O’er the Raging Foam for to Seek a Home
Irish Traditional Music Around the World
From Ireland to the World: Brennan on the Moor [Laws L7]
Very possibly the most widespread of all Irish songs, found in Ireland, all parts of the United States, the Canadian Maritimes, Newfoundland, Australia, throughout England, and in the north and east of Scotland.
It’s of a fearless highwayman a story I will tell.
His name was Willie Brennan, and in Ireland he did dwell
It was from the Lim’rick Mountains he commenced his wild career,
Where many a wealthy nobleman before him shook with fear, (crying)
Brennan on the moor, Brennan on the moor
Bold, brave, and undaunted was young Brennan on the moor.
One day upon the highway as Willie he sat down,
He met the Squire of Cashel a mile outside of town.
The Squire, he knew his features; “I think, young man,” said he.
”Your name is Willie Brennan; you must come along with me,” (to young)
Now Willie’s wife had gone to town, provisions for to buy.
When she saw her Willie, she began to weep and cry.
He said, “Hand to me that tenpence”; as soon as Willie spoke,
She handed him a blunderbuss from underneath her cloak, (to young)
Now with this loaded blunderbuss, the truth I will unfold,
He made the Squire to tremble, and robbed him of his gold.
One hundred pounds was offered for his apprehension there,
And with his horse and saddle to the mountains did repair, (did young)
Then Brennan being an outlaw upon the mountains high,
With cavalry and infantry to take him they did try.
He laughed at them with scorn, until at length, it’s said,
By a false-hearted young man he was basely betrayed, (was young)
So they were taken prisoners, in irons they were bound,
Conveyed to Clonmel Gaol, strong walls did them surround.
They were tried and found guilty; the judge made this reply,
”For robbing on the King’s highway you are condemned to die,” (was young)
”Farewell unto my wife and to my children three,
Likewise my agéd father, he may shed tears for me,
And to my loving mother, she tore her locks and cried,
Saying, ‘I wish, Willie Brennan, in your cradle you had died.’” (to young)
From Ireland to Australia: The Wild Colonial Boy [Laws L20]
Those Irish outlaws end up everywhere! The adventures of Jack Dulan/Dolan/Duggan seem to be inspired in part by the Irish transportee-turned-bushranger Jack Donohue, but Donohue’s story is best known in Australia, whereas the Wild Colonial Boy’s tale has been found in the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and Scotland. As Warren Fahey once wrote, “There never was a Wild Colonial Boy, but there should have been.” Note that one of the troopers who came after him also had an Irish name.
There was a wild colonial boy, Jack Duggan was his name,
He was born and raised in Ireland, in a place called Castlemaine.
He was his father’s only son, his mother’s pride and joy,
And dearly did his parents love the Wild Colonial Boy.
At the early age of sixteen years he left his native home
And through Australia’s sunny clime as a bushranger did roam
He robbed the rich, he helped the poor, he shot James MacEvoy,
A terror to the rich folk was the Wild Colonial Boy.
One morning on the prairie as Jack he rode along,
Listening to the kookaburra’s pleasant laughing song,
Three mounted troopers came in sight, Kelly, Davis, and FitzRoy,
With a warrant for the capture of Wild Colonial Boy.
“Surrender now, Jack Duggan, you see we’re three to one.
Surrender in the King’s high name, you are a plundering son!”
Jack drew a pistol from his belt and proudly raised it high:
“I’ll fight but not surrender,” said the Wild Colonial Boy.
He fired a shot at Kelly which brought him to the ground
Then turning around to Davis, he received his fatal wound:
A bullet pierced his proud young heart from the pistol of FitzRoy,
And that’s the way they captured him, the Wild Colonial Boy.
From Ireland to… The Croppy Boy [Laws J14]
Another widespread rebel song, but this is a version found right here in Minnesota; M. C. Dean printed his text not quite a hundred years ago.
It was early, early all in the spring,
The small birds whistling did sweetly sing.
Changing their notes from tree to tree,
And the song they sang was “Old Ireland’s free.”
It was early, early last Tuesday night,
The Yeoman Cavalry gave me a fright;
The Yeoman Cavalry was my downfall,
When I was taken before Lord Cornwall.
It was in his guard house I did lay,
And in his parlor they swore my life away;
My sentence passed and with courage low
Unto Dungannon I was forced to go.
