02 Feb

Wearing of the Green

The Wearing of the Green sheet music cover

Oh, Paddy, dear, and did you hear the news that’s going ’round?
The shamrock is forbid by law to grow on Irish ground;
Saint Patrick’s day no more we’ll keep, his color can’t be seen,
For there’s a bloody law agin’ the Wearin’ o’ the Green.
I met with Napper Tandy and he tuk me by the hand,
And he said, “How’s poor auld Ireland, and how does she stand?”
She’s that most distressful country that ever you have seen,
They’re hanging men and women there for wearing of the green.

Then since the color we must wear is England’s cruel red,
Sure, Ireland’s sons will ne’er forget the blood that they have shed;
You may take the shamrock from your hat, and cast it on the sod,
But ’twill take root and flourish still, tho’ under foot ’tis trod;
When the law can stop the blades of grass from growing as they grow,
And when the leaves in summer time their verdure dare not show,
Then I will change the color I wear in my caubeen,
But till that day, please God, I’ll stick to wearing of the green.

But if at last our color should be torn from Ireland’s heart
Her sons in shame and sorrow from the dear old soil will part,
I’ve heard whisper of a country that lies far beyant the say,
Where rich and poor stand equal in the light of freedom’s day;
Oh, Erin, must we lave you, driven by a tyrant’s hand,
Must we seek a mother’s welcome from a strange but happy land!
Where the cruel cross of England’s thralldom never shall be seen,
And where, in peace, we’ll live and die, a-wearing of the green.

We have a Minnesota text this month for the long-popular Irish patriotic song “The Wearing of the Green.” Dublin-born stage singer and theatrical innovator Dion Boucicault composed this song in 1865, borrowing the “wearing of the green” refrain, the last half of the first verse and possibly the melody from an existing song dating to the 1798 rebellion. The earlier song, as printed by H. Halliday Sparling in Irish Minstrelsy (c. 1887), has the protagonist fleeing to France where Napoleon himself asks “How is old Ireland and how does she stand?” Boucicault moved the land of refuge to America: the land “far beyant the say, where rich and poor stand equal in the light of freedom’s day.”

Though lovers of traditional songs sometimes lose interest when a song is revealed to have originated on the commercial stage, there is much to be learned and appreciated from the context of these songs. The late, great scholar of Irish-American song Mick Moloney says Boucicault, an international superstar in his day, “single-handedly upgraded the popular image of the Irish male in this country during the 1860s.” At a time when stereotypical, buffooning Irish characters dominated American popular theater, Boucicault was on a crusade against this brand of what Dr. Eoin McKiernan would dub “shamroguery” a century later. Stephen Watt quotes Boucicault as saying:

The fire and energy that consists of dancing around the stage in an expletive manner, and indulging in ridiculous capers and extravagances of language and gesture, form the materials for a clowning character, known as the ‘Stage Irishman,’ which it has been my vocation to abolish.

Watt Stephen. 1991. Joyce, O’Casey and the Irish Popular Theater. 1st ed. Syracuse N.Y: Syracuse University Press.

Minnesota singer Michael Dean sang a few songs that reveled in stereotypes denigrating Irish immigrants alongside many other songs that preserved the dignity of his fellow Irish-Americans. His repertoire is a fascinating blend of older traditional songs and stage hits from his lifetime. He left only the above text for his version of this one so I have adapted it to a version of the usual melody as printed by Alfred Perceval Graves in The Irish Songbook.

31 Oct

Down By the Tanyard Side

I am a rambling Irishman, and by love I’ve been betrayed,
Close to the town of Baitenglass there dwelt a fair young maid,
She was fairer than Hypatia bright and was free from earthly pride,
She was a darlin’ lass and her dwellin’ place, was down by the tanyard side.

Her lovely hair in ringlets rare, lay on her snow-white neck,
And the tender glances of her eyes, would save a ship from wreck,
Her two red lips so smiling and, her teeth so pearly white,
Would make a man become her slave, down by the tanyard side.

I courteously saluted her, as I viewed her o’er and o’er,
And I said “Are you Aurora bright, descended here below?”
“Oh no, kind sir, I’m a maiden poor,” she modestly replied,
“And I daily labor for my bread down by the tanyard side.”

So for twelve long months I courted her, ’til at length we did agree,
For to aquaint her father, that married we would be,
But ’twas then her cruel father, to me proved most unkind,
Which made me sail across the sea, and leave my love behind.

Farewell to my aged parents, to you I bid adieu,
I’m crossing o’er the ocean, all for the sake of you,
But if ever I return again, I will make this girl my bride,
And I’ll roll her in my arms, down by the tanyard side.

During a lifetime living in the Adirondack mountains of New York state, Sara Cleveland (1905-1987) gathered and sang songs from her Scottish and Irish family and broader community. She eventually compiled a notebook of over 600 songs. Her granddaughter Colleen Cleveland grew up learning Sara’s songs and tagging along with her grandmother, a cherished singer during the folk revival years, to folk festivals and other events. I had the good fortune to meet Colleen and hear her sing at a couple singing events out east and her singing and passion for the songs are very inspiring!

Another upstate New York singer and friend, Dave Ruch, has teamed up with Colleen Cleveland on a wonderful new project to get people singing old songs from the repertoire of Colleen’s amazing grandmother. You can learn more about their “New Audiences for Old Songs” here. One part of the effort is a collection of 75 Cleveland family songs (with audio recordings from Sara or Colleen as well as transcriptions) shared on the site in hopes that current musicians will create their own versions.

Above is my own transcription of Sara Cleveland’s singing of the Irish broadside ballad “Down By the Tanyard Side”—one of the songs offered up as part of the project. Cleveland’s version is quite similar to that printed by Colm Ó Lochlainn in his 1939 Irish Street Ballads. Longford-born American stage performer Frank Quinn recorded a similar text with a different melody in New York City circa 1926. There is another version in a book of songs from Pennsylvania that I do not have on my shelf yet but the only other “north woods” version I have located is one collected by Helen Creighton in Nova Scotia. Cleveland’s “Baitenglass” is given as Baltinglass in Ó Lochlainn which is the name of town in southwest County Wicklow.

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.