The Leaving of Liverpool: Irish Songs of Immigration
Thomas G. Connors, University of Northern Iowa, 2010
1. “Skibbereen” (Traditional)
The Great Famine (1845-50) deeply affected the Cork town of Skibbereen.
Recorded by the Dubliners on Wild Rover (Digimode Entertainment, 1998).
2. “Muirsheen Durkin” (Traditional, 19th century)
Collected by Colm O’Loughlin; set to the traditional tune of “The Beautiful Girls of
Mayo” or “Cailini Deas Mhuigheo”. Recorded by the Irish Rovers on The Unicorn
(Decca, 1967) or The Best of the Irish Rovers (MCA, 1999).
3. “Kilkelly” (Peter Jones, 1983)
Based on letters from a family in Kilkelly, Mayo. Recorded by Mick Moloney on
Moloney, O'Connell, and Keane, Kilkelly (Green Linnet Records, 1988).
4. “Spancil Hill” (Traditional)
A traditional song from Co. Clare set around an annual fair at Spancil Hill. The
site, outside Ennis, is now called by its medieval name, Dysert O’Dea. Its
ancient high cross is in the song. Recorded by Paddy Reilly on 20 Favourite
Irish Pub Songs, volume 2 (Dolphin Traders).
5. “The Fields of Athenry” (Traditional)
Adapted from late 19th century lyrics, this popular song is set in Co. Galway
during the Famine. It refers to Charles Trevelyan, the most hated English official
during the Famine, and to the short-lived rebellion of 1848. Recorded by Dublin
City Ramblers on 20 Favourite Irish Pub Songs, 2.
6. “The Leaving of Liverpool” (Traditional English / 19th century)
Liverpool, with direct ferries to Dublin, developed a large Irish population during
the Industrial Revolution. As a major port, the city also saw the departure of
many Irish emigrants headed across the Atlantic. Like “Muirsheen Durkin”, the
song paints California in the colors of the Gold Rush. Recorded by the Dubliners
on The Dubliners (EMI, 1988).
7. “The Irish Volunteer” (Harry McCarthy, 1862)
Harry McCarthy, who penned the word of “The Irish Volunteer” in early 1862, set
the lyrics to the tune of “The Irish Jaunting Car” (which was also borrowed for
“The Bonnie Blue Flag”). Recorded by David Kincaid on The Irish Volunteer:
Songs of the Irish Union Soldier 1861-1865. (Rykodisc, 1995).
8. “Paddy’s Lamentation” (Broadside, c. 1862-65)
These lyrics reflect the attitudes of many Irish immigrants, who opposed the Civil
War and emancipation. Set to a traditional melody by David Kincaid. Recorded
by David Kincaid on The Irish Volunteer.
9. “Thousands Are Sailing” (Philip Chevron, 1988)
Recorded by the Pogues on If I Fell from Grace with God (Island, 1988).
O, Father dear, and I often hear you speak of Erin's Isle,
Her lofty scenes, her valleys green, her mountains rude and wild;
They say it is a lovely land wherein a prince might dwell,
Then why did you abandon it, oh, the reason to me tell?
My son, I loved my native land with energy and pride
Till a blight came over all my crops and my sheep and cattle died,
The rents and taxes were to pay, and I could not them redeem,
And that's the cruel reason I left Old Skibbereen.
‘Tis well I do remember the bleak November day,
When the bailiff and the landlord came to drive us all away;
They set the roof on fire with their cursed English spleen
And that's another reason I left Old Skibbereen.
Oh, your mother, too, God rest her soul, lay on the snowy ground,
She fainted in her anguishing, seeing the desolation round.
She never rose, but passed away from life to immortal dream,
And found a quiet grave, my boy, in lovely Skibbereen.
[It's well I do remember the year of forty-eight,
When we arose with Erin's boys to fight against our fate;
I was hunted through the mountains as a traitor to the Queen,
And that's another reason I left Old Skibbereen.]
Oh, you were only two years old and feeble was your frame.
I could not leave you with my friends for you bore your father’s name.
I wrapped you in my coat therefore, in the dead of night unseen,
And I heaved a sigh, and I said goodbye to dear old Skibbereen.
Oh, well, father dear, and the day will come when on vengeance we will call
And Irishmen both stout and tall will rally on to the call.
I'll be the man to lead the van, beneath the flag of green,
And loud and high we'll raise the cry, "Revenge for Skibbereen!"
(Traditional, 19th century)
Goodbye, Muirsheen Durkin, I'm sick and tired of working,
No more I'll dig the praties, no longer I'll be poor.
For as sure as me name is Carney I'm off to Californy,
Instead of diggin' praties, I'll be diggin' lumps of gold.
In the days I was a courtin', I was never tired resortin'
To the alehouse and the playhouse or and the other house besides,
I told me brother Seamus l’ll be off now and grow famous
And before that I'd return again I'd roam the whole world wide.
I've courted girls in Blarney, in Kanturk and in Killarney
In Passage and in Queenstown, that is the Cobh of Cork.
But I’m tired of all this pleasure, so now I’ll take me leisure
And the next time you will hear from me I’ll write you from New York.
