ground,
When his money’s gone it’s the same old song, “Get up Jack, John sit down,”                                                                  

He then will sail aboard some ship for India or Japan,
In Asia there the ladies fair all love the sailorman,
He’ll go ashore and on a tear and buy some girl a gown,
When his money’s gone it’s the same old song, “Get up Jack, John sit down,”

When Jack gets old and weather-beat, too old to roam about,In some rum shop they’ll let him stop ’til eight bells calls him out,
He’ll raise his eyes up to the skies saying, “Boys, we’re homeward bound,”
When his money’s gone it’s the same old song, “Get up Jack, John sit down,”

We return to northern New York State this month for a song from Lena Bourne Fish (1873-1945) who sang nearly 100 songs for collectors Anne and Frank Warner in the early 1940s. Lena learned her “Jolly Roving Tar” from “an old man who used to sail on a whaling ship.” The song actually originated as part of the 1885 musical theater production Old Lavender with words by Edward Harrigan and music by Dave Braham. Harrigan and Braham were giants of American popular music in the late 1800s and many of their Irish-American themed stage songs went into oral tradition in the Great Lakes including “The Pitcher of Beer” (see Northwoods Songs #32). This “Jolly Roving Tar” (not to be confused with the more mournful song by the same name that is in tradition in Ireland and the Canadian Maritimes) is associated with Newfoundland these days thanks to a recording by the band Great Big Sea.