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Érin go Brágh
(Laws Q20; Roud 1627)
Martin Howley
Fanore, north west Clare
Recorded in singer's home

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Martin Howley

In London one evening as I walked the street,
Sure an impudent fellow I chanced for to meet.
I looked in his face and he gave me some jaw
Saying, ‘What brought you over from Érin go brágh?’

Sure a blackthorn stick that I held in my fist,
It was around his big body I gave it a twist.
I silenced his tongue with a crack in the jaw,
And I showed him the game played in Érin go brágh.

Sure they all gathered around me like a flock of prestáns.*
Here comes McBurns from Ballinacauske,
My mother’s first cousin, Mick Ryan from Dunlaw,
And big Paddy Kelly from Érin go brágh.

Oh the skirmige we had it would delight you to see,
Mo bhrón how I shook that shillelagh with glee.
I leathered them well and I laughed at their law,
And I showed him the game played in Érin go brágh.

* Perhaps ‘Préacháns’ = crows

“Ballad anthologist Robert Ford wrote of this in 1899:

‘Not an Irish song this, as the title would make the novice infer, but natives of the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland have a good deal in common —in accent and otherwise—with the people of the North of Ireland, and the verses describe only how ‘Duncan Campbell, from the Shire of Argyle,’ suffered in Edinburgh in the ‘No Irish need apply’ days by being mistaken for a son of Saint Patrick. Many will recognise the song as an old and common favourite in Scotland.’

The song was certainly popular in Scotland and was found widely sung by Travellers there. In Ireland, P.W. Joyce noted a version in 1850s Limerick and published an ‘improved’ text of it in his ‘Ancient Music of Ireland’. James N. Healy include it in volume one of ‘Old Irish Street Ballads’ indicating that it was a broadside. In theme, it reflects the same sentiment as another song of Scots origin concerning the Irish, ‘Hot Asphalt’, where a policeman accusing a crowd of navvies of being ‘Tipperary scamps’ is thrown into a barrel of melted tar. When his assailants fail in their efforts to clean him up, he ends up:

'….in the Kelvin Grove Museum, a-hanging by his belt,
As a monument to the Irish stirring hot asphalt.'"

Reference:
Vagabond Songs and Ballads of Scotland, Vol. 1, Robert Ford, Edinburgh, 1899.
Jim Carroll

See also
Érin go Brágh sung by Tom Lenihan


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