28 Jun

Patrick Sheehan

My name is Patrick Sheehan, my years are thirty-four,
I was born in Tipperary, not far from Galtimore;
I came of honest parents, but now they are lying low,
And it’s many the happy days I spent in the glens of Aherloe.

My father died, I closed his eyes outside our cabin door,
The landlord and the sheriff, too, were there the day before;
It was then my poor old mother and sisters, two, also,
With broken hearts were forced to leave the glens of Aherloe.

Then for three months in search of work I rambled far and near,
Then I went unto the poor house to see my mother dear;
The news I heard nigh broke my heart, but yet in all my woe,
I blest the friends that made their graves in the glens of Aherloe.

Bereft of home, of kith and kin, and plenty all around,
I starved within my cabin and slept upon the ground;
But cruel as my lot it was, I ne’er did hardships know,
Until I joined the English army far away from Aherloe.

“Get up, you lazy Irish dog,” the corporal he came around,
“Don’t you hear the bugle, the called to arms, sound?”
Alas, I had been dreaming of days long, long ago,
And I woke before Sebastapool, and not in Aherloe.

I groped for my musket, how dark I thought the night!
Oh, blessed God, it was not dark, it was the broad daylight;
And when I found that I was blind, the tears they down did flow,
And I longed for even a pauper’s grave in the glens of Aherloe.

Now a poor, forlorn mendicant, I wander through the streets,
My nine months’ pension being out, I beg from all I meet;
But since I joined my country’s tyrants my face I ne’er will show,
To the kind and loving neighbors in the glens of Aherloe.

Oh, Blessed Virgin Mary, mine is a mournful tale,
A poor blind prisoner here I lie in Dublin’s dreary jail;
Struck blind within the trenches where I never feared the foe,
But now I never more will see my own sweet Aherloe.

Now, youths and fellow countrymen, take heed to what I say.
Don’t ever join the English ranks or you’ll surely rue the day;
And if ever you are tempted a-soldiering to go,
Remember poor blind Sheehan and the glens of Aherloe.

We have another of Michael Dean’s songs with literary connections this month. The text of “Patrick Sheehan” aka “The Glens of Aherlow” is known to be the work of Irish revolutionary, novelist and poet Charles Kickham (1828-82). Kickham was inspired to write the song by a real life Patrick Sheehan – a blind veteran of the Crimean War (1853-56) arrested for begging on Grafton Street in Dublin in 1857. Kickham published his text that year under the pseudonym “Darby Ryan Junior” (a reference to an earlier Irish balladeer who composed “The Peeler and the Goat”). Song historians have since discerned that the real Patrick Sheehan was likely not from Tipperary but Tipp was Kickham’s home county and probably not the only poetic license taken in the composition.

Charles Kickham
photo from the Library of Trinity College Dublin Digital Collections

The song was printed as a broadside and sung widely in Ireland. Helen Hartness Flanders found at least four versions among her New England singers. “Yankee” John Galusha (1859-1950) of Minerva, New York was recorded singing the song in 1949 and it’s the Galusha melody that I have married to Dean’s text above. Dean himself was born in 1858 in Madrid, NY on the opposite side of the Adirondacks from Galusha.

Woodcut and title of a broadside from Rare Books & Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries, University of Notre Dame
09 Dec

Exile of Erin

“Oh, sad is my fate,” said the heart broken stranger,
             “The wild deer and roe to the mountains can flee,
But I have no refuge from famine or danger,
             A home and a country remains not for me;
Oh, never again in the green shady bower,
Where my forefathers lived shall I spend the sweet hours,
Or cover my harp with the wild woven flowers,
             And strike the sweet numbers of Erin Go Bragh.

Oh, Erin, my country, though sad and forsaken,
             In dreams I revisit thy sea-beaten shore,
But alas! in a far foreign land I awaken,
             And sigh for the friends that can meet me no more;
And thou, cruel fate, will thou never replace me,
In a mansion of peace where no perils can chase me?
Oh, never again shall my brothers embrace me,
             They died to defend me or live to deplore.

Where is my cabin once fast by the wildwood,
             Sisters and sire did weep for its fall,
Where is the mother that looked over my childhood,
             And where is my bosom friend, dearer than all?
Ah, my sad soul, long abandoned by pleasure,
Why did it dote on a fast fading treasure?
Tears like the rain may fall without measure,
             But rapture and beauty they cannot recall.

But yet all its fond recollections suppressing,
             One dying wish my fond bosom shall draw,
Erin, an exile bequeaths thee his blessing,
             Land of my forefathers, Erin Go Bragh;
Buried and cold when my heart stills its motion,
Green be thy fields fairest Isle of the ocean,
And the harp striking bard sings aloud with devotion,
             “Erin Mavourneen, sweet Erin Go Bragh.”

