The music of Ireland and I have a long, antagonistic history. Considering Ireland’s love for long, antagonistic histories, that’s probably not surprising, right? See, my dad is one of those old American men who has adopted Professional Irish Guy as part of his persona. You may know the type. His family has been in the United States for over 100 years (well, except for his own mother who was French Canadian, so really, only half of his family), yet he turns red in the face when he talks about “the English,” is a card-carrying member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, wears one of those tweed caps in all seasons, and listens exclusively to Irish folk music. I spent many horrible family car trips listening to my dad’s “Irish tapes,” which were always of old white dudes who sounded like pirates warbling slightly under-key. Lots of accordion. It was not great. Three of us were forced into Irish dance, so we couldn’t even escape that damn music during our extracurricular time. Every family party has a soundtrack of 200-year-old fiddle tunes that were 12 verses long and illustrated an entire war. I understand that there is good Irish folk music – but I’ve heard a lot of the bad stuff in my days as well, let me tell you.
Whether you’re listening to good Irish tunes or very bad ones, there are a few things in common. The traditional songs fall into a few neat categories. There’s what I like to call “deedle-eedle” music. These songs are lighthearted ditties about drinking or love, sound like something you’d find on a CD of tunes for preschoolers, and often have nonsense lyrics like, well, “deedle eedle ay.” Then, there’s the war ballad set. That’s why my dad hates England so much. Finally, you have the songs that are designed to make you want to draw a warm bath … and grab a sharp knife. Really depressing stuff.
In case you don’t believe how WTF-worthy some Irish tunes are, let’s allow the lyrics to speak for themselves:
A Bunch of Wild Thyme
Centuries before Taylor Swift slut-shamed her BFF Abigail, the Irish wanted to remind young ladies that they’re worthless without their … umm… thyme. Which is the world’s most confusing and ill-constructed metaphor for virginity. Although, judging by the over-extended metaphor in the chorus, at least she’s not going to … germinate any sprouts?… the way they’re doing it. This is surprisingly filthy. I hate it.
Come all ye maidens young and fair
And you that are blooming in your prime
Always beware and keep your garden fair
Let no man steal away your thyme
Chorus: For thyme it is a precious thing
And thyme brings all things to my mind
Thyme with all its flavours, along with all its joys
Thyme, brings all things to my mind
All For Me Grog
A poet of our generation once said “I did it all for the nookie.” A poet of olde Erin said basically the exact same thing. Irish-Americans, please realize that whatever romantic, beautiful story you’ve heard about why your ancestors came to America, the real reason they crossed the ocean was because they’d spent all their cash-money on lassies drinkin’ gin.
All for me grog
And it’s all for me grog, me jolly jolly grog
All for me beer and tobacco
For I spent all me tin on lassies drinkin’ gin
Across the Western ocean I must wander.
Courtin’ in the Kitchen
It’s like it was written by an eighteenth-century version of a men’s rights activist. Do they know about this song? I sense an anthem!
I said she did invite me, but she gave a flat denial
For assault she did indict me, and I was sent to trial
She swore I robbed the house in spite of all her screechin’
And I got six months hard for me courtin’ in the kitchen.
Sing too-ra-loo-ra-lie, singing too-ra-loo-ra-laddie
Sing too-ra-loo-ra-lie, singing too-ra-loo-ra-laddie.
When I Was Single
This is the Irish folk interpretation of “Ugh, am I too old for crop tops now?” Except in this song it’s a plaid shawl. I don’t know if tearing a handkerchief in two had some sort of significance in days of yore, or if this lady’s husband is just real weird.
When I was single, I wore a plaid shawl
But now that I’m married, I wear none at all.
Ah, but still I love him!
I’ll forgive him!
I’ll go wherever he goes!
He bought me a handkerchief: red, white, and blue
But before I could wear it, he tore it in two
Tl;dr: some dudes got real boozed up at a wake, they got in a drunken brawl (because, Irish), spilled some liquor on the dead body, who – game changer! – was totally alive. BEST WAKE EVER.
With my phil-la-loo, hub-ba-boo, whack-hur-roo boys
Didn’t we sing ’til our jaws did ache
And shout and laugh ’til all was blue
With the fun we had at Finnegan’s Wake.
Then Mickey Mulvaney just showed his head
When Tim Donovan flung a full quart at him
It missed him, and fallin’ on the bed
The liquor was split on the face of Tim
Now the spirits new life gave the corpse, my joy!
Tim jumped like a Trojan from the bed
Cryin’ whilst he walloped each girl and boy
“T’underin’ Jaysus, did ye t’ink I’se dead?”
Maids While You’re Young
Sage advice: Don’t marry an old man. They’ve lost all their fal-do-rum, fal-diddle-die-ree-um. Which may be the male version of thyme.
An old man came courtin’ me, hey ding doo-rum-die
An old man came courtin’ me, me being young
An old man came courtin’ me saying would you marry me
Maids, when you’re young, never wed an old man.
Because he’s got no fal-do-rum, fal-diddle-die-ree-um
He’s got no fal-do-rum, fal-diddle-fal-day
He’s got no fal-do-rum, he’s lost his ding-do-rum
Maids, when you’re young, never wed an old man.
The German Clock Winder
In the omitted earlier verses, a German clock winder named Fuchs (f’real) comes to town. He meets a lady and “winds her clock,” which sounds sort of mechanical and not really fun. Especially once her husband comes home.
Now as they were seated down on the floor
There came a very loud knock on the door
In walked her husband and great was his shock
For to see the old German wind up his wife’s clock
Too-ra-lie, too-ra-lie, yoo-ra-lie-ay
The husband says he, “Now look here, Mary Anne
Don’t let that German come in here again
He would up your clock and left mine on the shelf
If your old clock needs winding, I can wind it me-self!”
A Man You Don’t Meet Every Day
Things I’m glad about: (1) I don’t meet dog-killing braggarts who regale me with their canine-killing antics in song every day.
Oh, I took up my dog,
And him I did shoot,
All down in the County Kildare.
So be easy and free,
When you’re drinking with me,
I’m a man you don’t meet every day.
The Auld Orange Flute
Ugh. PAPISTS. Amirite?
And all he did whistle and finger and blow
To play Papish music, he found it no-go
“Kick the Pope,” “The Boyne Water,” and such like would sound
But one Papish squeak in it could not be found.
Old Maid in the Garret
It’s like this song goes from a rom-com about a hapless single gal to a freaking Hitchcock movie somewhere between the verse and the chorus. I mean holy cow. Why do they have to lock her in the garret?
Oh now there’s my sister Jean, she’s not handsome or good lookin’
Scarcely sixteen and a fella she was courtin’
Now she’s twenty four with a son and a daughter
Here I am, forty five, and I’ve never had an offer.
For it’s oh dear me, how will it be
If I die an old maid in a garret.