30 Apr

The Wild Irishman

I am a wild Irishman right in my prime,1
I came from a city it’s famed and renowned,
The land that I come from, they called it Glendark,2
And the name that I go by is Wild Sporting Pat.

Twas mashalin dah, Erin Go Bragh,
The land of my father shillelagh and ah.

I was in a hurry all for to get there,
If you’d seen me you’d thought I was going to a fair,
And when I arriv-ed upon New York green,
There was two big baffers3 to da [?] to be seen.

I took my shillelagh fast in my right hand,
I walk-ed up to him at the word and command,
I gave him the weight of it over his head,
And you’d [have] swore to your soul he was seven years dead.

There was five thousand people stood there on the green,
In less than ten minutes not one to be seen,
One said to the other “why don’t you run quick,”
“Do you see the wild Irishman winding his stick?”

We have another song this month from Margueritte Olney’s 1942 visits to Colebrook, New Hampshire where she collected songs from Belle Luther Richards and her brother Sidney Luther. The above song is my own transcription made completely from Olney’s recording of Sidney Luther.

The song is an Americanized version of a broadside titled “The Wild Irishman in London.” The plot is similar to that of the song “Erin-go-Bragh” which was made popular in the 1980s by the masterful arrangement recorded by Scottish singer Dick Gaughan.

The Flanders Ballad Collection includes, along with Luther’s version, a variant from Maine and collector Franz Rickaby also found it in the remote northern North Dakota town of Westhope where it was sung by Mrs. J. G. Krebs when he visited her in January, 1920. The Flanders recordings are available online via archive.org. Rickaby’s transcription of Krebs appears in the book Folk Songs Out of Wisconsin.


1 Krebs sings “I am a wild Irishman just come to town” which makes the rhyme work better

2 It’s hard to tell exactly what Luther sings here. Could be a reference to Glendarragh – a townland name in both Wicklow and Limerick.

3 Krebs’ version has the Irishman fighting with “butchers” and another version from Maine has “bullies.” It’s hard to tell what Luther sings here.

22 Oct

The Hat My Father Wore

I’m Paddy Miles an Irish boy, from far across the sea,
For singing or for dancing, oh, I’m sure I can please ye;
I can sing or dance with any man as I did in days of yore,
And on St. Patrick’s Day I long to wear the hat my father wore.

Oh, it’s old but it’s beautiful and the best you’ve ever seen,
It was worn for more than ninety years on that little isle so green;
From my father’s great ancestors it descended with galore,
It’s the relic of old decency, the hat my father wore.

I bid you all good evening, good luck to you I say,
And when I’m on the ocean, I hope for me you’ll pray;
I am going to my happy home in a place called Ballymoor,
To be welcomed back to Paddy’s land with the hat my father wore.

And when I do return again the boys and girls to see,
I hope that with old Erin’s style you’ll kindly welcome me;
And sing me songs of Ireland to cheer me more and more,
And make my Irish heart feel glad with the hat my father wore.

The sheet music for “The Hat My Father Wore” was printed in New York City in 1876. The cover of that publication lists it as one of the “Popular Songs SUNG BY JOHNNY ROACH THE GREAT FACIAL ARTISTE” with words written by Daniel Macarthy. Vaudevillian Johnny Roach also had a hand in popularizing the song “Dick Darby the Cobbler” (sung by Tommy Makem and countless others) as that song was part of a larger routine he did called, simply, “The Cobbler.” Roach also sang “When McGuiness Gets a Job” which, along with both other songs, went into tradition in the north woods. It is also worth noting that “The Hat My Father Wore” and the Orangeman’s song “The Sash My Father Wore” are directly related in text and tune but it is unclear which came first.

“The Hat” was in the repertoire of Minnesota singer Michael Dean and many other north woods singers I have researched throughout the Great Lakes and Maritimes. The above melodic transcription comes from the beautiful singing of Maine/Nova Scotia singer Carrie Grover (thanks to two digitized recordings available on the Carrie Grover Project site). Grover’s melody is full of delicious deviations from the much simpler melody printed in the 1876 sheet music. The text above is my own blend of Dean’s and Grover’s.

21 Jun

The Wind Sou’west

You gentlemen of England far and near,
Who live at ease free from all care,
It’s little do you think and it’s little do you know,
What we poor seamen undergo,

Chorus:

With the wind sou’west and a dismal sky,
And the ruffling seas rolled mountains high.

On the second day of April, ‘twas on that day,
When our captain called us all away,
He took us from our native shore,
While the wind sou’west and loud did roar.

On the fifth day of April, ‘twas on that day,
When we spied land on the lo’ward lay,
We saw three ships to the bottom go,
While we, poor souls, tossed to and fro.

On the sixth day of April, ‘twas on that day,
When our capstan and foremast washed away,
Our mast being gone, the ship sprang a leak,
And we thought we should sink in the watery deep.

The second mate and eighteen more,
Got into the longboat and rowed for shore,
But what must have been for their poor wives,
A-losing their husbands’ precious lives?

On the seventh day of April, ‘twas on that day,
When we arrived in Plymouth Bay,
What a dismal tale had we for to tell,
Of how we acted in the gale.

We return this month to the fantastic repertoire of singer Carrie Grover (1879-1959) who grew up in Nova Scotia and lived her adult life in Maine. “The Wind Sou’west” appears in her published songbook “A Heritage of Songs” where she classifies it as one of her father’s songs. Her father, George Craft Spinney, was born in 1837 and spent many years working on merchant vessels where he learned many sea songs. This song appears to be a variant of an English song dating to the late 18th century often titled “You Gentlemen of England” but Grover’s version is pretty unique with a localized New England reference to Plymouth Bay. No English versions I have seen include a chorus.

Thanks to the incredible work of singer and researcher Julie Mainstone Savas, we now have the website The Carrie Grover Project which includes transcriptions of all the songs in “Heritage of Songs” and more plus some audio recordings of Grover. The site is well worth checking out. There you can hear a recording of Grover singing the above (from which I made my own transcription). In it, Grover makes masterful use of the traditional singer’s trick of singing an “in between” third scale degree – somewhere between major and minor – that, to me, gives the song a perfect haunting quality.