26 Oct

The Protestant Cow

Paddy McCarthy, a sweet Irish lad, he came from the county of Ballinafad,
Where he spent his young days until man he had grown, he come to this country a few years ago,
Where he settled him down quite neatly, faith good luck attended him greatly,
The one thing that vexed him completely, was the want of a cow to give milk.

So then he consulted his wife Peggy Ann, a nice little girl from the County Cavan,
She said that her milk she must have anyhow, so Paudie went out for to buy her a cow,
To buy one he struck out so gaily, twirling his blackthorn shillelagh,
’Til he met with old farmer Bailey, a Protestant Yankee so cute.

They haggled around and a bargain soon made, the price of the cow to the farmer Pat paid,
Singing along the way sir as he drove home his newly bought cow.

He arrived at the gate, Peggy Ann at the door, such an elegant creature she’d ne’er seen before,
“Where did you get her?” said Peggy so gaily, “To see sure I bought her from old farmer Bailey.”
“From that Protestant thief? Blood and thunder! Oh Pat she’s a Protestant cow!”

“[  ] never mind that, go into the house and mind what you’re at,
A bottle of holy water bring out to me now, and I will soon make her a Catholic cow”
A bottle of blue liquor she brought out instead, so Pat began pouring it on the cow’s head,
Making the sign of the cross as he poured, all in a sudden the cow let a roar.

They looked at each other with faces so blue, thinking that she was a Protestant cow,
Says Pat “There must be something wrong in her. Or isn’t the Protestant strong in her,”
“Musha may the Devil go on with her! Pat she’s a protestant cow.”

Searching the many online archives of American newspapers from the 1800s turns up dozens of printings and reprintings of versions of this humorous story about Pat and Peggy Ann and their attempt to convert their new cow to Catholicism. However, I can find none that tell the story in verse. Interestingly, an Irish telling of the story turns up in Ireland’s recently digitized National Folklore Collection as recounted by a school boy in Collooney, Co. Sligo–just up the road from Ballinafad.

Two sung versions were collected in Beaver Island, Michigan by Alan Lomax and Ivan Walton from brothers Barney and James Martin in 1938 and 1940. You can hear Barney’s version (my main source for the above transcription) on the Library of Congress website. James Martin said he brought the song to Beaver Island from a lumber camp in Schoolcraft County on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where a Canadian lumberjack named Campbell sang it around 1890.

22 Oct

Lather and Shave

It was down in the city not far from this spot,
Where a barber he set up a snug little shop,
He was silent and sad, but his smile was so sweet,
That he pulled everybody right in from the street.

One horrid bad custom he thought he would stop,
That no one for credit should come to his shop,
So he got him a razor full of notches and rust,
To shave the poor mortals who came there for trust.

Some time after that, Pat was passing that way,
His beard had been growing for many a day,
He looked at the barber and set down his hod,
“Will you trust me a shave for the true love of God?”

“Walk in,” says the barber, “Sit down in that chair,
And I’ll soon mow your beard off right down to a hair.”
The lather he splattered on Paddy’s big chin,
And with his “trust” razor to shave did begin.

“Ach murder!” says Paddy, “Now what are you doin?
Leave off with your tricks or my jaws you will ruin,
By the powers, you will pull every tooth in my jaw,
By jeepers, I’d rather be shaved with a saw.”

“Keep still,” says the barber, “don’t make such a din.
Quit working your jaw or I’ll cut your big chin.”
“It’s not cut, but it’s saw with that razor you’ve got,
For it wouldn’t cut butter unless it was hot.”

“Let up now,” says Paddy, “Don’t shave anymore,”
And the Irishman bolted right straight for the door,
“You can lather and shave all your friends ‘til you’re sick,
But by jeepers, I’d rather be shaved with a brick.”

Not many days later as Pat passed that door,
A jackass he set up a terrible roar,
“Now look at the barber! You may know he’s a knave,
He’s giving some devil a ‘love of God’ shave.”

We have a song this month in honor of everyone whose “pandemic beard” needs a trim! “Lather and Shave” (aka “The Irish Barber” or “The Love of God Shave”) seems to have originated in the early 19th century as a broadside ballad in England. From there it travelled to Ireland and North America where it was sung on the stage and by traditional singers in many regions including the Upper Midwest.

The above text is my own blend of two Midwestern versions: one from Bernadine Christensen of Harlan, Iowa collected by Earl J. Stout and another from Charles C. Talbot of Forbes, North Dakota collected by Franz Rickaby and printed in the collection “Folk Songs Out of Wisconsin.” My melody and chorus come from a third source: Angus “The Ridge” MacDonald of Antigonish County, Nova Scotia as recorded by MacEdward Leach (click to listen online).

20 Jun

Moorlough Mary

When first I saw my dear Moorlough Mary,
 ’Twas in a valley in sweet Strabane,
Her smiling countenance was so enticing,
All other females she would tramp on,
Her smiling glances bruised my senses,
No rest will I find neither night nor day,
In my silent slumber, I’ll wake in wonder,
Crying “Moorlough Mary, won’t you come away?”

Was I a man of good education,
Or Erin’s Isle all at my command,
I’d lay my head on your seething bosom,
In bands of wedlock, you’d join my hand,
I’d entertain you both morning and evening,
In robes I’d dress both neat and gay,
With kisses sweet, love, I would embrace you,
Kind Moorlough Mary, won’t you come away?

I’ll away, I’ll away to some lonely valley,
Where recreation is in full bloom,
Where the rivers mourning and salmon sporting,
Each sound and echo brings something new,
Where the thrush and blackbird is joined in chorus,
The notes melodious on each stream bound,
I would sit and sing ’til my heart’s contented,
Dear Moorlough Mary, if you was with me now.

I’ll press my cheese while my mules* are teased,
I’ll milk my ewes by the eve of day,
I’ll sit and sleep ‘til my heart’s contented,
Crying “Moorlough Mary, won’t you come away?”

*most Irish versions refer to the teasing of “wools” here

This month we have a north woods version of the well-loved Irish song “Moorlough Mary” that some may know from the singing of Paddy Tunney, Cathal McConnell, Kevin Mitchell or other singers from the north of Ireland.  A version from Co. Tyrone appears in Sam Henry’s Songs of the People with the note that it was composed by Tyrone man James Devine around 1876. If Devine wrote it, it must have gained popularity quickly as it appears in the Bodleian Library’s broadside archive on a London-printed song sheet from before 1885.

New England song collector Helen Hartness Flanders collected two versions in northeastern Maine. Both field recordings are available online via the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection on archive.org. The above melody is my transcription of what Charles Finnemore of Bridgewater, ME sang for Flanders in 1941.  Finnemore’s text was only a fragment so I transcribed the text based on Flanders’ 1942 recording of Jack McNally or Staceyville, ME. Both singers have wonderful traditional styles. McNally’s singing is more full-throated and intense where Finnemore is light and lilty. They are both great examples of Irish style singing transplanted to the North American woods.