20 Aug

Darby O’Leary

I strayed far away from the old County Down,
Aiming for riches for fame and renown,
I wandered ‘til I came to Galbally town and was hired to Darby O’Leary.

When we entered his kitchen, I entered it first;
It seemed like a kennel or a ruined old church:
Says I to myself, “I am left in the lurch in the house of old Darby O’Leary.”

Two praties he gave me for supper at night,
With a cup of sour milk that would sicken a snipe,
He was stingy and heartless I ne’er saw the light; oh, a hard man was Darby O’Leary.

The silly old miser he sat with a frown,
While straw was brought in for to make my shakedown,
I wish I had never seen Galbally town or the sky over Darby O’Leary.

I worked in Tipperary, the Rag, and Rosegreen,
I worked in Knockainey and the Bridge of Aleen,
But such woeful starvation I’ve never yet seen as I got from old Darby O’Leary.

Also known as “The Galbally Farmer,” this song is a fine example of a worker’s complaint song about a bad boss and unpleasant working conditions. Oxford’s Bodleian Library has a broadside version of this (probably from the early 1800s) entitled “The Spalpeen’s Complaint of Darby O’Leary” and another version also appears in P. W. Joyce’s 1909 Old Irish Folk Music and Songs.

The version above takes its melody from New Brunswick singer Angelo Dornan. The verses are based on those sung by Dornan (verse 4), New York/New Hampshire singer Lena Bourne Fish (verses 1 and 3) and Tom Lenihan of County Clare (verses 2 and 5). Fish’s opening verse is the only one I have seen that has the protagonist hailing from County Down. Galbally, County Limerick is in the southeastern corner of the county on the border with Tipperary.

20 Nov

Sweet Mary Jane

My true love’s name was Mary Jane,
Her epitaph reveals the same,
Her grace and charm I will proclaim,
Through all my days moreover,
Where could you find a fairer dame,
And search this wide world over.

“My love and I we did agree,
That when I would return from sea,
We’d go straightway and married be,
And live a life of leisure,
No more to face the stormy sea,
In quest of gold and treasure.

“But I had not gone across the main,
When cruel death had my companion slain,
The pride and beauty of the plain,
In her cold grave lay moldering,
And our fond plan was all in vain,
Amid the ruins smoldering.

“I am distressed what shall I do,
I’ll roam this wide world through and through,
I’ll sigh and sing for sake of you,
My days I’ll spend in mourning,
And in my dreams I’ll wander through,
The lane that knows no turning.

A sad and beautiful song this month that was collected from several singers in eastern Canada and that was also in the repertoire of Minnesota singer Michael Dean. In most Canadian versions, the lost lover’s name is “Phoebe” (or “Bright Phoebe”). In Maine, singer Carrie Grover learned it as “Sweet Caroline” while in Minnesota, Dean sang “Mary Jane” and printed it as “Sweet Mary Jane” in his 1922 songster The Flying Cloud.

The above melody is my best effort to transcribe the richly ornamented version sung by New Brunswick singer Angelo Dornan. We do not know what melody Dean used but most collected melodies, including Dornan’s, show a resemblance to the famous “Greensleeves” melody. Dornan’s striking twists and turns make his air refreshingly unique. For text, I subbed in Dean’s first line and made a couple small changes of my own but otherwise stayed close to Dornan’s version including its unique six-line poetic structure (most other versions have four-line stanzas). Dornan sang two additional verses to what appears here and a transcription of his full version appears in Helen Creighton’s Maritime Folk Songs.

03 Dec

You Rambling Boys of Pleasure

This month we feature a performance of the song of the month, “You Rambling Boys of Pleasure” by Norah Rendell!

Norah’s album Spinning Yarns does not include “You Rambling Boys of Pleasure” but it does feature four other beautiful songs from Angelo Dornan’s repertoire.PrintMusic! 2004 - [Ye Rambling Boys of Pleasure]

Oh you rambling boys of pleasure, join in in those few lines I write,
It is true I am a rover, in roving I take great delight,
When infirmity shall overtake me, old age will force me to roam no more,
But til youth and strength forsake me, I will seek adventure on some foreign shore.

What a foolish boy was I, for to get fond of anyone,
Sure I had my choice of twenty, if ever I chose to wed at all,
I placed my mind on a young girl, often times I thought she did me slight,
Yet my mind was never easy, but when that girl was in my sight.

Oh she told me to take love easy, just as the leaves fell from the tree,
And I being young and foolish, to please my love I did agree,
I believed I could gain her favor, but as time went on it was plain to see,
That my love was unrequited, my blind devotion made a fool of me.

Oh must I go away broken hearted, for to court a girl I never knew?
Or must I be transported, kind cupid won’t you set me free?
I wish I were in Dublin, with a flowing bowl on every side,
Hard fortune will never grieve me, for I am young and the world is wide.



My wife Norah Rendell is about to release an album of traditional songs collected in Canada called Spinning Yarns. The recording includes songs collected in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario (with nods to Wisconsin and Maine sources as well)—all material that would fit well in this column. I am thrilled to have played on the recording and I am also delighted that Norah is lending her beautiful voice to the revival of the northwoods branch of the Irish tradition! After the past 8 years of poring over hundreds of recordings and transcriptions of singers from the Maritimes to the Great Lakes, I am still amazed at how many wonderful songs and singers were spread throughout this part of the world. I am also struck by how little-known this fascinating music is. Norah’s album will surely kindle more interest in these rich traditions.

The source singer most represented on Spinning Yarns is Angelo Dornan of Elgin, New Brunswick. For anyone that might question connections between the traditional singing styles of Ireland and that of the northwoods regions, Dornan’s highly-ornamented singing is a revelation. I transcribed this month’s song from a recording made by collector Helen Creighton at Dornan’s home in September 1954.