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Lonely Banna strand

Frankie Nash

Lonely Banna strand / Frankie Nash

Lonely Banna strand, song (Being on a Friday morning all in the month of May ...) This song tells the story of an incident that took place in the lead-up to Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising. Sir Roger David Casement (1864–1916) attempted to gain German support for a rebellion against British rule. Due to a series of mishaps, the Irish rebels never received the arms that the Germans attempted to supply. Casement was arrested, tried for treason, and executed for his part in the plot.  Aidan O’Hara speculates that Frankie Nash probably learned this song from a Newfoundlander who served alongside an Irishman with nationalist sympathies at the end of the First World War. Many Newfoundlanders served in the British forces.

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Mackenzie's dream

John Joe English

Mackenzie's dream / John Joe English

Mackenzie's dream, song (One night of late I chanced to stray, from a shore so far away ...) John Joe English learned this song from his uncle, John English. The protagonist of the song, Mackenzie, dreams of all the heroes of Erin standing together against tyranny.  At the end of John Joe’s performance, Aidan O’Hara speculates that the song’s origins might have been in the Young Ireland movement. The song is more widely known as the 19th-century Irish broadside ballad, “McKenna’s Dream.” John Joe sings the song in triple metre, a slowed-down version of the melody for “Suíl, a ghrá.”

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Me and me chum Johnny Riley

Frankie Nash

Me and me chum Johnny Riley / Frankie Nash

Me and me chum Johnny Riley, song  (One day as we went out for a walk …) Written by Newfoundland songwriter Johnny Burke (“The Bard of Prescott Street”), this song tells the story of two friends who share everything. While songs about a character named Reilly/Riley are popular in Ireland, England, and throughout North America, this song originates in Newfoundland (Partyka in Narváez 2006:11).

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Morrissey and the Russian bear

Denis McGrath

Morrissey and the Russian bear / Denis McGrath

Morrissey and the Russian bear, song (Come all ye gallant Irishmen wherever that you be …) This ballad relates the tale of 19th-century Irish prize-fighter Johnny Morrissey and a boxing match that lasted twenty-eight rounds between him and a Russian sailor

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My boy Willie

John Joe English

My boy Willie / John Joe English

My boy Willie, song (The sailing trade is a weary life …) This English broadside ballad is also known as “The sailor boy” or “Sweet William.” It is widely anthologised and recorded, with variant versions transforming Willie from a sailor to a lumberjack. It recounts the pain of a woman who is left behind when a loved one goes to sea and dies far from home.  This song was among John Joe English’s favourite songs.

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Only a face in the firelight

 Petchie Nash & Frankie Nash

Only a face in the firelight / Petchie Nash & Frankie Nash

Only a face in the firelight, song (I was seated one night by the hearthstone ...) Written by American composer Charles Shackford, this song was recorded by tenor James McCool in 1904 (Victor 2732). This sentimental song describes someone dreaming of a deceased lover while slumbering by a fireside.

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Paddy in New York

John Joe English

Paddy in New York / John Joe English

Paddy in New York, song (Of an elderly man I'm going to tell you …) This comic song tells the story of an Irishman who goes to live in New York. Outraged when a barman overcharges for whiskey, he starts a fight, kills the barman, and is supported by other Irishmen in New York.

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Pinto

 Denis Nash

Pinto / Denis Nash

Pinto, song (As I was riding one evening 'neath the starlite western sky…) This song is better known as “There’s a picture on Pinto’s Bridle,” recorded by Hank Snow in 1939.

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Quigley and Picco

Bernard Nash ; Tom Murphy

Quigley and Picco / Bernard Nash ; Tom Murphy

Quigley and Picco, song (Ye sons of Erin please pay attention …) Originally published in the St John’s Evening Telegram on 24 December 1891 (vol. 13/291:19) and reproduced as “Quigley on Picco” in James Murphy’s Old Songs of Newfoundland (1912), this song was composed by Johnny Quigley—the “Bard of Erin” (for details about Quigley and the history of this song, visit the GEST Song Index). During the 19th century, sectarian tensions marked Newfoundland society and politics. Though tensions between Catholic and Protestant populations were dissipated through political negotiations, power sharing, and alliances between partisans, there were moments of violence during the 1870s and ‘80s.  When Aidan O’Hara recorded “Quigley and Picco” a century later, those present remarked that one had to be careful about singing such songs; there was a time when performing it would have been considered treasonous.

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The barque in the harbour

John Hennessy

The barque in the harbour / John Hennessy

The barque in the harbour, song (The barque in the harbour, I went roaming on shore …) Also known as “The Spanish lass,” “The young Spanish lass,” and “The Indian lass,” this broadside ballad probably has its origins in 1820s Britain (Guigné 2016:347). It tells the story of a sailor who goes ashore, meets a local woman, and then leaves her to return home. 

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The bleach of Strathblane

Mike McGrath

The bleach of Strathblane / Mike McGrath

The bleach of Strathblane, song (As I roved out one morning in May …) In this Scottish song, a young man proposes to a woman. Though she initially refuses, she relents when the young man threatens to propose to someone else. He, however, proves inconstant and leaves. The “bleach” refers to the hills around Strathblane where local women laid their laundry to dry.

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The bonny bunch of roses

Anthony Power

The bonny bunch of roses / Anthony Power

The bonny bunch of roses, song (I overheard a female talking …) The lyrics of this ballad take the form of a conversation between Napoleon Bonaparte’s widow and his son. She warns her son of the danger of challenging England, Ireland, and Scotland—the bonny bunch of roses—and the folly of attacking Russia.  Anthony’s version omits some of the lines that clarify the relationship of the characters, but the singer compensates by rearranging the order of the verses to create a coherent narrative. Most notably, the characters of Napoleon and his son are merged. Historically inaccurate, the song tells a tale of military expansion, of resistance met, and of the ultimate defeat of the invading forces by the opposing allies.

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