26 Jun

Leaving Erin

[Oh] farewell, Erin, I now must leave you for to cross the raging main,
Where cruel strife may end my life and I’ll ne’er see you again;
It will break my heart from you to part, Arrah Cushla Asthore Machree,
But I must go full of grief and woe to the shores of America.

                                       Chorus—
So now, farewell, I can no longer dwell in Ireland, Acushla Machree,
For I must go full of grief and woe to the shores of America.

On Irish soil my parents dwelt since the time of Brien Boru,
They paid their rent and lived content, convenient to Killaloo
But the landlord cruel sent us ashule, my poor old mother and me,
He banished us from home far away to roam to the wilds of America.

No more at the churchyard, Asthore Machree, on my father’s grave can I kneel,
The rich man knows but little of the woes that the poor man has to feel;
When I look around on the little spot of ground where the cabin used to be,
I may curse the laws that have gave me cause to depart for America.

Where are the neighbors kind and true that were once our country’s pride?
No more they are seen at the fair on the green or dance on the green hillside;
It is the stranger’s cow that is grazing now where the poor man used to be,
With notices they were served and turned out to starve or banished to America.

Oh, Erin Machree, must your children be exiled all over the earth?
Must they think no more of you, dear land, as the spot that gave them birth?
Must the Irish yield to the beast of the field, Arrah no, Cushla Asthore Machree,
They’re coming back in ships with vengeance on their lips from the shores of America.


This month’s song is another rare one from Michael Dean that, much to my delight, also turned up in a handwritten manuscript belonging to Patrick Hill of Tipperary/St. Paul at St. Thomas’ O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library. Pat Hill called it “The Emigrant’s Farewell” and his text is very similar to Dean’s.

Since Dean and Hill only left us the song’s text, I have searched high and low for a recording or hint at the melody that they might have sung. I have come up empty handed in all the song archives and song books I have found.

The best I could do was a melody printed in O’Neill’s Music of Ireland in the “Airs, Songs” section titled “Curse the Laws That Gave Me Cause.” O’Neill attributes the wordless melody to West Cork native and Chicago police sergeant Michael Hartnett.  O’Neill’s title matches a line in verse three of our song and I think it might be a match. As Paul de Grae notes, the air is a variant of that often used for “The Lowlands of Holland.” It doesn’t feel like an obvious fit for “Leaving Erin’s” poetic structure but I did a bit of tweaking and the result, above, works pretty well.

The text itself is fascinating. It appears as “The Emigrant’s Farewell” in Hyland’s Mammoth Songster (Chicago, c1901) and the listing in that book’s table of contents implies it was a composition of “Mrs. Norton.” This has to be English social reformer and poet Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton, Lady Stirling-Maxwell née Sheridan. Caroline (1808-1877) lived in England her whole life but was a member of the prominent Anglo-Irish Sheridan family, She was a cousin to famed author Sheridan Le Fanu and the sister of Lady Dufferin. Lady Dufferin wrote “The Lament of the Irish Emigrant” which became quite popular with Irish singers and was also printed by Dean here in Minnesota.

Earlier printings (the earliest dated one I found was 1869) call this month’s song “An Irishman’s Farewell to his Country.” A note in Irish Literature Volume 8 (1904, edited by Douglas Hyde and others) says: “This ballad made its appearance during the time of the Fenian excitement in 1865, when the peasants expected an expedition from the Irish in the United States.” Michael Dean was an 8-year-old in northern New York state in 1866 when armed Fenians crossed the Niagara River into Canada to strike a blow against Great Britain. Perhaps the song was popular among the Irish railroad workers and lumberjacks he encountered there before heading west.

31 Jan

Tidy Irish Lad

I’m a tidy bit of an Irish lad, as you can plainly see,
And I like a drop of the creature when I go out upon a spree;
I like a drop of the creature in a good old Irish style,
And a better drop cannot be had than is sold in the Emerald Isle.

                                        Chorus—
Far away from our native country, me boys, we sometimes roam,
We won’t forget we are Irishmen, although we’re far from home.

Oh, they say no Irish need apply, it is a thing I don’t understand,
For what would the English army do if it were not for Paddy’s land?
Whenever they went to battle they never were known to win,
Except when the ranks they were filled up with the best of Irishmen.

It was at the battle of Waterloo, Sebastapool the same,
The sons of Paddy’s land they showed that they were game;
They gave three hearty cheers, me boys, in a good old Irish style,
And we walloped the Russians at Inkerman, did the boys of the Emerald Isle.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the song book printed by Irish-Minnesotan Michael Dean. Its front cover reads: The Flying Cloud And 150 Other Old Time Poems and Ballads: A Collection of Old Irish Songs, Songs of the Sea and Great Lakes, The Big Pine Woods, The Prize Ring and Others. This June will also mark ten years that I’ve been writing Northwoods Songs. Most of the early columns were about Dean’s songs and I will return to Dean this year in honor of his book’s centennial. I continue to be fascinated by Dean’s story and music (there are actually 166 songs in his book and I have written about 37 of those here so far).

This month’s song is one that took some real digging to research but I recently had a breakthrough. Dean prints “The Tidy Irish Lad” in The Flying Cloud before the song “No Irish Wanted Here” and the two songs have an interesting relationship. Both reference versions of the much-discussed “No Irish Need Apply” that appeared in newspaper help wanted ads in 1850s New York and has exemplified anti-Irish discrimination for generations since. Several songs were written that mention variants of this phrase and these added, no doubt, to its prominent place in cultural memory. The most well-known “No Irish Need Apply” songs seem to have originated in the early 1860s in New York and possibly in England around the same time. “No Irish Wanted Here” was a take-off on this, by then, established theme penned by the great New York performer Ed Harrigan and debuted in January, 1875.

“The Tidy Irish Lad” may have been an early Dublin take on the theme. A broadside estimated to have originated in Dublin around 1870 and digitized by the National Library of Scotland titled “A New Song Call’d the Boys of the Emerald Isle” matches Dean’s text with an extra verse about Irish dance and music:

In Ireland you will see the boys [c]an dance a jig or reel,
With their pretty little colleen can shove both toe and heel,
The piper sits to play a tu[n]e to make the people smile,
While we dance our native musi[c] does the boys of the Emerald Isle.

I was delighted to discover that the song also appears in the repertoire of legendary Irish singer Paddy Tunney.  Tunney sings a version very similar in text to Dean’s beginning “I’m a tight little bit of an Irish lad” which you can hear online (starts at 39:29) via the Peter Kennedy collection at the British Library. I combined Tunney’s melody with Dean’s text above.

Broadside image from National Library of Scotland. Shelfmark Crawford.EB.2391

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.