Irish-American Song Book, 1900s

Irish-American Song Book: ‘Come-All-Ye’s’: Six Hundred and Seventeen Irish Songs and Ballads. This compendium of mainly 19th-century Irish song texts in the English language, produced by the Wehman Brothers publishing firm of New York, is undated. The latest date it carries internally is 1890, but the volume itself may have been published about 1900.

The songs it contains were probably those which were first published by the Wehman firm from the late 1880s as part of a series of Irish ten-cent songsters rather than in this single-volume format. The Wehman firm also published Irish songs in at least two other series of smaller-format song books from the early 1890s into the early 1900s, with overlapping but not identical contents. Irish songs were also included in the Wehmans’ general song books. The single-format volume was reprinted at least once in the 1900s.

The work contains a great variety of Irish songs from the first century in which Ireland decisively turned to the English language: love songs and other songs of sentiment, songs in praise of place, patriotic and political songs from Emmet to Parnell, music-hall and vaudeville comic stage songs, and Irish-American songs. They are mostly of unknown authorship, but they include the well known songs of Thomas Moore, Samuel Lover, T.D. Sullivan, and from the end of the century those of Johnny Patterson. 

Most of the songs were composed in Ireland, but some in England, Scotland, and the United States. They are national not local songs, and most probably they were copied from printed sources: ballad sheets, sheet music, periodicals, and other song books. Occasionally the tunes to which they were meant to be sung are cited by title, but the intention was obviously to supply words to people who already knew the airs of the songs. In spite of its title, the volume also contains occasional poems, recitations, and prose pieces. Copies of the book were known in Ireland and are known to have influenced oral tradition there.

The firm of Wehman Brothers of Park Row, New York City, was a popular publisher specializing in books of magic tricks, joke and dream books, tutors and self-help books, and song books. It flourished  from the 1880s into at least the 1940s.

This copy originally belonged to Joseph L. Maher, leader of the Irish Ramblers Orchestra of Philadelphia, and was donated to the Archive by Bernard and Grace Croke of Philadelphia in 1992, along with much other material. It is probably a late printing of the collection as it does not have the acidic paper and advertisements of earlier printings.

With thanks to donors Bernard and Grace Croke.

ITMA would welcome the donation of other materials of this kind which are not yet in its collections (check our catalogues here), or of their loan for copying.

NC & MG, 1 December 2009