01 Mar

Nora McShane

I left Balamonoth a long way behind me,
To better my fortune I crossed the deep sea,
But I’m sadly alone, not a creature to mind me,
And, faith, I’m as wretched as wretched can be;
In truth, I think I’m near broken hearted.
To country and home I must return back again,
For I’ve never been happy at all since I parted
From sweet Balamonoth and Nora McShane.

I sigh for the turf fire so cheerfully burning,
Where barefooted I trudged it from toiling afar,
And tossed in the light the thirteen I’d been earning,
And whistled the anthems of Erin go Bragh;
But now far away from my fireside I’m parted,
Away back in dear America over the main,
And may God speed the ship that is sailing tomorrow,
Back to dear old Erin and Nora McShane.

There is something so dear in the cot I was born in,
Though the walls are but mud and the roof is but thatch,
How familiar the grunt of the pigs in the morning,
What pleasure in lifting that auld rusty latch;
It’s true I’d no money, but then I’d no sorrow,
My pockets were light and my head had no pain,
But if I’m living when the sun shines tomorrow,
I’ll go back to ould Erin and Nora McShane.

___________________

Several years ago, Maeve O’Mara and Liam O’Neill, proprietors of Irish on Grand, gave me a copy of a handwritten notebook of old song lyrics that someone from Hugo, Minnesota dropped off at the store. The notebook was made by Sylvester Johnson (whose parents immigrated from Cork) in the late 1800’s. The Johnson Manuscript is a fascinating collection of 27 songs including many 19th century sentimental Irish songs from both sides of Atlantic. There are at least five songs in the manuscript that also appear in Michael Dean’s Flying Cloud including “The Lament of the Irish Emigrant” and “Norah McShane.”

The text of “Norah McShane” was written by English poet Eliza Cook in 1838 when she was 20 years old. Cook was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and a hero to many working class people in England and America. Several of her poems were widely known and set to music. I have yet to find a source for a melody in any North American source from oral tradition. However, a parody of “Norah McShane” called “Lake Chemo” written by James Wilton Rowe in the 1870s was collected in the woods of Maine by Phillips Barry. Rowe’s melody is a variant of the classic air Thomas Moore used for his “Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms.” The Dean and Johnson versions suggest a longer phrase length than the Rowe parody so I blended Rowe’s melody with other elements of the “Endearing Young Charms” melody to get the melody above. The text is as it appears in Dean.

Woodcut accompanying one of several 19th century broadside printings of Norah MacShane found in the Bodleian Library

 

28 Feb

The Raftsman

I’ll tell you of a raftsman right from the pinery,
And how he loved a lady, she was of a high degree,
Her fortune was so great it scarcely could be told,
And still she loved the raftsman because he was so bold.

One day when they had been to church and were just returning home,
They met her old father and several armed men,
“Oh daughter, oh daughter, oh daughter I pray,
Is this your good behavior, or is’t your wedding day?”

“I fear,” cried the lady, “we both shall be slain,”
“Fear nothing at all,” said the raftsman again,
“Now, since you’ve been so foolish as to be a raftsman’s wife,
Down in this lonely valley I will quickly end your life.”

“Hold,” cried the raftsma, “I do not like such prattle,
Although I am the bridegroom, I’m all prepared for battle,”
He drew his sword and pistol and caused them for to roar,
The lady held the horses while the raftsman battled sore.

The first man came to him, he ran him through the main,
The next one stepped up to him, he served him the same,
“Let’s run,” cried the rest of them, “we all shall be slain,
To fight this gallant raftsman is altogether vain.”

“Stay,” cried the old man, “you make my blood run cold,
You shall have my daughter and five thousand pounds in gold,”
“Oh no,” cried the lady, “the fortune is too small,
Fight on, my bold raftsman, and you shall have it all.”

“Oh raftsman, oh raftsman, if you will spare my life,
You shall have my daughter for your beloved wife,”
He took them home unto his house, he made him his heir,
It wasn’t out of love but it was from dread and fear.

Come all you rich maidens with money in great store,
Never shun a raftsman, although he may be poor,
For they’re jolly good fellows—happy, fresh, and free,
And how gallantly they fight for their rights and liberty.