[Goodbye to all the boys at home, I’m sailing far across the foam
To try to make me fortune in far America,
For there's gold and money plenty for the poor and gentry
And when I come back again I never more will stray.]
When I landed in Amerikay, I met a man named Burke.
He told me if I stayed a while, he’d surely find me work.
But work he didn’t find me, so there’s nothing here to bind me.
I’m bound for San Francisco in California.
Well, now I’m in San Francisco and me fortune it is made.
Me pockets loaded down with gold and threw away my spade.
I’ll go back to dear old Erin and spend me fortune never caring,
And marry Queen Victoria Muirsheen Durkin for to spite.
(Peter Jones, 1983)
Kilkelly, Ireland, 1860, my dear and loving son John,
Your good friend the schoolmaster, Pat McNamara, so good as to write these
Your brothers have all gone to find work in England; the house is so empty and
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
Kilkelly, Ireland, 1870, my dear and loving son John,
Hello to your Mrs. and to your four children; may they grow healthy and strong.
Michael has got in a wee bit of trouble; I suppose that he never will learn.
Because of the dampness there’s no turf to speak of and now we have nothing to
Brigid is happy you named the child for her, although she’s got six of her own.
You say you found work, but you don’t say what kind or when you’ll be coming
Kilkelly, Ireland, 1880, 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
For the crop has been poor and the people are selling for any price that they can.
Kilkelly, Ireland, 1890, my dear and loving son John,
I suppose that I must be close on eighty; it’s thirty years since you’ve gone.
Because of all of the money you’ve sent me, I’m still living out on my own.
Michael has built himself a fine house and Brigid’s daughters are grown.
Thank you for sending for your family picture; they’re lovely young women and
You say that you might even come for a visit; what joy to see you again.
Kilkelly, Ireland, 1892, my dear brother John,
I’m sorry I didn’t write sooner to tell you, but father passed on.
He was living with Brigid; she says he was cheerful and healthy right down to the
Ah -- you should have seen him playing with the grandchildren of Pat McNamara,
And we buried him alongside of mother down at 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 at the end.
Oh, why don’t you think about coming to visit; we’d all love to see you again.
Last night as I lay dreaming of pleasant days gone by,
Me mind been bent on rambling to Ireland I did fly.
I stepped on board a vision and I followed with the wind
When next I came to anchor at the cross at Spancil Hill.
‘Twas on the 23rd of June, the day before the fair,
When Ireland's sons and daughters and friends assembled there.
The young, the old, the brave and the bold came their duty to fulfill
At the parish church at Clooney, a mile from Spancil Hill.
I went to see my neighbors to see how they had changed.
The old ones were all dead and gone, the young ones turning grey.
I met the tailor Quigley; he's as bold as ever still.
Sure, he used to make me britches when I lived at Spancil Hill.
I paid a flying visit to my first and only love.
She's as white as any lily and as gentle as a dove.
She threw her arms around me, saying "Johnny, I love you still."
Oh, she's Ned the farmer’s daughter and the pride of Spancil Hill.
I dreamt I held and kissed her as in the days of yore.
"Johnny you're only joking like many's the time before."
The cock he crew in the morning; he crew both loud and shrill.
Then I woke in California, many miles from Spancil Hill.
The Fields of Athenry
(Based on original lyrics from Dublin broadsheet, 1888)
By a lonely prison wall I heard a young girl calling,
"Michael, they have taken you away.
For you stole Trevelyan's corn,
So the young might see the morn.
Now a prison ship lies anchored in the bay."
Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small freebirds fly.
Our love was on the wing,
We had dreams and songs to sing;
It’s so lonely around the fields of Athenry.
By a lonely prison wall she heard her young man calling,
"Nothing matters, Mary, when you're free.
Against the Famine and the Crown,
I rebelled; they ran me down.
Now you must raise our child with dignity."
By a lonely harbor wall she watched the last star falling
As the prison ship sailed out against the sky.
But she'll wait, she’ll hope and pray for her love in Botany Bay.
Oh, it’s lonely around the fields of Athenry.
The Leaving of Liverpool, or Fare Thee Well My Own True Love
(Traditional, English, 19th century)
Farewell to Prince's Landing Stage,
River Mersey, fare thee well,
I am bound for California
A place I know right well.
So fare thee well, my own true love,
When I return united we will be.
It's not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me,
But my darling when I think of thee.
I'm bound off for California
By the way of the stormy Cape Horn
And I'll write to you a letter, love,
When I am homeward bound.
I have signed on a Yankee Clipper ship,
Davy Crockett is her name.
And Burgess is the Captain of her,
And they say that she's a floating Hell.
I have been with Burgess once before
And I think I know him well.
If a man is a seaman, he can get along,
But if not, then he's sure in Hell.
I am bound away to leave you.
Goodbye, my love, farewell,
For I know it will be some long time
Before I see you again.
Farewell to Lower Frederick Street,
Ensign Terrace, and Park Lane,
For I know it will be some long time
Before I see you again.
