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Thousands are Sailing
(Roud 2904)
Paddy Flanagan
Recorded in singer’s home, July 1976

Carroll Mackenzie Collection


You sons and fair daughters of Erin’s green isle,
I claim your attention and listen awhile.
Now sons and fair daughters are all goin’ away,
And thousands are sailing for Amerikay

The night before sailing they’ll bid neighbours goodbye,
It’s early in the morning their hearts give a sigh.
They kiss their fond mothers those words they did say:
‘Goodbye darling parents, we’re now goin’ away.’

Their friends they do gather and the neighbours also,
Their trunks they all packed up right ready to go.
The tears from their eyes they fall down like the rain,
The horses are starting going off for the train.

When they reach the station you could hear their last cry,
They’re anxiously waving and bidding goodbye.
Their parents will tell them be sure for to write,
And all watch the train till it goes out of sight.

When they land on the steamer after leaving the strand
They give one look round at their own native land.
Each heart it is breaking for leaving the shore,
Goodbye to poor Inagh will I ever see you more?

Good luck to those people and safe may they land,
They’re leaving their homes in a far distant strand.
Here in old Inagh I never can stay,
When thousands they’re sailing for Amerikay.


“This is researcher, John Moulden’s, note for this song:

‘'Thousands are Sailing' gives a surprisingly accurate idea of the numbers of people who emigrated from Ireland during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; more than a hundred thousand a year, especially during the years of the Great Famine, 1845-1849. It applies mostly to the later nineteenth century when, as the song leads us to expect, roughly equal numbers of young men and women, unmarried, unskilled and poorly educated, left the country almost as a matter of habit. The money they sent home paid for others to follow them and for the older, or the infirm of body or mind, to remain. In the years 1857 and 1867 together, roughly 85 thousand people left Ireland, 80,000 for the United States, 5,000 for Canada. Of the 51 000 men, only a fifth were skilled workers and of the 34 000 women, a mere 700 were described as ladies or tradeswomen; the rest were servants or spinsters. There are several prose accounts of such partings: the Lancashire visitor, Edwin Waugh, describes one such taking place at Ballymena in about 1866:

"I was at Ballymena station the other day, when I saw a distressing scene. A company of stout young peasants were leaving by the train, for Londonderry, from whence they were to take shipping for Canada. The whole platform was crowded with their friends and relatives, all simple, rustic folk, - from hoary-headed age, leaning upon its staff, to the unconscious infant, crowing in its mother's arms. That parting scene was painfully touching. Every eye was drowned in tears; and the wild, unrestrained cries of affection, as they embraced each other, again and again, moved even the porters, to whom such scenes were familiar. As the train began to move slowly away, two or three of those upon the platform clung, screaming, to the carriage doors, until dragged away; and, amongst the wild outcry that arose from those left behind, one poor woman fell back upon a seat against the wall, wailing, "Oh, my darlin'! my darlin'!" whilst an old white-haired man, hard by, dropped down upon his knees, and, with uplifted arms, cried, "Oh, may the hand of the blessed God be about thee, my own son!"’

Edwin Waugh: Irish Sketches and Miscellany, (Manchester, 1882).
John Moulden’s note to the song from his book, Thousands are Sailing: a brief Song History of Irish Emigration, Ulstersongs, 1994.
Jim Carroll

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