Greencastle shore, song

John Fleming, singing in English
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From Derry quay we sailed away all on the eighth of May,
Being favoured by a pleasant gale sure we soon reached Moville bay;
Fresh water there some twenty tons our brave captain took on store
Lest we would want going to St John’s far from Greencastle shore.

All safe on board, the anchor weighed and her head it swung towards the sea
While the sun shone o’er Benevenagh rock most glorious to see;
Greencastle’s lovely church and fort it is them I still adore,
Oh, many’s the pleasant day I spent on far Greencastle shore.

[From scene to scene my fond eye roved over mountain, hill and dale
Till resting on dear Walworth’s groves, well talked by Drumnamail;
My agonizing heart did swell, my soul was troubled sore
Viewing these scenes I left behind upon Greencastle shore.

0150 Oh Ballykelly, belovéd spot, it’s must we part? I cried,
It’s must I leave that lovely place where friends resides galore,
Friends of my heart, and must we part perhaps to meet no more?
Your memory still will warm my heart far from Greencastle shore.

At twelve o’clock we came in sight of famous Malin Head,
Inishtrahull far to the west rose out of ocean’s bed;
A grander sight now met my eyes I ne’er had saw before
Was the sun going down ’twixt sea and sky far from Greencastle shore.

But then a dreadful storm arose, the waves like mountains roll,
Blue lightning flashed on every side and rushed from pole to pole;
Regardless both of winds and waves and hoarse loud thunder roared
Our gallant crew the tempest braved far from Greencastle shore.]

Next morning we were all seasick and not one of us was free,
Quite helpless on my berth I lay, I’d not one to pity me;
No father kind nor mother dear that would raise my poor heart sore,
I’d none of my own to hear me moan far from Greencastle shore.

But then we reached that far-off shore in four-and-thirty days
And at the drinking of a parting glass we all took our separate ways;
I clasped each comrade by the hand, I knew we would meet no more,
Oh then I cried for my absent friends along far Greencastle shore.

[To Captain Harrison we owe our grateful thanks indeed,
A manly crew was never slow to help us in our needs;
With a flowing glass we’ll drink his health and toast it o’er and o’er,
May he in safety always pass to and from Greencastle shore.]


A manuscript text I noted at Magilligan in 1954 is long and full of local colour: v. 3–6 and 9 are intercalated from it into John’s four-verse text. More recently, only short texts have turned up which omit most of the local references: a less ‘heavy’ version of the song deriving from the long version but better suited to wide circulation. Henry, who published the only other long version in 1927, said that one of his informants had learnt the song fifty years previous from an octogenarian who had got it in turn from the author ‘a man named McLaughlin of Ballykelly’. This information is more plausible than his curious ensuing statement that in Articlave the song ‘was first sung in 1827 by an Inishowen ploughman’. Whatever the circumstances, it is evidently a local composition which has been adapted in recent times to general Irish usage.

The sailing ship was one of those which plied between Derry and Canadian ports in the first half of the nineteenth century. Captain Harrison, otherwise unknown, receives a testimonial in verse recalling those newspaper notices in which passengers safely arriving in the New World would recommend in glowing terms the ‘humanity’ of their captain.