______

A few months ago I came across a remarkable series of blog posts by folklorist Stephen Winick about the ballad “Arthur McBride” – the one that was so beautifully rendered by Paul Brady on the iconic Andy Irvine and Paul Brady album in 1976 and at this videotaped 1977 performance. Writing on the American Folklife Center’s Folklife Today blog, Winick tells us that Brady learned the song while living in New England, from a collection compiled by Carrie Grover of Gorham, Maine. Grover (1879-1959) was a singer herself who got most of her repertoire (which appears in her collection A Heritage of Songs) from her parents while growing up in Nova Scotia and Maine. She was part of the north woods singing tradition and that makes Brady’s “Arthur McBride” a northwoods song! What’s more, if you open Grover’s book to the Arthur McBride page, the facing page is her father’s version of “The Jolly Soldier”—also arranged and performed by Paul Brady on the album with Andy Irvine!

Arthur McBride 001

“The Jolly Raftsman” and the first part of “Arthur McBride” as they appear in Carrie Grover’s book A Heritage of Songs.

When I discovered the Grover-Brady connection, my mind went to an interesting song text collected in Wisconsin and published in Wisconsin Lore by Robert E.Gard and L.G. Sorden. Gard and Sorden’s “The Raftsman” is basically a version of “Jolly Soldier” with Raftsman swapped in for Soldier. It seems a little out of place for someone going down the river with a raft of logs to be packing both a sword and pistol but the character of the recklessly romantic hero does fit with the way raftsmen often portrayed themselves in other songs. Above I have paired the Gard/Sorden text (with a few small changes) with the melody (more or less) as published by Grover. For my own sung version, I swapped out the sword and pistol for the raftman’s trusty pike and peavey.

23 Dec

The Fellow That Looks Like Me


In sad despair I wander my heart is filled with woe,
Though in my grief I ponder what to do I do not know,
For cruel fate does on me frown and the trouble seems to be,
That there’s a fellow in this town and he just looks like me.

Chorus:
Oh wouldn’t I like to catch him, whoever he may be,
Wouldn’t I give him particular fits, that fellow that looks like me.

One evening I sat speaking to a girl as dear as life,
When a lady who had just dropped in says “Brown how is your wife?”
In vain I said “I’m a single man, ’tis married I wish to be,”
She called me a swindler and kicked me out for the fellow that looks like me.

With a lady fair I started to the Central Park to go,
But was stopped in the street by a man who said “Pay the bill you owe.”
In vain I said “I know you not,” He would not let me free,
’Til a crowd came ’round and the bill I paid for the fellow that looks like me.

Then to a ball one night I went, and was just enjoying the sport,
When a policeman caught me by the arm saying “you’re wanted down in court,
You escaped us twice but this here time we’ll take care you don’t get free,”
They dragged me off and locked me up for the fellow that looks like me.

I was tried next day, found guilty too, was about to be taken down,
When a second policeman then brought in the right criminal Mr. Brown,
They locked him up and set me free wasn’t he a sight to see,
For the ugliest wretch that ever you saw was the fella that looked like me!

This month I chose a light-hearted song that I have been meaning to learn for a while. I came across it via the rich digital archive of MacEdward Leach’s field recordings from Newfoundland made available by that province’s Memorial University. Leach recorded a wonderful, lilty version from Trepassey singer Cyril O’Brien in 1951. “The Fellow That Looked Like Me” was also sung in logging communities in Pennsylvania and Michigan as well as in Appalachia where it eventually made its way into the old time country repertoire by way of recordings by Al Hopkins and his Buckle Busters and others.

The song had its start in the 1860s during the early days of vaudeville in New York where it was written by Dublin-born John F. Poole and performed by the “Father of Vaudeville” Tony Pastor around 1867. Irish composers, melodies and themes were a central part of vaudeville in those years. Poole and Pastor also teamed up on the famous song lamenting anti-Irish job discrimination, “No Irish Need Apply,” as well as the original “Tim Finigan’s Wake” (yes that “Finnegan’s Wake!”).

Of all the versions I’ve found from folk sources, Newfoundlander Cyril O’Brien’s is my favorite and it’s also the closest to Poole’s original composition. The above melodic transcription is from O’Brien and the text is my own blend of O’Brien’s text and the original text published by Poole. Poole’s original is available online here.