A random look at the life and times of Jim Rising recovering radio addict and newspaper columnist.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Irish Rovers its not

I am Irish. On my Mom’s side mostly but there is evidence that my Father had some of the auld sod in his genes as well. I actually lived in Sligo for about a year when I was 11 years old. Our family went there as my Dad studied Irish educational TV. I hated it but I was 11. What did I know?
One of the things that I remember with fondness was the song “Roddy McCorley.” I will never be accused of being able to carry a tune with or without a bucket but I know I sang that song with big enthusiasm while in the Emerald Isle. I am certain I had NO idea what it was all about.
But growing up with my Irish mother I learned what the deal was.
Phrases like “Race of Kings” and “a thousand years of oppression” were thrown around my house often enough that I became aware of the “TROUBLES” as the conflict between the Irish and the English was euphemistically called.
I was going to write a funny light piece about my many experiences in the St. Patrick’s Day parades of the past in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. I may still.
But then I found this video of Tommy Makem (God rest his soul) and his version of Roddy McCorley. He intros it and sings it so well that I cannot resist posting it.
It’s just a small reminder as you sip your green beer and have your ham and cabbage and soda bread that real men (and women too) fought and shed red blood on the streets of Ireland in a fight for freedom. It’s not shamrocks and leprechauns and cute girls with red hair in this song.

Here’s the lyrics:

O see the fleet-foot host of men, who march with faces drawn,
From farmstead and from fishers' cot, along the banks of Ban;
They come with vengeance in their eyes. Too late! Too late are
For young Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome

Oh Ireland, Mother Ireland, you love them still the best
The fearless brave who fighting fall upon your hapless breast,
But never a one of all your dead more bravely fell in fray,
Than he who marches to his fate on the bridge of Toome today.

Up the narrow street he stepped, so smiling, proud and young.
About the hemp-rope on his neck, the golden ringlets clung;
There's ne'er a tear in his blue eyes, fearless and brave are
As young Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome

When last this narrow street he trod, his shining pike in hand
Behind him marched, in grim array, a earnest stalwart band.
To Antrim town! To Antrim town, he led them to the fray,
But young Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome today.

The grey coat and its sash of green were brave and stainless then,
A banner flashed beneath the sun over the marching men;
The coat hath many a rent this noon, the sash is torn away,
And Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome today.

Oh, how his pike flashed in the sun! Then found a foeman's heart,
Through furious fight, and heavy odds he bore a true man's part
And many a red-coat bit the dust before his keen pike-play,
But Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome today.

There's never a one of all your dead more bravely died in fray
Than he who marches to his fate in Toomebridge town today;
True to the last! True to the last, he treads the upwards way,
And young Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome today.

The line about the hemp rope on his neck about does me in.

No I haven’t been drinking yet. But as I listen to this song something ancestral stirs in me and the “thirst” (some call it the curse) begins to stir in me.
You know the old saying. “God created whiskey so the Irish wouldn’t rule the earth."
It may well be true. I will investigate this weekend, far from any parade, and get back to you on that. In the meantime here's Tommy.
I suggest you eschew the Irish car bomb and go straight for the Jamesons.


Ubiquitous said...

One of the songs that gets me every time is "Kilkelly Ireland"

I am sure you have heard it before but here are the lyrics anyway:

"Kilkelly, Ireland, 18 and 60, my dear and loving son John
Your good friend the schoolmaster Pat McNamara's so good
As to write these words down.
Your brothers have all gone to find work in England,
The house is so empty and sad
The crop of potatoes is sorely infected,
A third to a half of them bad.
And your sister Brigid and Patrick O'Donnell
Are going to be married in June.
Your mother says not to work on the railroad
And be sure to come on home soon.

Kilkelly, Ireland, 18 and 70, dear and loving son John
Hello to your Mrs and to your 4 children,
May they grow healthy and strong.
Michael has got in a wee bit of trouble,
I guess that he never will learn.
Because of the dampness there's no turf to speak of
And now we have nothing to burn.
And Brigid is happy, you named a child for her
And now she's got six of her own.
You say you found work, but you don't say
What kind or when you will be coming home.

Kilkelly, Ireland, 18 and 80, dear Michael and John, my sons
I'm sorry to give you the very sad news
That your dear old mother has gone.
We buried her down at the church in Kilkelly,
Your brothers and Brigid were there.
You don't have to worry, she died very quickly,
Remember her in your prayers.
And it's so good to hear that Michael's returning,
With money he's sure to buy land
For the crop has been poor and the people
Are selling at any price that they can.

Kilkelly, Ireland, 18 and 90, my dear and loving son John
I guess that I must be close on to eighty,
It's thirty years since you're gone.
Because of all of the money you send me,
I'm still living out on my own.
Michael has built himself a fine house
And Brigid's daughters have grown.
Thank you for sending your family picture,
They're lovely young women and men.
You say that you might even come for a visit,
What joy to see you again.

Kilkelly, Ireland, 18 and 92, my dear brother John
I'm sorry that I didn't write sooner to tell you that father passed on.
He was living with Brigid, she says he was cheerful
And healthy right down to the end.
Ah, you should have seen him play with
The grandchildren of Pat McNamara, your friend.
And we buried him alongside of mother,
Down at the Kilkelly churchyard.
He was a strong and a feisty old man,
Considering his life was so hard.
And it's funny the way he kept talking about you,
He called for you in the end.
Oh, why don't you think about coming to visit,
We'd all love to see you again."

I cant remember the first time i heard the song or who sang it but i have heard many renditions since and none have been as good as the first.

I will have to try to find the artist who i think sings it best.

This song is a bitter reminder of the other "troubles" our ancestors have had.

When i went to Ireland we stayed in the deep south where tourism has barely touched and some still only speak Gaelic and you can still see signs from the famine.

I am glad that Ireland is finally starting to truly heal but some feel that it is at the cost of the culture as globalization is what is paying the bills.

These are the things that we think of while drinking a whiskey or guiness on St. Patty's day...

I wish more people knew that its not all leperchauns and lucky charms.

Jim Rising said...

You make me proud son!
Love, Dad!