And when I was marched through Wexford street,
My cousin Nancy I chanced to meet;
My own first cousin did me betray,
And for one guinea swore my life away.
[When I was passing my father’s door,
My brother William stood on the floor;
My aged father stood at the door,
And my aged mother her gray hair she tore.]
[My sister Mary in great distress,
She rushed downstairs in her mourning dress;
Five thousand guineas she would lay down
For to see me liberated in Wexford town.]
And when we were marching up Wexford hill,
Who would blame me were I to cry my fill,
With a guard behind and a guard before,
But my tender mother I’ll see no more.
And when I was standing on the gallows high,
My aged father was standing nigh.
My aged father did me deny,
And the name he gave me was the Croppy Boy.
I chose the dark and I chose the blue,
I chose the pink and the orange, too.
I forsook them all and I did deny,
I wore the green and for it I’ll die.
It was in Dungannon this young man died,
And in Dungannon his body lies;
And all good people that this way pass by,
Say, “May the Lord have mercy on the Croppy Boy!”
From Ireland to England: Lady Franklin’s Lament [Laws K9]
Few in England would have wanted to sing of the Croppy Boy, but when Sir John Franklin’s arctic expedition vanished in the 1840s, the British mounted a great search, and someone published a broadside about the event. Much shortened by time, it is often sung to the same tune as “The Croppy Boy.” It has been collected in Canada, Scotland, and Ireland.
I was homeward bound one night on the deep,
Swinging in my hammock, I fell asleep.
I dreamed a dream, yes, I thought it true,
Concerning Franklin and his gallant crew.
With a hundred seamen he sailed away
To the frozen ocean in the month of May,
To seek a passage around the Pole
Where we poor sailors do oftentimes go.
Through cruel hardships they vainly strove,
On mountains of ice their ship was drove.
Only the Eskimo in his skin canoe
Was the only one who ever came through.
In Baffin’s Bay where the whalefish blow,
The fate of Franklin no man may know.
The fate of Franklin no tongue can tell,
Where Lord Franklin and his gallant men do dwell.
And now my burden it gives me pain,
For my long-lost Franklin I’d cross the main.
Ten thousand pounds would I freely give,
To say on earth that my Franklin do live.
From Ireland to New Zealand: The Black Velvet Band
Collected from Mary L. Rogers of Auckland in 1968.
It was the time for leaving,
An emigrant I was bound,
To say farewell to my true love
And dear old London town.
Her eyes they shone like diamonds
As I took hold of her hand,
Her hair hung down her shoulder
Tied up with a black velvet band.
I knew not when I’d see her
When I bade her adieu,
For I was bound for New Zealand
To see my contract through.
I’m saving every penny
And silver to be found,
I’ll latch on to every sovereign
That reaches Auckland town.
And when I’m rich and prosper
And own a store in town,
I’ll send back home for my true love
And then I’ll settle down.
From Ireland to America: Old Granny Wales
We’ve already done one song of Irish origin that turned up in Minnesota. This is an even more extreme case. This is a song about the American Revolution featuring the legendary Irishwoman Grace O’Malley, known as “Granuaile.” Interestingly, although it’s about an Irish heroine, it has been found only in the United States, mostly in printed copies. It was found in the field only once, sung by Elma Snyder McDowell of Saint Cloud, Minnesota and collected by Bessie Mae Stanchfield. Stanchfield published her text, but not her tune, and Stanchfield did not recognize that McDowell’s distorted name “Granny Wales” was Granuaile. I found Stanchfield’s transcription of McDowell’s tune in the Minnesota Historical Society archives; this is a subset of the words McDowell sang, with the tune corrected and the names adjusted to match the historical figures that neither McDowell nor Stanchfield understood.
Old Granny she rose in the morning so soon
She slipped on her petticoat, apron, and gown
Saying, “Very bad news last night came to me,
They’re wronging my children that’s o’er the sea.”
Old Granny then mounted her gelding in haste,
And to fair London city — it was her first place,
As she was prancing up fair London street
’Twas there with Lord Cornwall she chanced for to meet.
“Noble Granny,” says Cornwall, “Come tell me in haste
Have you any good news from the east or the west?”
“Oh, bad news,” says Granny, “that [makes?] me complain
They’re wronging my children that’s o’er the main.”
