09 Dec

Exile of Erin

“Oh, sad is my fate,” said the heart broken stranger,
             “The wild deer and roe to the mountains can flee,
But I have no refuge from famine or danger,
             A home and a country remains not for me;
Oh, never again in the green shady bower,
Where my forefathers lived shall I spend the sweet hours,
Or cover my harp with the wild woven flowers,
             And strike the sweet numbers of Erin Go Bragh.

Oh, Erin, my country, though sad and forsaken,
             In dreams I revisit thy sea-beaten shore,
But alas! in a far foreign land I awaken,
             And sigh for the friends that can meet me no more;
And thou, cruel fate, will thou never replace me,
In a mansion of peace where no perils can chase me?
Oh, never again shall my brothers embrace me,
             They died to defend me or live to deplore.

Where is my cabin once fast by the wildwood,
             Sisters and sire did weep for its fall,
Where is the mother that looked over my childhood,
             And where is my bosom friend, dearer than all?
Ah, my sad soul, long abandoned by pleasure,
Why did it dote on a fast fading treasure?
Tears like the rain may fall without measure,
             But rapture and beauty they cannot recall.

But yet all its fond recollections suppressing,
             One dying wish my fond bosom shall draw,
Erin, an exile bequeaths thee his blessing,
             Land of my forefathers, Erin Go Bragh;
Buried and cold when my heart stills its motion,
Green be thy fields fairest Isle of the ocean,
And the harp striking bard sings aloud with devotion,
             “Erin Mavourneen, sweet Erin Go Bragh.”

We return this month to the repertoire of Minnesota singer Michael Cassius Dean who printed “Exile of Erin” in his songster The Flying Cloud. Dean’s book reaches its 100th birthday next year having been printed in Virginia, Minnesota in 1922 while he was employed as night watchman for the Virginia-Rainy Lake Lumber Company mega-mill in that city. As I have written here before, Dean was visited by the wax cylinder recording machine of Robert Winslow Gordon in 1924 but his version of “Exile of Erin” does not appear to have been recorded at that time. We only have his text from the songster. The melody above is my own transcription of a version sung by Belle Luther Richards at Colebrook, New Hampshire for Helen Hartness Flanders in 1943. That recording is available on archive.org.

The Richards and Dean versions are the only versions collected from North American singers I have found. This is somewhat surprising given that the song was extremely popular in Ireland throughout the 1800s. It was popular enough to spark widely-publicized controversy over who wrote it! It seems fairly certain that the author was Scottish poet Thomas Campbell (1777-1844) who also authored “The Wounded Hussar.” Campbell reported that he wrote the song in 1800 in Hamburg after meeting a man named Anthony McCann who was exiled there for his role in the Rebellion of 1798.

It’s possible that Dean learned it from his Mayo-born parents. Mayo was a focus of action during the excitement of 1798 when French General Humbert landed with over 1000 troops at Cill Chuimín Strand, County Mayo in support of the revolutionaries in August of that year. It is also possible that Dean learned it from a source here in Minnesota. Minneapolis’ Irish Standard newspaper, to which Dean subscribed while living in Hinckley, printed the text of the song in 1886 and again in 1900.

26 Apr

Doran’s Ass

One heavenly night in last November, Pat walked out for to see his love,
What night it was I don’t remember, but the moon shone brightly from above,
That day the boy got some liquor, which made his spirits brisk and gay,
Saying, “What is the use of walking any quicker for I know she’ll meet me on the way.”

              Whack fol loora loora loddy, whack fol right fol lie doe day.

He tunes his pipe and fell to humming, while gently onward he did jog,
But fatigue and whisky overcome him, so Pat lay down upon the sod,
He was not long without a comrade, and one that could kick up the hay,
For the big jackass he smelt out Paddy, lay down beside him on the way.

He hugged, he smugged this hairy old devil, and threw his hat to worldly cares,
“You’ve come at last, my Biddy darling, but, by me soul, you’re like a bear.”
He laid his hand on the donkey’s nose, just then this beast began to bray,
Pat jumped up and roared out “Murder! Who served me in such a way?”

He took two legs and homeward started, at railroad speed, as fast, I’m sure,
He never stopped his feet or halted until he came to Biddy’s door,
When he got there ’twas almost morning, down on his knees he fell to pray,
Saying, “Let me in my Biddy darling, I’ve met the Devil on the way.”

He told his story mighty civil, while she prepared the whiskey glass,
How he hugged, he smugged, this hairy old devil, “Go way” says she “that’s Doran’s ass!”
“I know it was, my Biddy darling.” And they got married the very next day,
Pat never got back the old straw hat, that the donkey ate up on the way.

We have another comic song this month that was once sung across the north woods region including here in Minnesota where a version was printed by Mike Dean in his 1922 songster The Flying Cloud. Lumberjack singer Charley Bowlen of Black River Falls, Wisconsin also sang a version for collector Helene Stratman-Thomas in 1940. In Ireland, it was printed by Colm Ó Lochlainn in his influential collection Irish Street Ballads.

