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The British Man O'War
(Roud 372)
Michael Falsey
Seafield, Quilty
Recorded in Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie's home outside Miltown Malbay, July 2007

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Michael Falsey and Junior Crehan

One evening fair as I roved out and carelessly did stray,
Meeting with a lady and her sailor boy so gay.
Said the sailor to this lady, I now must leave this shore,
And cross the briny ocean in a British Man O'War.

Susan fell at weeping and those words to him did say,
‘Don’t be so courageous to cross the briny sea.
For when I’m twenty-one years old I’ll then receive my store,
So change your inclinations from the British Man O’War.

O Willie, lovely Willie, do not face the proud Chinese,
For they might prove as treacherous as the Turks or Portuguese.
And from their deadly weapons you may receive a scar,
So Willie, do not venture, in that British Man O’War.’

‘O Susan, lovely Susan the time has come to pass,
We’ll go down by yonder ferry, where we’ll have a parting glass.
Where my ship to sail is ready there, to take me from this shore,
O Susan, lovely Susan will I ever see you more?’

She then took out a handkerchief and tore it right in two,
Saying, ‘Here’s a true love tokens one half I give to you.’
Young Willie wore that other half so far away from shore
And Susan lost her sailor boy in that British Man O’War.


Michael Falsey talks to Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie about
‘The British Man O’War’



Michael Falsey talks to Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie about
learning ‘The British Man O’War’ from Tom Boyle

“This nautical ballad, with traditional elements of the Sailors' Farewell and love-token genres, came out of the era of the Opium Wars in China (1840-42). Originally known as 'The British Man-of-War', with reference to the Royal Navy, it was later made over into an Americanized adaptation entitled ‘The Yankee Man-of-War’. Belden's contention that this was to accommodate the American Civil War is borne out by chronology, as no version of the Yankee remake has been located that is earlier than the 1860s. In fact, while 'The British Man-of-War' has been found in a few whaling journals of the 1840s and '50s, George W. Piper's rendition, transcribed circa 1868-70, is the earliest text of 'The Yankee Man-of-War' that has yet come to hand. However, any actual mention of the war itself—the ostensible occasion for the young man embarking in a man-of-war of whatever nationality—is absent from the whaleman's text of 'The Yankee Man-of-War'. The American revision is a song of parting only, lacking the war passages that characterize the last two stanzas of the British prototype; however, jingoistic allusions to the Chinese and Portuguese, present in the original, are anachronistically preserved in the copy.”

Reference:
Jolly Sailor Bold, Stuart M Frank, Camsco Music, 2010.
Ballads and Songs collected by the Missouri Folklore Soc., H.M. Belden, (ed.), Univ. of Missouri Press, 1940.
Jim Carroll

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