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The Green Linnet
(Roud 12903)
Peggy McMahon
Cloonlaheen, Miltown Malbay
Recorded in singer’s home, October 2002
Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Curiosity led a young native of Erin
To view the gay banks of the Rhine.
Where an empress he saw, and the robes she was wearing
All over with diamonds did shine.
No goddess in splendour was ever yet seen,
To equal this fair one so mild and serene.
In soft murmurs she cried, ‘My linnet so green,
Oh my Boney, will I ne'er see you more?’

The cold frosty Alps that you freely passed over,
Which nature have placed in your way.
At Marengo, Bellona around you did hover,
Oh, all Paris rejoiced the next day.
It grieved me the hardships that you did undergo,
The mountains you traversed all covered in snow.
And the balance of power your courage laid low.
Oh my Boney, will I ne'er see you more?

The crowned heads of Europe they were in great splendour,
And swore they would have you submit.
But the goddess of freedom soon made them surrender
And lowered their standards to your wit.
Old Frederick’s colours to France he did bring,
His offspring found shelter under your wing.
That year at Vienna you sweetly did sing,
Oh my Boney, will I ne'er see you more?

What numbers of men there were eager to slay you,
Their malice you viewed with a smile.
Their gold all through Europe was found to betray you.
They joined the Mamelukes on the Nile.
Like ravenous vultures their vile passions did burn,
The orphans they slew and caused widows to mourn.
But my linnet is gone and he ne'er will return,
Oh my Boney, will I ne'er see you more?

I ranged through the deserts of wild Abyssinia
And could yet find no cure for my pain.
I will go and enquire at the isle of Saint Helena,
But soft murmurs whisper, ‘’tis vain’.
Come tell me ye critics, come tell me in time,
What nations I will roam my green linnet to find?
Was he slain at Waterloo, in Spain or on the Rhine?
No - he died in St Helena's bleak shore.

"Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the most popular historical figures in the oral tradition and there are numerous songs either praising him or, at least, showing him a degree of sympathy and respect. This was particularly true in Ireland, where French assistance in the 1798 rebellion won the gratitude of many Irish people fighting for independence from British rule. Support for Napoleon was not just confined to Ireland; French Republicanism found a sympathetic ear among the British rural labouring classes living under the most appalling conditions. Napoleonic songs such as 'The Bonny Bunch of Roses' featured prominently in English and Scots traditional singers’ repertoires, though they often came with a warning; in the case of 'Bonny Bunch of Roses', 'Beware of the Bonny Bunch of Roses O' (referring to England, Ireland and Scotland).' The sea shanty, 'Boney Was a Warrior' traces Napoleon’s triumphal march though Europe and was sung with great gusto by sailors who used it as a ‘short haul’ shanty.

The Green Linnet is probably one of the most affectionately lyrical of the Napoleonic ballads and has made its way into the musical tradition as a beautiful pipe tune. It’s first appearance in print in Ireland was in Joyce’s 'Old Irish Folk Music and Songs', for which he wrote the following note:

'Bonaparte, during his career, was a favourite in Ireland; and many peasant songs were composed about him, a few of which, either wholly or in part, are given in this book. The following, which was written after his death, I learned in my boyhood, for it was known all over Munster. I have copies printed on ballad-sheets by Haly of Cork sixty or seventy years ago. Beyond these it has not been published before now, with the exception of two verses, which Mr. John FitzGerald of Cork, in an interesting "Account of the Old Street Ballads of Cork", printed in 1892 in the "Journal of the Cork Archaeological Society". In this song "Boney" is figuratively represented — after a common Irish fashion — as a Green Linnet. The air is given here exactly as I remember it; and it has not been hitherto published. It was universally known all through the South: and Forde has several settings all very little different from mine. In parts of Ulster also the air was well known, and regarded as very old. I got a setting of it, in 1873, almost the same as my own, from Mr. MacGowan of Newtownards. It will be perceived that this air is a version of "Ulachdn dubh-O", or "The Song of Sorrow", to which Moore has written his song "Weep on, weep on, your hour is past": both are versions of an original melody.'"
Jim Carroll


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