The melody above is my transcription of a version recorded in the western Catskills by collector Herbert Halpert in 1941. The singer was Walter Wormuth of Peakville, New York who had himself worked in the lumber woods earlier in life. Most versions use a variant of the melody associated with the song “Spanish Lady” and Wormuth’s has a unique twist on that well-worn tune. The above text is primarily Wormuth’s but I borrowed a few lines from Dean and Bowlen here and there.

26 Apr

Sentenced to Death

With the Sign of the Cross on my forehead, as I kneel on this cold dungeon floor,
As I kneel at your feet, reverend father, with no one but God to the fore,
I have told you the faults of my boyhood—the follies and sins of my youth,
And it’s now from this crime of my manhood I speak with the same open truth.

You see, sir, the land was our people’s for ninety long years, and their toil,
What first was a bare bit of mountain brought into good wheat-bearing soil,
’Twas their hands rose the walls of our cabin, where our children were borned and bred,
Where our wedding’s an’ christening’s was merry, where we weeped and keened over our dead.

We were honest and fair to the landlord-we paid him the rent to the day,
And it wasn’t our fault if our hard sweat they squandered and wasted away,
In the cards, and the dice, and the racecourse, and often in deeper disgrace,
That no tongue could relate without bringing a blush to an honest man’s face.

But the day come at last that they worked for, when the castles, the mansions and lands,
They should hold but in trust for the people, ’til their shame passed away from their hands,
And our place, sir, too, went to auction–by many the acres were sought,
And what cared the stranger that purchased, who made him the good soil he bought?

The old folks were gone—thank God for it—where troubles or cares can’t pursue,
But the wife and the children—Oh Father in Heaven—what was I to do?
Sure I thought, I’ll go speak to the new man, and tell him of me and of mine,
And the trifle that I’ve put together I’ll place in his hand as a fine.

The estate is worth six times the money, and maybe his heart isn’t cold,
But the scoundrel that bought the thief’s penny-worth was worse than the pauper that sold.

Well I chased him to house and to office, wherever I thought he’d be met,
And I offered him all he’d put on it—but no, ’twas the land he should get,
I prayed as men only to God pray—my prayers they were spurned and denied,
And no matter how just my right was, when he had the law at his side.

I was young, and but few years was married to one with a voice like a bird,
When she sang the songs of our country, every feeling within me was stirred,
Oh I see her this minute before me, with a foot wouldn’t bend a croneen,
And her laughing eyes lifted to kiss me—my charming, my bright-eyed Eileen!

’Twas often with pride that I watched her, her soft arms folding our boy,
Until he chased the smile from her red lip, and silenced the song of her joy,
Whisht, father, have patience a minute, let me wipe the big drops from my brow,
Whisht, father, I’ll try not to curse him; but I tell you, don’t preach to me now.

Well, he threatened, he coaxed, he ejected; for we tried to cling to the place,
That was mine, yes, far more than ’twas his, sir; I told him so up to his face,
But the little I had melted from me in making the fight for my own,
And a beggar, with three helpless children, out on the wide world I was thrown.

And Eileen would soon have another—another that never drew breath,
The neighbors were good to us always—but what could they do against death?
For my wife and her infant before me lay dead, and by him they were killed,
As sure as I’m kneeling before you, to own to my share of the guilt.

Well I laughed all consoling to scorn, I didn’t mind much what I said,
With Eileen a corpse in the barn, with a bundle of straw for a bed,
Sure the blood in my veins boiled to madness—do you think that a man is a log?
Well I tracked him once more—’twas the last time—and shot him that night like a dog.

Yes, I shot him, I did it, but father, let them that makes laws for the land,
Look to it, when they come to judgment, for the blood that lies red on my hand,
If I drew the piece, ’twas them primed it, that left him stretched cold on the sod,
And from their bar, where I got my sentence, I appeal to the bar of my God.

For the justice I never got from them, the right in their hands is unknown,
Still I say sir, at last, that I’m sorry I took the law into my own,
That I stole out that night in the darkness, whilst mad with my grief and despair,
And I drew the black soul from his body, not giving him time for a prayer.

Well, it is told, sir you have the whole story, God forgive him and me for our sins,
My life now is ended—oh father, for the young ones, for them life begins,
You’ll look to poor Eileen’s young orphans? God bless you and now I’m at rest,
And resigned to the death that tomorrow is staring me straight in the face.

This incredibly grim and moving song depicting an Irish tenant farmer confessing to the murder of his landlord appeared as a poem in an 1886 edition of Minneapolis’ Irish Standard newspaper. It was written by a Cork woman, Katharine Murphy, who published it in Ireland under a pseudonym in the nationalist newspaper The Nation ten years prior. The only known sung version of the poem is one collected in Beaver Island, Michigan from Andrew “Mary Ellen” Gallagher by Alan Lomax (listen to first part here and second part here). Above, I have transcribed Gallagher’s version and filled in some stanzas using the Irish Standard. For more information on this remarkable song including the Irish Standard excerpt and the Gallagher recording, see this post in the “Caught My Ear” blog by the American Folklife Center’s Stephen Winick.