01 Mar

At the Close of an Irish Day

Oh, tonight in fancy come and take a trip across the sea,
And we’ll meet our old companions in the place we long to be,
For stamped upon our memory are the friends we used to know,
So just tonight lets revel in the thoughts of long ago.

Through little lanes and meadows we will take a stroll once more,
For to meet the laughing boys and girls we met in days of yore,
The rivers, woods and moonlit night have the same old charm still,
And the whistler on a summer’s eve comes rambling o’er the hill.

It’s oft we rove through yon green groves with our young hearts light and gay,
‘Mid the golden ray of the setting sun at the close of an Irish day,
The music from the hills around re-echoed clear and true,
As down the path we wandered ’mid the fragrance and the dew.

Oh, don’t you recall, sweetheart of mine, the place where I met you,
‘Mid the rosy bower of happiness where love’s young dream came true?
The air was full of love’s sweet song as I promised to be thine,
And you forever pledged your word that you would be always mine.

Oh I’ll ne’er forget when I set sail across the ocean blue,
We stood on deck and watched the mountains slowly fade from view,
At the last glimpse of old Erin sure our hearts went up in prayer,
Oh, God forbid we’d e’er forget that dear little isle so fair.

We return this month to a song recorded by Tom Dahill and Barbara Dahill in 1976 from Mayo-born singer Dominic Caulfield who lived in St. Paul. Caulfield was a skilled singer with a deep repertoire of songs. On the tape recording, Dominic, Tom and Barb chat and read through a list of song titles between Dominic’s singing. They also refer to lyrics on a page so he was likely consulting a song book of his own at the time.

“At the Close of an Irish Day” is thought to be a composition of the early 20th century even though no known composer or early published text is known. The earliest appearance I can find is a recording by the McNulty Family made for Decca in New York City in 1940. Melodeon player Annie Burke McNulty was from Roscommon and she performed with her American-born children Eileen and Peter who sang and danced. The song was released at the height of their popularity when they were the most well-known Irish act in the US.

The song was taken up by traditional singers on both sides of the ocean. Eddie Butcher and others sang it in Derry and it appears in Hugh Shields’ book Shamrock, Rose and Thistle: Folk Singing in North Derry. In the late 50s, it was recorded by international superstar Bridie Gallagher and from there became associated with Irish stage singers—perhaps causing it to be passed over by folk revival song collectors who thought it too modern to be a “real” folk song.

05 Dec

The Lady Leroy

Bright Phoebus arose and shone o’er the plain,
The birds were all singing, all nature seemed gay,
There sat a fair couple, on the old Ireland shore,
A-viewing the ocean where billows did roar.

“Fair Sally, fair Sally, the girl I adore,
To go away and leave you, it grieves my heart sore,
Your father is rich and is angry with me,
And if I longer tarry, my ruin he’ll be.

She dressed herself up in a suit of men’s clothes,
And to her old father disguised she did go,
She purchased a vessel, paid down his demands,
Little did he dream ’twas from his own daughter’s hands.

She went to her true love and unto him did say,
“Make haste and get ready, no time to delay,
Make haste and get ready, let bright colors fly.”
And over the ocean sailed the Lady Leroy.

And when her old father came this to understand,
He swore his revenge on that worthy young man,
Saying, “My daughter Sally shall never be his wife,
And for her disobedience, I’ll take her sweet life.”

He went to his Captain and unto him did say,
“Make haste and get ready, no time to delay,
Make haste and get ready, let bright colors fly.”
He’d sworn by his maker, he’d conquer or die.

They scarcely had sailed past a week or ten days,
When wind from the southeast it blew a fine breeze,
They saw a ship a-sailing, which filled them with joy,
They hailed her and found ’twas the Lady Leroy.

They bade them return unto old Ireland’s shore,
Or broadsides of grapeshot among them they’d pour,
But Sally’s true lover he made this reply,
“For the sake of fair Sally I’ll conquer or die.”

Then broadside for broadside most furiously did pour,
And louder than thunder, bright cannon did roar,
At length the Irish beauty, she gained the victory,
Hurrah for the sons of sweet liberty!