“That news is too true,” Lord Cornwall says,
“They’re enslaving your children too soon I’m afraid.
There’s Lord North, Granville, and Infamous Bute
That brought on this Tea Act that’s now in dispute.”
Old Granny remounted her gelding in rage
And to fair Dublin city it was her next stage
As she was prancing on fair Dublin street
‘Twas there with [those three lords she chanced] for to meet.
“Too late you’ll repent of your desperate crime,
To mourn and lament to the end of your time.
That ever you sent your troops over the flood
To spill my dear innocent children’s blood.”
From Ireland to Canada: Boney on the Isle of Saint Helena
We don’t really know where this song originated, but it may well have been Ireland, where Napoleon was popular. In North America, it probably became popular through the Forget-Me-Not Songster text, which is, however, somewhat disordered. In any case, it is now best known in the Americas.
Oh, Boney’s away from his wars and his fightings,
He has gone to a land where naught can delight him.
And there he may sit down and tell the scenes he’s seen, o,
While alone he does mourn on the isle of Saint Helena.
Oh, Louisa she weeps for her husband’s departing.
She dreams when she sleeps, and she wakes broken-hearted.
Not a friend to console her, though there’s many would be with her,
And she mourns when she thinks on the isle of Saint Helena.
Oh, the rude, rushing waves o’er the oceans are fleeting,
And the loud billows’ roar on the shore’s rocks are beating.
He may look to the moon o’er the great Mount Diana,
With his eyes o’er the waves that roll round Saint Helena.
No more in Saint Cloud he’ll be seen in such splendour,
Or go on with his wars like the great Alexander,
For the young King of Rome and the prince of Gehenna
Have caused him to die on the isle of Saint Helena.
Oh, you parliament of England and you Holy Alliance,
To a prisoner of war, you may now bid defiance.
For your base intrigues and your base misdemeanors
Have caused him to die on the isle of Saint Helena.
All you who have wealth, beware of ambition,
For a small twist of fate could soon change your condition.
Be steadfast in time, for what’s to come you know not,
Or your days they may end, like his, on Saint Helena.
From Ireland to Newfoundland: The Old Polina
Collected by Gerald S. Doyle from Peter Carter and Harry R. Burton of Greenspond, Bonavista Bay. The ship’s real name was the Polynia; she was one of the very first sealing steamers, going to the ice in 1862. William Guy commanded the Polynia 1884-1891. Arthur Jackman and Alexander and James Fairweather were also famous whaling/sealing captains. The song is probably from 1885, the first year the Terra Nova sailed; she was the most famous of all sealing ships, being Robert Scott’s ship on his last Antarctic expedition; she served until World War II. The Arctic and Aurora were also involved in polar exploration. The other ship, the Husky, is actually the Esquimaux under William Milne. I’ve corrected a few of the names which were mis-remembered by oral tradition. From Newfoundland, the song went to Scotland, where it was renamed after the Balaena, the last of the Dundee whalers — but they didn’t fix the names of the commanders. (To be sure, William Guy also commanded the Balaena, and Alexander Fairweather died while commanding her.)
There’s a noble fleet of whalers that’s sailing from Dundee
Manned by British sailors that sail the Arctic Sea.
On a western ocean passage, we started on the trip
We flew along just like a song on a gallant whaling ship.
’Twas the second Sunday morning, just after leaving port,
We met a heavy sou’west gale that washed away our boat,
It washed away our quarterdeck, our stanchions just as well,
And so we set the whole shebang a-floatin’ in the gale.
For the wind was on our quarter, the engines working free,
There’s not another whaler that sails the Arctic Sea
Can beat the old Polina, you need not try, me sons,
We challenged all, both great and small, from Dundee to St John’s.
Art Jackman set his canvas, Fairweather got up steam
But Captain Guy, the daring boy, came plunging through the stream
And Milne in the Husky tried to beat the bloomin’ lot,
But to beat the old Polina boys was something he could not.
There’s the noble Terra Nova, a model without doubt,
The Arctic and Aurora they talk so much about.
Art Jackman’s model mail boat, the terror of the sea,
Tried to beat the old Polina on a passage from Dundee.
Now we’re back in old St. John’s, where rum is very cheap;
We’ll drink a health of Captain Guy who brought us o’er the deep,
A health to all our sweethearts, and to our wives so fair,
Not another ship could make the trip with the Polina I declare!