The Arranmore disaster, song

John Butcher junior, singing in English
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Good people dear, pray lend an ear, I’ll tell you one and all
About a great disaster that occurred off Donegal;
The wild Atlantic ocean has added to its toll
Another nineteen victims: may the Lord receive each soul.

’Twas in the year of thirty-five on a bleak November eve
This awful tragedy occurred, it caused us all to grieve;
Those cheerful lads returning from the Scottish harvest field
Unto the stormy ocean their lives were forced to yield.

What cheerful thoughts were in their mind when sailing up Lough Foyle
To view the hills of Inishowen, that land of Irish soil!
Their little boat came slowly on through Creeslough and Gweedore:
Oh God, who’d think they ne’er would reach their native Arranmore!

When they arrived at Burtonport they were met upon the pier,
They laughed and chatted with their friends all in the best of cheer;
They set out for the island but they never reached its shore;
A cloud of grief and sorrow hangs over homely Arranmore.

Their little boat by God’s will doomed across the waves did sail,
There was only one out of a score survived to tell the tale;
He saved two other passengers that perished in the cold;
The highest praise must be his due, this hero true and bold.

So now, kind friends, there’s one request I’ll ask of one and all:
Pray for the nineteen victims that were lost off Donegal.
With St Patrick and St Bridget may they dwell for ever more
In a land where hardships are unknown far away from Arranmore.

Spoken: That’s a heavy song, Eddie!


‘One November evening in 1935, a boat-load of migratory workers, on the last stage of their way home from the Scottish harvest fields, set out from Burtonport to Arranmore. The boat struck a rock in the dark, and the lone survivor of the party was picked up next morning, clinging to an upturned boat, and holding on to the dead body of his father ...’
– Peadar O’Donnell The bothy fire and all that Dublin 1937, preface to an article repr. from the Irish Press, 15 Nov. 1935 (news reports 11– 14 Nov.); see also Swan p. 21.

This recent come-all-ye is known chiefly in the northwest, but a Wexford version of 1948 (A) is a reminder of wider circulation, probably due to the popular press. The theme and composition of the text are more thoroughly traditional than its idiom. Even so, the substitution in Magilligan of a ‘boat’ for a ‘train’ in 3.3 – geographically inept – assimilates the song to older convention. After crossing by steamer from Glasgow to Derry the migrants actually travelled by railway via Creeslough and Gweedore to Burtonport, the end of the line.