We close out 2022 with one more that was part of Michael Dean’s repertoire. Dean printed his version of “The Lady Leroy” in his 1922 songster and sang it for collector Franz Rickaby in 1923 and, again the next year for collector Robert Winslow Gordon. From Rickaby’s brief notes we know that Dean learned it from his mother Mary McMahon Dean (1821-1907) who emigrated to Smiths Falls, Ontario from County Mayo in about 1842 (later crossing into northern New York). Other family members knew the song as well. Dean told Rickaby that “all his folks sang it.” You can hear and see Dean’s version on the Minnesota Folksong Collection website.

The Lady Leroy was collected in several parts of the United States and Canada and, while sifting through other versions this week, I fell in love with one collected in Springfield, Vermont from singer E.C. Beers. Beers was recorded in 1930 by Alice Brown and the recordings can be accessed on archive.org as part of the Flanders Ballad Collection. The above is my own transcription of Beers’ version based on the recording. Another transcription appears in the book Vermont Folk-Songs and Ballads. I was drawn to the twists and turns of Beers’ melody which is quite different than other melodies I found in use for the song.

A recent book, Bygone Ballads of Maine, Volume I compiled by Julia Lane and Fred Gosbee has another unique version from Maine singer Carrie Grover with the closing line: “Here’s a health to all fair maids; may they always go free!”

The only Irish source I found is Sam Henry’s Songs of the People which has a version from the north of Ireland. More recent performers such as The Battlefield Band and Jimmy Crowley have recorded “The Lady Leroy” with a melody similar to what Dean sang here in Minnesota 100 years ago.

25 Oct

My Eileen is Waiting for Me

I am always light hearted and easy, not a care in the wide world have I,
Because I am loved by a Coleen I couldn’t help like if I’d try;
She lives away over the mountains where the little thrush sings in the tree,
In a cabin all covered with ivy my Eileen is waiting for me.

It’s over, yes over the mountain where the little thrush sings in the tree,
In a cabin all covered with ivy my Eileen is waiting for me.

The day I bid good-bye to Eileen, that day I will never forget,
How the tears bubbled up from their slumber, I fancy I’m seeing them yet;
They looked like the pearls in the ocean as she wept those tears of love,
Saying, “Barney, my boy, don’t forget me until we meet again here or above.”

Though mountains and seas may divide us and friends like the flowers come and go,
Still these thoughts of my Eileen will cheer me and comfort wherever I go,
For the imprints of love and devotion, surrounded by thoughts that are pure,
Will serve as a guide to the sailor while sailing the wild ocean o’er.


With the passing of beloved musician Martin McHugh this past month, I chose a song that was a favorite of his. Martin played “My Eileen is Waiting for Me” as a waltz at countless sessions and dances and would sometimes sing bits of the words if you were lucky!

It turns out this song has a long history in Minnesota. Mike Dean printed his version in his 1922 songster The Flying Cloud under the title “Allanah is Waiting for Me” (a curious and possibly misprinted title because in Dean’s actual song lyric the name is Eileen). It was also in the repertoire of Ontario singer O.J. Abbott who called it “Over the Mountain.”

“Over the Mountain” was the original title when, in 1882, the song was composed by celebrity tenor William J. Scanlan, a second generation Irishman from Springfield, Massachusetts. Scanlan sang it in the play “Friend or Foe” which he performed at the Grand Opera House in Saint Paul in April 1885. The song reached Ireland by the early 1900s where it was found in a County Cavan manuscript in 1905.  By the 1920s, the song’s melody and sections of its lyrics began a new life in American country music after a recording by Uncle Dave Macon and a rewrite, by Fiddlin’ John Carson, called “The Grave of Little Mary Phagan.”

Dean’s melody is unrecorded but Abbott sang it to a similar melody to that used by Martin McHugh. The above is a marriage of Dean’s words from 1922 with McHugh’s melody circa 2022 (based on McHugh’s album The Master’s Choice.)

William J. Scanlan
Ad for Scanlan’s performances at the Grand Opera House in St. Paul from the April 12, 1885 Minneapolis Sunday Tribune