26 Mar

Ned McCabe

Ned McCabe

I’m a fine old Irish laborer, from Ireland I came,
To try me luck on Columbia’s shore, and Ned McCabe’s my name.
I’ve had me days of sunshine, although I can’t complain,
But those good old days for laborers will never come back again.

’Tis boys, be gay and hearty, and never ye be afraid,
But bear misfortunes with a smile like poor old Ned McCabe

But when I landed in Quebec, I had nary a red at all,
I hired out to a contractor, boys, to work upon a canawl.
I’d eighty cents a day, me boys, and whiskey too had I,
But when I think of those good old days, it almost makes me cry.   Chorus

*I’ve cleared the lands in the far-off west, and many a mile I’ve trod,
And many’s the snake, and wild beast, I’ve laid beneath the sod.    Chorus

Now the winter time is coming on, and away down south I’ll go,
To secure myself a winter’s job away from frost and snow.
Old Canady being by favorite whenever there I went,
I could drink my twenty jiggers a day and never step off o’ the plank.    Chorus


Folk song collector Franz Rickaby made the above transcription of this very rare song from the singing of George Hankins (1849-1934) of Gordon, Wisconsin in the early 1920s. Earlier in his life, Hankins worked as a lumberjack and railroad man in Minnesota before making his home in Gordon, about 45 miles southeast of Duluth. Hankins told Rickaby that he learned the song when he first came to live in Wisconsin.

The song itself illustrates a familiar storyline for the first Irishmen to come to Minnesota and Wisconsin. It was common for Famine-era immigrants who sailed to Canada to find work as lumberjacks, railroad men, Great Lakes sailors or canal workers. Many of these men and their sons followed those jobs, or sometimes seasonal farm work, over the border into the US. So it was with many of the men who built Stillwater, Minnesota and other St. Croix Valley towns.


*I took some liberty with the words of this verse in what I published in the IMDA newsletter and in what I sing myself.  The original as transcribed by Rickaby reads:

I’ve cleared the lands in the far-off west where no white man ever trod,
And many’s the snake, and red man too, I’ve laid beneath the sod.



03 Jan

Lonesome Hours of Winter (Laws H12)


Lonesome Hours of Winter

Oh, the lonesome hours of winter provide both frost and snow,
Dark clouds around us gather, the stormy winds do blow;
You are the girl I have chosen to be my only dear,
But your scornful heart is frozen and fast locked up I fear.

I went one night to see my love, she proved most scornfully,
I asked her if she’d marry me to which she paid no heed;
The night being nearly passed and gone and near the break of day,
I am waiting for my answer, my love, what do you say?

Since you must have an answer, I choose a single life,
I never thought it fitting to ever become your wife;
You may take that for an answer, for myself I will provide,
I have chosen another sweetheart and you I cast aside.

Since you are for a-changing the old one for the new,
Then I will go a-roving, I’ll rove the country through,
Until I find some pretty fair maid so pleasing to my will,
Oh, this world is wide and lonesome, if one don’t, why another will.

I know you have great riches and more you’d like to gain,
You won my young affections which now you do disdain;
Your riches will not last you long, they’ll melt away like snow,
And when poverty will press you, dear, you’ll think of me, I know.

Some folks do seek for pleasure, but I no pleasure find,
The little birds sing sweetly all around on every vine,
The little birds sing sweetly, so pleasing and divine,
And so would my joys be flowing tonight if Nancy was only mine.

I fell in love with this song recently and it seemed a perfect fit for this time of year. Several versions of this wintery ballad of unrequited love were collected in North America and the song likely originated here as never turned up among singers on other continents. The above text is from Minnesota singer Mike Dean’s songster The Flying Cloud. Unfortunately, Dean’s melody was not (as far as I know) preserved by either recording or transcription.

Fortunately, I was able to track down recordings of two of my favorite northwoods singers doing their versions of the song! The first, Angelo Dornan, is perhaps the most “Irish” sounding northwoods singer I have ever encountered (and he was at least two generations removed from Ireland himself). Dornan was born in southern New Brunswick and learned a treasure trove of beautiful songs from his father and other lumbermen in that area. His leisurely, highly-ornamented singing of the come-all-ye ballads popular in lumber camps stands side by side with the singing of great Ulster singers such as Paddy Tunney and Geordie Hanna. Dornan was recorded by collector Helen Creighton. (Listen to Angelo Dornan’s “Stormy Winds of Winter” here)

This fall, I was treated to another version of the song, this time from “Yankee” John Galusha of Minerva, New York. The Galusha recordings and transcriptions (made by Anne and Frank Warner and also by Marjorie Lansing Porter) make an especially appropriate cross reference for Dean’s songs as Galusha (1859-1950) was born one year after Dean (1858-1931) on just the other side of the Adirondack Mountains from Dean’s own birthplace. Unlike Dean and Dornan, Galusha wasn’t recorded until he was in his eighties. Still, he approaches the songs with a style not far removed from Dornan’s (and one can only guess what he sounded like in his younger days!).

The above melody is my own composite based on recordings of Dornan and Galusha who use variants of the same melody.