13 May

The Gallagher Boys

Come all brother sailors I hope you’ll draw nigh,
For to hear of the sad news, it will cause you to cry,
Of noble Johnny Gallagher, who sailed to and fro,
He was lost on Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.

It was in October in seventy three,
We left Beaver harbor and had a calm sea,
Bound away to Traverse City, our destination to go,
We were crossing Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.

We left Traverse City at nine the next day
And down to Elk Rapids we then bore our way,
We took in our store and to sea we did go,
We were crossing Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.

At nine that same night a light we did spy,
That is Beaver Island, we are drawing nigh,
We carried all sails, the Lookout, she did go,
We were crossing Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.

Oh Johnny got up and he spoke to his crew,
He says, “My brave boys, now be steady and true,
Stand by your fore halyards, let your main halyards to,
There’s a squall on Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.”

The Lookout’s she’s a-runnin’ before a hard gale.
Upset went her rudder and overboard went her sail,
The billows were foaming like mountains of snow.
We shall ne’er cross Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.

Says Owen, “Brother Johnny, it grieves my heart sore,
To think we will never return to the shore,
God help our poor parents, their tears down will flow,
For we’ll sleep in Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.”

I am looking forward to a talk on the Irish music of Beaver Island, Michigan that I will be giving in June at the Center for Irish Music’s Minnesota Irish Music Weekend! In anticipation of that, I thought I would share song composed on Beaver Island this month: “The Gallagher Boys.”

Island singer Dominick Gallagher was six years old in 1873 when word came to the island that a boat went down in a gale while making the 70 mile return trip from a supply run to Traverse City. Dominick’s own father, Dominick Sr., had left on the same boat and was assumed to be among the lost.

“…when the news came and the report was that all hands was lost, I remember runnin’ and hangin’ around mother. I couldn’t realize what they were all cryin’ about. I had six sisters and they were all home and they were all cryin’, too. That night they had a wake and all, just as though he was there, and all the next day the neighbors came around.”
-Dominick Gallagher to Alan Lomax, 1938

(transcribed from this recording)

Miraculously, Dominick Sr. returned the next day. His friend Captain Roddy had also been in Traverse City and had convinced him not to make the crossing. Still, the Beaver Islanders who did venture out (including a Johnny Gallagher) were lost and the above song was composed shortly after by local song-maker Dan Malloy.

Above is my transcription of Dominick’s own melody and four verse text as sung for Lomax with the addition of three verses (1, 4 and 5 above) that were sung that same year by fellow Islander Johnny Green who had a much longer version of the song.

13 May

The County Tyrone

My parents oft times told me, they never could control me,
That a weaver they would make me if I’d stay at home,
But I took another notion of a higher promotion,
To try other countries as well as Tyrone.

When I came to Newry, it was there I fell a-courting,
A charming young girl for a wife of-a my own,
But when I came to view her she would not endure me,
For oft times she told me I was married at home.

Continually weaving I spent that whole season,
Oh thinking my true love, she would change her mind,
When at last I contracted, she instantly asked me,
“Kind sir, your character?” from the County Tyrone.

It is for my character you need never ask me,
For married or promised I never was to no’one,
She swore by her conscience that she would run all chances,
And travel along with me to the County Tyrone.

Oh early next morning, as the day was a-dawning,
We took a short ramble down by the mile stone,
A guard did pursue us, but they could not come to us,
I was wishing in my heart I had her in Tyrone.

With great toil and trouble our course we did double,
We met an old man that was walking alone,
He told them where he met us and where they would get us,
And that we were still talking of the County Tyrone

The canal it was near us where vessels were lying,
I jumped onto one and my case I made known,
They threw a plank to us, and on shipboard they drew us,
And told us the vessel was bound for Tyrone.

Now I am landed in my own native country,
And in spite of her parents I’ve got her at home,
Now my song for to finish she’s my love Jenny Innes,
And I’m bold McGuinness from the County Tyrone.

Beaver Island, Michigan singer John W. Green (1871-1964) learned “The County Tyrone” from his uncle (probably Peter O’Donnell, another singer born on the island). Song collector Ivan Walton recalls the night he, his son Lynn, islander Dominick Gallagher and collector Alan Lomax commenced their recording session with Green in August 1938 this way: “Lomax, Dominick Gallagher, Lynn and I and some beer drove out to John Green’s and found him quite talkative. We set up the recording machine and didn’t take it down until about 1 a.m.” My transcription of Green singing “The County Tyrone” for Lomax’s recording machine is above. The recording is accessible here on the loc.gov site.

Green’s is the only version of this song collected in North America. It is known in the north of Ireland and appears in Sam Henry’s Songs of the People as well as in the repertoires of Robert Cinnamond, Joe Holmes, Brian Mullen and others. The sweet melody, internal rhyming and detailed story of a successful elopement make it a song worth singing!

13 May

The Broken Shovel

Good Christians all ah come lend an ear,
Unto my ditty and the truth you’ll hear,
It’s of Barney Gallagher so bold and true,
Yarrah that broke me shovel,
Yarrah that broke me shovel,
Yarrah that broke me fine brand-new shovel in two.

When the whistle blew and the shovel was broke,
Old Neddy Kearn was the first man spoke,
Saying “Barney Gallagher come tell me true,
What for you broke me shovel,
What for you broke me shovel,
What for you broke me fine brand-new shovel in two?”

Oh Barney Gallagher in a stuttering way,
“I’ll c-crack your jaw if I hang that day,
To ins-s-sult a m-m-man ah so b-b-bold and true,
About your b-b-bloody shovel,
About your b-b-bloody shovel,
About your bloody shovel that was broke in two.”

Barney and McGlynn, they both pitch in,
Like Corbett and Mitchell they form a ring,
The crowd around began to roar,
When who the devil entered,
When who the devil entered but the Pretta-Mor.

“Hold on,” says the Pretta, “we must have fair play.
He’s a Rosses man, we will win the day,
But if you touch him, then I’ll touch you.”
That was all about the shovel,
That was all about the shovel that was broke in two.

This fascinating song originated in the coal mining community of Hazelton, Pennsylvania around 1890 where many men from the Rosses of Donegal labored and where to break another miner’s shovel was no small offense. There are several intriguing aspects of this song including the use of the nickname “Pretta-Mor”—no doubt a corruption of prátaí mór (big potatoes) and evidence of Irish language in the mines. Famed Donegal fiddle player Néillidh Boyle (grandfather of Kathleen Boyle, piano player with Cherish the Ladies) was born in 1889 down the road from Hazelton in Easton, Pennsylvania where his father Patrick worked as locktender on the Lehigh Canal before returning to Donegal in 1898. Boyles, Gallaghers, McGlynns and others came in droves from Donegal to Pennsylvania in the late 1800s in search of canal and mine work.

The above is my transcription of a recording made by folklorist George Korson of singer Daniel Brennan in 1946. Many thanks to my friend Steve Stanislaw in Pennsylvania (a wonderful singer who interprets songs like this perfectly) for introducing me to this amazing song.