13 May

The Gallagher Boys

Come all brother sailors I hope you’ll draw nigh,
For to hear of the sad news, it will cause you to cry,
Of noble Johnny Gallagher, who sailed to and fro,
He was lost on Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.

It was in October in seventy three,
We left Beaver harbor and had a calm sea,
Bound away to Traverse City, our destination to go,
We were crossing Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.

We left Traverse City at nine the next day
And down to Elk Rapids we then bore our way,
We took in our store and to sea we did go,
We were crossing Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.

At nine that same night a light we did spy,
That is Beaver Island, we are drawing nigh,
We carried all sails, the Lookout, she did go,
We were crossing Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.

Oh Johnny got up and he spoke to his crew,
He says, “My brave boys, now be steady and true,
Stand by your fore halyards, let your main halyards to,
There’s a squall on Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.”

The Lookout’s she’s a-runnin’ before a hard gale.
Upset went her rudder and overboard went her sail,
The billows were foaming like mountains of snow.
We shall ne’er cross Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.

Says Owen, “Brother Johnny, it grieves my heart sore,
To think we will never return to the shore,
God help our poor parents, their tears down will flow,
For we’ll sleep in Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.”

I am looking forward to a talk on the Irish music of Beaver Island, Michigan that I will be giving in June at the Center for Irish Music’s Minnesota Irish Music Weekend! In anticipation of that, I thought I would share song composed on Beaver Island this month: “The Gallagher Boys.”

Island singer Dominick Gallagher was six years old in 1873 when word came to the island that a boat went down in a gale while making the 70 mile return trip from a supply run to Traverse City. Dominick’s own father, Dominick Sr., had left on the same boat and was assumed to be among the lost.

“…when the news came and the report was that all hands was lost, I remember runnin’ and hangin’ around mother. I couldn’t realize what they were all cryin’ about. I had six sisters and they were all home and they were all cryin’, too. That night they had a wake and all, just as though he was there, and all the next day the neighbors came around.”
-Dominick Gallagher to Alan Lomax, 1938

(transcribed from this recording)

Miraculously, Dominick Sr. returned the next day. His friend Captain Roddy had also been in Traverse City and had convinced him not to make the crossing. Still, the Beaver Islanders who did venture out (including a Johnny Gallagher) were lost and the above song was composed shortly after by local song-maker Dan Malloy.

Above is my transcription of Dominick’s own melody and four verse text as sung for Lomax with the addition of three verses (1, 4 and 5 above) that were sung that same year by fellow Islander Johnny Green who had a much longer version of the song.

01 Sep

Lost on the Lady Elgin (revisited)

MCD_A026 Lost on the Lady Elgin

Up from the poor man’s cottage, forth from the mansion door,
Sweeping across the water and echoing along the shore,
Caught by the morning breezes, borne on the evening gale,
Came at the dawn of morning a sad and solemn wail.

Refrain—
Lost on the Lady Elgin, sleeping to wake no more,
Numbering in death five hundred that failed to reach the shore.

Sad was the wail of children, weeping for parents gone,
Children that slept at evening, orphans woke at morn;
Sisters for brothers weeping, husbands for missing wives,
These were the ties that were severed by those five hundred lives.

Staunch was the noble steamer, precious the freight she bore,
Gaily they loosed their cables a few short hours before,
Proudly she swept our harbor, joyfully rang the bell,
Little they thought ere morning it would peal so sad a knell.

——————————-

We return this month to the song “Lost on the Lady Elgin” from the repertoire of Minnesota singer Michael Dean. The song depicts the outpouring of grief that followed the tragic sinking of the side-wheel passenger steamer Lady Elgin in Lake Michigan 156 years ago in September 1860. The ship’s loss struck a particularly painful blow to the Irish community of Milwaukee’s Third Ward as many of the doomed passengers hailed from that area. The Lost Forty was in Milwaukee ourselves last month for their annual Irish Fest and we videotaped our version of the song in the historic Third Ward on the banks of Lake Michigan.

Michael Dean’s older brother James came to Milwaukee around 1865 and lived in the Seventh Ward—just north of the Third. James Dean served a long career as conductor for the Milwaukee Railroad. It is possible that Michael learned the song during a trip to visit his brother though the song also travelled all around the US and Canada and was popular throughout the Great Lakes region especially.

Since I began singing “The Lady Elgin” I have met people who have stories about family members singing the song and, in the case of one audience member I met at the Minnesota Irish Fair last year, an ancestor who was lost in the wreck itself.