01 Dec

The Apple Praties

My name is Cal O’Mannon l was born in sweet Killarney,
I can fight, dance or sing. I can plough, reap or mow,
And if I meet a pretty girl I never practice blarney,
There’s something more alluring which perhaps you’d like to know.

I am not of your mountebanks or any shabby family,
I sprung from ancient history, I’ll prove it to be so,
For I am of the Os and Macs, the darling sons of Paddy Whack,
That live and toil in Ireland where the apple praties grow,

I could tell a great deal more, if I could trace my pedigree
My mother was a Hogan and my father I don’t know,
I’ve got ninety-nine relations in a place they call Rosscarbery,
And each unto his name has a “Mac” or an “O.”

My uncle was O’Callaghan, my Aunt she was O’Brannagan,
And as to my own character sure I can plainly show,
I am a ranting roving blade that never was afraid,
For I was born in Ireland where the apple praties grow.

May the heavens still protect our hospitable counteree,
Where first I drew my living breath to hear its cocks to crow,
There fine scenes I did enjoy as a gay unthinking boy,
With the lads that lived in Ireland where the apple praties grow.

St. Patrick was our saint and a blessed man in truth was he,
Great gifts unto our counteree he freely did bestow,
He banished all the frogs and toads that sheltered in our counteree,
And unto other regions he ordered them to go.

Another fact undoubtedly that cannot contradicted be,
Just trace the Irish history and it will plainly show,
Search the universe all round, braver fellows can’t be found,
Than the boys that lived in Ireland where the apple praties grow.

This month we have a song of Irish pride from the repertoire of Cyril O’Brien of Trepassey on Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula. You can hear the first verse of O’Brien’s performance on the wonderful Songs of Atlantic Canada website hosted by Memorial University in Newfoundland. O’Brien’s version is the only evidence I have found of it being sung in tradition though it was printed several times as a broadside in Scotland, England and New York City. I used the broadside versions to fill in some blanks left by Leach’s transcription of O’Brien.

A note at the top of the New York printing (by Marsan) indicates that the song was composed and performed by Belfast-born actor James “The Irish Comedian” Seymour as part of his role in “The Duke’s Motto.” This was a play by Dublin-born playwright John Brougham which had a long successful run at Niblo’s Garden theater in New York City in the 1860s. Brougham’s plays were performed on both sides of the Atlantic so it is possible that Seymour authored the song and that it was then printed (and sung) internationally though such claims of composition are not always true. In any case, the song was popular enough to be parodied in Washington, DC as the “Song of the Civil Service Man” in 1887. Other newspapers from the period even use the phrase “where the apple praties grow” as a euphemism for Ireland.

19 Nov

Our Captain Says “Away”

Our captain says “Away, all hands, tomorrow,”
Leaving you girls behind in sad grief and sorrow,
Dry up those briny tears and don’t be a-weeping,
For so happy we will be, my love, at our next meeting.

She threw her arms abroad like one a-dying,
With the wringing of her hands, and a-crying and sighing,
“What makes you roam abroad a-fighting for strangers?
Oh stay at home with me, my love, and be free from dangers.

“When I had gold in store, you seemed to like me,
But now I am growing poor, you seem for to slight me,
You courted me awhile just for to deceive me,
And now my tender heart you have won you are going for to leave me.”

“Oh, fare you well, father, and fare you well, mother,
For I am your daughter dear and you have no other,
For to weep it is all in vain, for I am a-going,
To the lad that I so dearly love, the one who has proved my ruin.”

“There is no believing men, no, not your own brother,
There is no believing men, no, not your true lover,
Your favor they will gain, then turn to some other,
So, young girls, if you can love, be sure to love one another.”

Last month, I had the honor of attending the annual Getaway weekend of the Folksong Society of Greater Washington near Washington, DC as a guest. While there, I got to talk northwoods songs with DC area singers Lisa Null and Steve Woodbury. A couple years ago, Lisa and Steve introduced me to the wonderful repertoire of Maine singer Carrie Grover and gave me a copy of Grover’s “Heritage of Songs” book. Lisa was also partly responsible for Irish singer Paul Brady’s 1973 introduction to the Grover collection from which he adapted his iconic versions of both “Arthur McBride” and “The Jolly Soldier!” (see Northwoods Songs #66). While in DC, I decided to spend some time at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress listening to their large collection of recordings of Carrie Grover singing and playing fiddle.

How wonderful and insightful to hear these recordings! Carrie Grover (1879-1959) turns out to have been a very skilled singer with a store of complex and beautiful melodies and vocal techniques to match her rich repertoire. I fell in love with her singing and transcribed as many songs as I could from her 1941 session with collector Sidney Robertson.

Grover titles the above song “The False Lover” in her book. She learned it from her mother whose grandfather William Long came from Ireland to Nova Scotia where Carrie herself was born. Other than a version collected in Newfoundland by Kenneth Peacock, the song seems to have been found primarily in England where Martin Carthy and others have sourced their renditions of it. Most other versions I found use melodies similar to Grover’s though I find the freedom of her timing and some of her notes to be especially haunting. The above is my transcription of Grover with a few lines borrowed from the Newfoundland version.

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.