We return this month to the repertoire of Minnesota singer Michael Cassius Dean who printed “Exile of Erin” in his songster The Flying Cloud. Dean’s book reaches its 100th birthday next year having been printed in Virginia, Minnesota in 1922 while he was employed as night watchman for the Virginia-Rainy Lake Lumber Company mega-mill in that city. As I have written here before, Dean was visited by the wax cylinder recording machine of Robert Winslow Gordon in 1924 but his version of “Exile of Erin” does not appear to have been recorded at that time. We only have his text from the songster. The melody above is my own transcription of a version sung by Belle Luther Richards at Colebrook, New Hampshire for Helen Hartness Flanders in 1943. That recording is available on archive.org.

The Richards and Dean versions are the only versions collected from North American singers I have found. This is somewhat surprising given that the song was extremely popular in Ireland throughout the 1800s. It was popular enough to spark widely-publicized controversy over who wrote it! It seems fairly certain that the author was Scottish poet Thomas Campbell (1777-1844) who also authored “The Wounded Hussar.” Campbell reported that he wrote the song in 1800 in Hamburg after meeting a man named Anthony McCann who was exiled there for his role in the Rebellion of 1798.

It’s possible that Dean learned it from his Mayo-born parents. Mayo was a focus of action during the excitement of 1798 when French General Humbert landed with over 1000 troops at Cill Chuimín Strand, County Mayo in support of the revolutionaries in August of that year. It is also possible that Dean learned it from a source here in Minnesota. Minneapolis’ Irish Standard newspaper, to which Dean subscribed while living in Hinckley, printed the text of the song in 1886 and again in 1900.

21 Nov

The Peelers of Ballinamore

Oh Tim Daly’s* me name, from Leinster I came,
To the sweet County Leitrim my fortune to try,
To earn a living by cheerfully singing,
The praises of Erin and will ’til I die,
I was always as willing for to spend a shilling,
As any man living ’round the Irish shore,
And I ne’er was molested by police or peelers,
Until I arrived in Ballinamore.

Ta lara-lol lolda-dol lolda-dol lolda-dol
Tara-lol lolda-dol lolda-dol day

It happened one evening when market was over,
‘Twas into an alehouse I chanced for to pop,
I rapped on the counter and called for the waiter,
To bring me a glass of the best in the shop,
She showed me a room where there was a large table,
I called for good liquor and drank it galore,
And I cared not a damn for those poor pimping peelers,
That watched all the topers of Ballinamore.

That evening I spent with no cause to repent,
While drinking of liquor that was pure and strong,
And whenever the waiter she chanced to delay me,
I kept myself cheered by the verse of a song.

Oh, they marched me along by the verse of my song,
And it’s in prison strong they did me secure,
I had nothing to cheer me, no friend to come near me,
I lay like a dog with a wisp on the floor,
I lay myself down for to take a slumber,
But when I awoke sure me sides they were sore,
Which cause me to curse John Briggs and his lodgings,
And likewise the peelers of Ballinamore.

’Twas early next morning John Briggs gave me warning,
That I must be ready at the hour of ten,
And I should appear before Mr. Broder,
He got the directions from a policeman,
The sergeant he come with two or three others,
They marched me a prisoner straightway through the town,
And you’d think I had killed all their fathers and mothers,
And fought to overturn the crown.

Long life to the chief, he did liberate me,
To hold me for drinking they thought it not fair,
Since peelers and parsons and preachers and doctors,
They all take a drop to banish dull care,
Now while I’m serenading ’round this Irish nation
Each alehouse and tavern I chance for to roar,
And I’ll toast to the members of those lads and the lassies,
That dance ’round the borders of Ballinamore.

In 2003, singer and scholar Dan Milner produced a great CD titled Irish Songs from Old New England (Folk-Legacy Records) that featured 14 different singers doing Irish songs found in the Flanders Ballad collection. I highly recommend this recording to anyone interested in the Irish influence in the woods song tradition! (you might have to search Ebay or Amazon for a used copy unfortunately)

On that CD, the great County Antrim singer Len Graham does this very rare broadside-type ballad “The Peelers of Ballinamore.” The source singer for the song was J. J. Downs of West Peru, New York who sang the song for the Flanders collection in 1944. Downs said he learned it from an uncle who came from Ireland. Peru, NY is on the western shore of Lake Champlain in far northern New York state. The above transcription is my own from the Downs recording which you can find on archive.org.

“Peeler” was once a common slang term for a police constable. The term originated with Sir Robert Peel who established the Metropolitan Police in London in the 1829. The notes to Irish Songs from Old New England tell us that a “toper” is equivalent to a tippler (a habitual drinker of alcohol).

*The name at the start of the song is inaudible in the Flanders recording but Len Graham sings “Tim Daly.” I’m not sure if Len added that detail of if perhaps a manuscript version was written down by Flanders with the name in place.