The Irish Volunteer
(Harry McCarthy, 1861)
My name is Tim McDonald, I’m a native of the Isle,
I was born among old Erin’s bogs when I was but a child
My father fought in ‘98, for liberty so dear;
He fell upon old Vinegar Hill, like an Irish volunteer.
Then raise the harp of Erin, boys, the flag we all revere —
We’ll fight and fall beneath its folds, like Irish volunteers!
When I was driven from my home by an oppressor’s hand,
I cut my sticks and greased my brogues, and came o’er to this land.
I found a home and many friends, and some that I love dear:
Be jabers! I’ll stick to them like bricks and an Irish volunteer.
Then fill your glasses up, my boys, and drink a hearty cheer
To the land of our adoption, and the Irish volunteer!
Now when the traitors in the South commenced a warlike raid
I quickly than laid down my hod, to the divil went my spade!
To a recruiting office then I went, that happened to be near,
And joined the good old 69th, like an Irish volunteer.
Then fill the ranks and march away! — no traitors do we fear,
We’ll drive them all to blazes says the Irish volunteer.
When the Prince of Wales came over here, and made a hubbaboo,
Oh, everyone turned out, you know, in gold and tinsel too;
But then the good old 69th didn’t like these lords or peers —
They wouldn’t give a damn for kings, the Irish volunteers!
We love the land of Liberty, its laws we will revere,
“But the divil take nobility!” says the Irish volunteer.
Now if the traitors in the South should ever cross our roads,
We’ll drive them all to the divil as St. Patrick did the toads;
We’ll give them all short nooses that come just below the ears,
Made strong and good from Irish hemp, by Irish volunteers.
Then here’s to brave McClellan, whom the army now reveres —
He’ll lead us on to victory, the Irish volunteers.
Now fill your glasses up, my boys, a toast come drink with me,
May Erin’s Harp and Starry Flag united ever be;
May traitors quake, and rebels shake, and tremble in their fears,
When next they meet the Yankee boys and Irish volunteers!
God bless the name of Washington! That name this land reveres;
Success to Meagher, and Nugent, and their Irish volunteers!
(Broadside, c. 1862-65)
And it’s by the hush, me boys
I’m sure that’s to hold your noise
And listen to poor Paddy’s lamentation.
I was by hunger pressed
And by poverty distressed
When I thought I’d leave the Irish Nation.
So I sold me horse and plow
Sold me sheep, me pigs, and sow
Me little farm of land and I we parted
And me sweetheart Biddy Magee
I’m afeared I’ll never see
For I left her on that morning quite broken hearted.
And here’s you boys, do take my advice
To Americay I’ll have you not be comin’
For there’s nothing here but war
Where the murderin’ canons roar
And I wish I was back home
In dear old Ireland.
So me and a hundred more
To Americay sailed o’er
Our fortunes to be makin’ we were thinkin’
But we landed in Yankee-Land
They stuck a musket in me hands
Sayin’ “Paddy, you must go and fight for Lincoln.”
General Meagher to us said
“If you get shot, or lose your leg,
Every mother’s son of you will get a pension.”
But in the war I lost my leg
And all I got’s a wooden peg
Oh, me boys, it is the truth to you I mention.
Now, I’d have thought meself in luck
To be fed an Indian buck
And in Ireland the land that I delight in
But by the Devil I do say
For I’m sure I’ve had enough of your hard fightin’.
Thousands Are Sailing
(Philip Chevron, The Pogues, 1988)
The island it is silent now,
But the ghosts still haunt the waves
And a torch lights up a famished man
Who fortune could not save.
Did you work upon the railroad?
Did you rid the streets of crime?
Were your dollars from the White House
Were they from the five and dime?
Did the old songs taunt or cheer you?
And did they still make you cry?
Did you count the months and years
Or did your teardrops quickly dry?
Ah, no, says he, ‘Twas not to be.
On a coffin ship I came here,
And I never even got so far
That they could change my name.
Thousands are sailing
Across the Western Ocean
To a land of opportunity
That some of them will never see.
Their bellies full,
And their spirits free,
They’ll break the chains of poverty.
And they’ll dance...
In Manhattan’s desert twilight
In the death of afternoon,
We stepped hand in hand on Broadway
Like the first man on the moon.
And “The Blackbird” broke the silence
As you whistled it so sweet
And in Brendan Behan’s footsteps
I danced up and down the street.
Then we said good night to Broadway,
Giving it our best regards.
Tipped our hats to Mr. Cohan,
Dear old Times Square’s favorite bard.
Then we raised a glass to JFK
And a dozen more besides.
When I got back to my empty room,
I supposed I must have cried.
Thousands are sailing
Again across the ocean,
Where the hand of opportunity
Draws tickets in a lottery.
Postcards we’re mailing
Of sky-blue skies and oceans
From rooms that daylight never sees
And lights don’t glow on Christmas trees.
But we dance to the music
And we dance
Thousands are sailing
Across the Western Ocean.
Where the hand of opportunity
Draws tickets in a lottery.
Where we go, we celebrate
The land that makes us refugees
From fear of priests with empty plates,
From guilt and weeping effigies,
And we dance to the music
And we dance...