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The Boston Burglar
(Laws L16B; Roud 261)
Pat MacNamara
Kilshanny, near Ennistymon
Recorded in Kilshanny, July 1975

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

Pat McNamara

Oh, in Dublin I was born sure that city you all know well.
Brought up by honest parents the truth to you l tell.
Brought up by honest parents and raised most tenderly,
Till I became a sporting youth at the age of twenty-three.

My character it was taken sure, and I was sent to jail,
My parents said it was no use to fetch me out on bail.
The jury found me guilty and the clerk he wrote it down,
And the judge he passed my sentence then, ‘You’re bound for Charlestown’.

They put me on board of a Boston boat of a cold December day.
As I was passing the station house I could hear the people say:
‘There goes the Boston burglar, with strong irons he is bound.’
And more cries one another saying, ‘He’s bound for Charlestown.’

Now there is a girl in Boston sure, a girl you all know well.
And if ever I gain my liberty, with her I will do well.
With her I will do well, me boys, bad company I will shun.
Gambling and night walking and the drinking on the rum.

So come all that has your liberty, pray keep it if you can.
Never walk the streets by night or break the law of man.
For if you do you'll surely rue, you’ll find yourself like me:
Serving up your twenty-one at the age of twenty three.


“The authorship of this song is now credited to Michael J. Fitzgerald, though there was earlier confusion due to New York publisher J. H. Wehmann copyrighting a version by singer Dan McCarthy in 1881and publishing it as a broadside. Both the narrative and much of the wording of ‘The Boston Burglar’ are modelled on an English broadside called ‘Botany Bay'. ‘Botany Bay’ was a transportation ballad from the late 18th or early 19th century - when British convicts were being shipped to penal colonies in Australia - which has also been collected from oral tradition in America. Pat’s ‘Boston Burglar’ is an Americanised version of ‘Botany Bay’. The two most famous transportee colonies were Botany Bay and Van Diemen's Land and the first verse of ‘Botany Bay’ is strikingly similar to the opening of ‘The Boston Burglar’. Robert B. Waltz, in a note for the California State University Fresno Ballad Index wrote, ‘The original version of this piece was a transportation song and the subfamily of texts known as ‘The Boston Burglar is now credited to Michael J. Fitzgerald. The amount of reworking done by Fitzgerald, however, was slight, and older and newer versions continue to mix.’

An Irish broadside text was reprinted by Colm O Lochlainn under the title ‘Boston City’. He wrote of it: ‘Learnt in childhood from a maidservant, E. Gilshenan, from Virginia, Co. Cavan; I later heard it in Connemara to the air “Philibín na gCuach”, and in Waterford to “Pat O Donnell”.’”

Irish Street Ballads, Colm O Lochlainn, Dublin, 1939.
Jim Carroll


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