22 Nov

Riley and I Were Chums

One day as I went out for a walk, myself and my chum Johnny Riley,
The air it being kind of damp and the weather rather dryly,
Just then the cop caught me by the ear he says, “Young man there’s a warrant here,”
And I took the warrant with the greatest of fear and I handed it over to Riley. -Chorus

One day I picked up a watch and chain going out with my chum Johnny Riley,
Riley always looked for his share, he was so awfully wily,
But as by a lamp we chanced to pass, it’s then I saw by the glimmer of the glass,
That the watch was gold but the chain was brass so the chain went over to Riley. -Chorus

Last Saturday night I married a wife and my best man there was Riley,
I thought she’d be the joy of my life, she looked so very shyly,
But soon I found it was no fun, one day she chased me with a gun,
I said, “Now madam, with you I’ve done” and I handed her over to Riley. -Chorus

After an inspiring week of music at the All Ireland Fleadh this past month, I had the chance to spend a day at the amazing Irish Traditional Music Archive on Merrion Square in Dublin. There, I dove into the ITMA’s incredible collection of field recordings from Newfoundland made in the 1970s by Aidan O’Hara. The ITMA recently launched a digital exhibition of O’Hara’s Newfoundland material on its website that I highly recommend checking out. This month’s song is one that you can listen to directly from their website—easier (though less fun) than a trip to Dublin!

I was delighted to come upon O’Hara’s recording of Newfoundlander Frankie Nash giving a spirited rendition of this comic song! I encountered it first several years ago as performed by Crandon, Wisconsin traditional singer Robert Walker who was recorded by Sidney Robertson Cowell in 1937. Walker’s version (available here) is nice but to me it is Nash really brings “Riley” to life. Digging around online, I was also happy to discover that the New York Public Library has unearthed and digitized an 1892 song sheet version titled “I Handed it Over to Riley” which you can also access online. In Newfoundland, the song is attributed to local songsmith Johnny Burke. NYPL’s song sheet, and the style of the song itself, would seem to suggest that it most likely originated on the stage (the composers are listed as Albert Hall and Felix McGlennon) and was then, like many stage songs, adapted into tradition by others.

Interestingly, the Newfoundland, Wisconsin and song sheet versions of this song all have rather distinct melodies from one another. The above transcription is based on the Newfoundland melody though I drew on all three versions to fill out the text.

20 Jan

The Pitcher of Beer

The Pitcher of Beer

I’m a friend of the poor man wherever I roam, no matter what countryman he,
I will share in my loaf and the meat on the bone, with a gra machree welcome for thee.
Each night in the week, each week in the year, with our hearts and our conscience both clear,
We will fill up the glass for to help the time pass, and drink from the pitcher of beer.
(Gallagher repeats these last two lines here with the same melody)

The child in the cradle, the dog at the door, the fireside cheerful and bright,
The old folks at the table with plenty galore will welcome you in with delight.
Their blessings they’ll give, it’s “Long may you live, and merrily pass over each year,”
They will hand you their glass for to help the time pass, and drink from the pitcher of beer.

Oh be cheerful and merry for life’s but a day, we’ll die and leave others behind,
For to fret and to worry, to weep and to pray, when relief we can easi-lye find.
Just pull up a chair and drive away care, and that will turn sorrow to cheer,
Tell a story or two, let it be old or new, and drink from the pitcher [spoken:] of beer.


We are back to Beaver Island, Michigan this week with a song I transcribed from the singing of Dominick Gallagher as recorded by Ivan Walton in 1940. Gallagher (1867-1954), like many other Beaver Islanders of his generation, was the son of a man from Arranmore, County Donegal. Gallagher’s father, “Big Dominic” was himself a great singer with many songs imported from Arranmore. However, the younger Gallagher did not get this song from his father. He told Walton:

“I learned that song in the lumber woods when I was 17 years of age [ca. 1884], the first winter I left home, from an old French Canadian… …I was up in a camp called Camp Three. It was built new that fall ..up at Grand Marais on Lake Superior shores and that winter the snow was about five feet and a half on the level and I shoveled snow all winter for 16 dollars a month and put in 14 hours some days.”

As with “Barney Blake” (See Northwoods Songs, Oct. 2014), the Grand Marais mentioned is almost certainly Grand Marais, Michigan. And, like “Barney Blake,” “The Pitcher of Beer” is a song that began on the Irish music hall stage and then entered the unaccompanied tradition in the northwoods lumbercamps. The original was written by Edward Harrigan, one of the most renowned Irish songwriters of the 19th century for the 1880 play The Mulligan Guard’s Christmas… so there is a seasonal connection. The Library of Congress has a copy of a sheet music version printed the year of the play. It’s interesting to compare the original with the way the song was sung by Gallagher.

20 Oct

Barney Blake

[as usual, I mis-remembered a few bits of the melody in this recording… I’d redo it, but the location was too good!]

Barney Blake

O me name is Barney Blake, I’m a roving Irish rake
I’m considered by my neighbors good and handy
I was brought up to the spade til I learned the tailor trade
And I think myself as good as Ben or Sandy.

O it’s Biddy Donahue sure I caught my eye on you
If you marry Barney why be damn you’ll never rue
You’re the apple of me eye and my Irish cocateau
Mr. Cupid’s knocked me stupid over Biddy Donahue

It’s at a wedding of Pat Malare, sure I first met Biddy there
As I sat beside her at the wedding supper
How I felt I couldn’t say when she handed me the tay
For my heart it melted like a lump of butter.

Now she’s handsome and she’s mild she’s a dacent father’s child
She’s the pride of all around our Irish nation
You would go from here to Spain to hear her sing Napolean’s Dream
And for dancing, boys, she has a lovely carriage.

Now some folks they do try, for to poke out Barney’s eye
But in this I’m sure they all will find a failure
She would not see me fooled, she’s as good as guinea gold
And she’ll marry none [hold on “none”] but Barney Blake the sailor.


This is another song I transcribed from a reel-to-reel recording made in Beaver Island, Michigan while I was at the American Folklife Center in Washington, DC this summer. Singer Dominick Gallagher (1867-1954) sang this for collector Ivan Walton in 1940.

A wonderful aspect of field recordings can be the chat caught on tape before and after songs. Walton made a point of asking Gallagher where he got each song and when he asked him about “Barney Blake,” Gallagher replied:

Gallagher:            “I learned that in the lumber woods about 45 or 50 years ago from a Canadian Scotsman.
Walton:                 “What lumber woods was that?”
Gallagher:            “Up in Grand Marais [pronounced Marase] on Lake Superior shores.”

The song itself seems to have its origins in the Irish music halls of the 1870s where I have found evidence of it being performed by (and perhaps written by) a song and dance duo by the names of Devlin and Tracy that were active in Boston and New York in that era. It was very common for singers to pick up Irish music hall songs and sing them unaccompanied in lumber camps. In fact, another version of Barney Blake was collected from Ottawa Valley singer O.J. Abbott.


CORRECTIONS FROM PRINT VERSION: I made a couple mistakes in the version published in the IMDA October newsletter and they are correct above. Here’s what I got wrong the first time around:

First, I misidentified the singer as John W. Green instead of Gallagher who actually sang the song for Walton.

Also, I was a bit over-eager to claim a Grand Marais, Minnesota connection for this song based on this mention of “Grand Marais on Lake Superior shores.” After I sent in my column to be published in the IMDA October newsletter, a friend reminded me that there is another Grand Marais on the southeastern shore of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is much more likely that Gallagher did his logging in the locality of the Michigan Grand Marais, not on Minnesota’s north shore.