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.

19 Aug

The Jolly Roving Tar (Get Up Jack, John Sit Down)

Ships may come and ships may go as long as the sea doth roll,
Each sailor lad’s just like his dad he loves the flowing bowl,
A trip ashore he does adore with a girl that’s plump and round,
When his money’s gone it’s the same old song, “Get up Jack, John sit down,”

Come along, come along you jolly brave boys there’s lots of grog in the jar,
Let’s plough the briny ocean with the jolly roving tar.

When Jack gets in ’tis then he steers for some old boarding house,
He’s welcomed in with rum and gin, they feed him on port souse,
He’ll lend and spend and not offend ’til he lies drunk on the ground,
When his money’s gone it’s the same old song, “Get up Jack, John sit down,”                                                                  

He then will sail aboard some ship for India or Japan,
In Asia there the ladies fair all love the sailorman,
He’ll go ashore and on a tear and buy some girl a gown,
When his money’s gone it’s the same old song, “Get up Jack, John sit down,”

When Jack gets old and weather-beat, too old to roam about,In some rum shop they’ll let him stop ’til eight bells calls him out,
He’ll raise his eyes up to the skies saying, “Boys, we’re homeward bound,”
When his money’s gone it’s the same old song, “Get up Jack, John sit down,”

We return to northern New York State this month for a song from Lena Bourne Fish (1873-1945) who sang nearly 100 songs for collectors Anne and Frank Warner in the early 1940s. Lena learned her “Jolly Roving Tar” from “an old man who used to sail on a whaling ship.” The song actually originated as part of the 1885 musical theater production Old Lavender with words by Edward Harrigan and music by Dave Braham. Harrigan and Braham were giants of American popular music in the late 1800s and many of their Irish-American themed stage songs went into oral tradition in the Great Lakes including “The Pitcher of Beer” (see Northwoods Songs #32). This “Jolly Roving Tar” (not to be confused with the more mournful song by the same name that is in tradition in Ireland and the Canadian Maritimes) is associated with Newfoundland these days thanks to a recording by the band Great Big Sea.

06 Mar

Roving Cunningham

When I first came to Tupper Lake, the girls all jumped with joy,
Saying one unto the other, “Here comes that roving boy!”
One treats me to the bottle, and another to a dram,
And the toasts went round the table to “that healthy young Cunningham.”

Now, I hadn’t been in Tupper Lake a day not more than three,
When Tobin’s lovely daughter, she fell in love with me,
She said she wanted to marry me, and takes me by the hand,
And she slyly told her mother, she loved young Cunningham.

It’s “Hold your tongue, you silly fool! You grieve my heart full sore?
How could you love that little bum you’d never saw before?”
“Now, hold your tongue dear mother and it’s do the best you can,
For back to Saranac I will go with that roving Cunningham.”

I wrote about a Minnesota variant of this song, “The Roving Irishman,” in the August 2012 Northwoods Songs. Known in Ireland as “The Roving Journeyman” or “The Little Beggerman,” this version comes from northern New York State where it was sung by Ted Ashlaw. You can hear Robert Bethke’s recording of Ashlaw singing it here. Ashlaw learned it from the man who composed the variant: Charlie Cunningham. Cunningham reworked “The Roving Journeyman” to reference places in the northern Adirondacks he frequented and also to make some insinuations about his relationship with a local woman (“Tobin’s lovely daughter”).

I recently had the honor of writing the foreword for a wonderful new book by folklorist Robert Bethke about singer Ted Ashlaw and his songs entitled One Rough Life, Ted Ashlaw: Adirondack Lumber Camp and Barroom Singer. The book comes with a 2 CDs of Bethke’s field recordings of Ashlaw—a great resource for northwoods songs!