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.

                                        Chorus—
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
25 Oct

Farewell to Caledonia

My name is Willie Rayburn, in Glasgow I was born,
The place of my residence I was forced to leave in scorn;
From home and habitation was forced to gang awa’,
So fare-you-well, you hills and dales of Caledonia.

The crime that I was taken for was robbery and fraud,
I lay the blame on nae one upon this earthly sod;
I lay the blame on nae one, but comrades I had twa,
So fare-you-well, the hills and dales of Caledonia.

It was early the next morning before the break of day,
Our turnkey came to us, those words to us did say,
“Rise up, you pitiful convicts, I warn you one and a’,
This day you leave the hills and dales of Caledonia.”

Then I arose, put on my clothes, my heart was filled with grief,
My friends they gathered around me, but could grant me no relief;
They bound me down in irons for fear I’d run awa’,
So fare-you-well, you hills and dales of Caledonia.

Here is to my old father, he is one of the best of men,
And also to my own true love, Catharina is her name,
No more we will roam by Cylde’s green banks or by the brim awa’,
This day I leave the hills and dales of Caledonia.

Goodbye to my old mother, I am sorry for what I have done,
I hope it ne’er will be cast to her the race that I have run;
I hope the Lord will protect her when I am far awa’,
So fare-you-well, you hills and dales of Caledonia.

We return to the deep and fascinating repertoire of Irish-Minnesotan singer Michael Dean this month for a Scottish song that has a long history in Ireland. Like “Highland Mary” and other songs, “Farewell to Caledonia” likely came from the pen of a Scottish song maker and went to the north of Ireland with the flow of itinerant workers and immigrants between the two islands. It was printed as a broadside in Scotland in the mid-1800s as “Jamie Raeburn’s Farewell” (the song’s narrator is Jamie in most versions). Sam Henry printed a variant from Strabane, County Tyrone in his Songs of the People newspaper column in 1926. The song appears in several Scottish song collections and has been popular with many singers and bands since the folk revival of the 1960s.

Across the Atlantic, the song turns up in Mike Dean’s Minnesota-printed Flying Cloud songster as well as in the repertoires of two New England singers recorded by Helen Hartness Flanders: Sidney Luther of Pittsburg, New Hampshire and Charles Finnemore of Bridgewater, Maine. We have no record of what melody Dean used. Luckily, Finnemore is one of my favorite New England singers so I was delighted to discover the recording of him singing his version in October 1945. Finnemore’s melody is quite close to that sung by Ontario/North Dakota singer Arthur Milloy for the song “Mines of Cariboo” which is a favorite of mine. The above is a combination of Dean’s text and Finnemore’s melody.

Woodcut from a 19th century broadside printing of “Jamie Raeburn” held by the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford. See: http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/view/sheet/26720
01 Jul

The Arkansaw Navvy

Come listen to my story and I’ll tell you in my chant
It’s the lamentation of an Irish emigrant,
Who lately crossed the ocean and misfortune never saw,
’Till he worked upon the railroad in the State of Arkansaw.

When I landed in St. Louis I’d ten dollars and no more,
I read the daily papers until both me eyes were sore;
I was looking for advertisements until at length I saw
Five hundred men were wanted in the State of Arkansaw.

Oh, how me heart it bounded when I read the joyful news,
Straightway then I started for the raging Billie Hughes;
Says he, “Hand me five dollars and a ticket you will draw
That will take you to the railroad in the State of Arkansaw.

I handed him the money, but it gave me soul a shock,                                                                   
And soon was safely landed in the city of Little Rock;
There was not a man in all that land that would extend to me his paw,
And say, “You’re heartily welcome to the State of Arkansaw.”

I wandered ’round the depot, I rambled up and down,
I fell in with a man catcher and he said his name was Brown;
He says “You are a stranger and. you’re looking rather raw,
On yonder hill is me big hotel, it’s the best in Arkansaw.”

Then I followed my conductor up to the very place,
Where poverty was depicted in his dirty, brockey face;
His bread was corn dodger and his mate I couldn’t chaw,
And fifty cents he charged for it in the State of Arkansaw.

Then I shouldered up my turkey, hungry as a shark,
Traveling along the road that leads to the Ozarks;
It would melt your heart with pity as I trudged along the track,
To see those dirty bummers with their turkeys on their backs.
Such sights of dirty bummers I’m sure you never saw
As worked upon the railroad in the State of Arkansaw.

I am sick and tired of railroading and I think I’ll give it o’er,
I’ll lay the pick and shovel down and I’ll railroad no more;
I’ll go out in the Indian nation and I’ll marry me there a squaw,
And I’ll bid adieu to railroading and the State of Arkansaw.


“Navvy,” from “navigational engineer,” was a common 19th century term for a railroad worker. Singer Michael Dean, the source of the text above, had many connections to the railroad and railroad work. Dean tended bar for years at saloons that catered to railroad workers in Hinckley, Minnesota. His older brother James was a lifelong conductor for the Milwaukee Road based in Milwaukee and older brother Charles worked for the Milwaukee Road in Minnesota and South Dakota based out of Minneapolis. According to The History of South Dakota, Vol. 2 by Doane Robinson, Charles Dean helped build the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railroad from Glencoe, MN to Aberdeen, SD from 1879-1881.

Dean’s songster, The Flying Cloud, includes four lyrics about railroad workers: “Jerry Go Oil the Car,” “The Grave of the Section Hand,” “O’Shaughanesey” and “The Arkansaw Navvy.” A fifth, “To Work Upon the Railroad” appears among the 1924 wax cylinder recordings of Dean singing.

Since Dean’s melody for “The Arkansaw Navvy” is unknown, I used a melody sung by Newfoundland singer Paddy Duggan as recorded by MacEdward Leach and available online. The song was likely North American in origin and it appears in many collections from the US. Interestingly, an Irish version does appear in Sam Henry’s Songs of the People. Henry’s informant was Jack McBride of Kilmore, Co. Antrim who learned it from a sailor.

Railroad section gang in Crow Wing County, Minnesota circa 1910. Courtesy Crow Wing County Historical Society