Week 161 – The Rambling Irishman

An Irish emigration song which I learned back in the 1970s from Cathal McConnell, via an early Boys of the Lough LP. Checking online I find that the song was on their Second Album, under the title ‘Lough Erne’. That’s an album I never owned. I might have borrowed a copy from the local library, but actually I think I might have bought it for my friend Mike as a birthday present (following the time-honoured music-lover’s rule of buying other people records you want to hear yourself). I’d have got the tune from listening to the record; I probably learned the words from Music and Songs from the Boys of the Lough, a Boys of the Lough songbook published in 1977.

The notes in that book say that Cathal learned the song from Joe Holmes, a traditional singer from near Ballymoney in Co. Antrim. This Mudcat thread contains a lot of background information about the song, posted by Jim Carroll from Here I Am Amongst You, Len Graham’s book about his friend and musical partner Joe Holmes. From this we learn that this song probably pre-dates the Famine. While after the Famine the majority of Irish emigrants to America were Catholics, before then the greatest number had been Protestants:

In Ireland the Ulster Presbyterians experienced a number of problems that made their lives difficult. As Presbyterians in an Anglican state, most of them faced religious hostility from the government. Like the Catholic population they were subject to penal laws barring them from higher education and the professions and forcing them to pay tithes to the Church of Ireland. From the 1680s until the American Revolution temporarily cut off shipping, at least 250,000 sailed to North America. After the Revolution an even larger wave crossed, perhaps 500,000 more, peaking in the period between the Napoleonic wars and the Great Famine.

The Rambling Irishman

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