I am Irish. On my Mom’s side mostly but there is evidence that my Father had some of the “auld sod” in his genes as well. I actually lived in Sligo for about a year when I was 11 years old. Our family went there as my Dad studied Irish educational TV.
I hated it but I was 11. What did I know?
One of the things that I remember with fondness was the song “Roddy McCorley.” I will never be accused of being able to carry a tune with or without a bucket but I know I sang that song with big enthusiasm while in the Emerald Isle.
I am certain I had NO idea what it was all about.
But growing up with my Irish mother I learned what the deal was.
Phrases like “Race of Kings” and “a thousand years of oppression” were thrown around my house often enough that I became aware of the “TROUBLES” as the conflict between the Irish and the English was euphemistically called.
I was going to write a funny light piece about my many experiences in the St. Patrick’s Day parades of the past in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. I may still.
But then I found this video of Tommy Makem (God rest his soul) and his version of Roddy McCorley. He intros it and sings it so well that I cannot resist posting it.
It’s just a small reminder as you sip your green beer and have your ham and cabbage and soda bread that real men (and women too) fought and shed red blood on the streets of Ireland in a fight for freedom. It’s not shamrocks and leprechauns and cute girls with red hair in this song.
Here’s the lyrics:
O see the fleet-foot host of men, who march with faces drawn,
From farmstead and from fishers’ cot, along the banks of Ban;
They come with vengeance in their eyes. Too late! Too late are
For young Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome
Oh Ireland, Mother Ireland, you love them still the best
The fearless brave who fighting fall upon your hapless breast,
But never a one of all your dead more bravely fell in fray,
Than he who marches to his fate on the bridge of Toome today.
Up the narrow street he stepped, so smiling, proud and young.
About the hemp-rope on his neck, the golden ringlets clung;
There’s ne’er a tear in his blue eyes, fearless and brave are
As young Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome
When last this narrow street he trod, his shining pike in hand
Behind him marched, in grim array, a earnest stalwart band.
To Antrim town! To Antrim town, he led them to the fray,
But young Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome today.
The grey coat and its sash of green were brave and stainless then,
A banner flashed beneath the sun over the marching men;
The coat hath many a rent this noon, the sash is torn away,
And Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome today.
Oh, how his pike flashed in the sun! Then found a foeman’s heart,
Through furious fight, and heavy odds he bore a true man’s part
And many a red-coat bit the dust before his keen pike-play,
But Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome today.
There’s never a one of all your dead more bravely died in fray
Than he who marches to his fate in Toomebridge town today;
True to the last! True to the last, he treads the upwards way,
And young Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome today.
The line about the hemp rope on his neck about does me in.
No I haven’t been drinking yet. But as I listen to this song something ancestral stirs in me and the “thirst” (some call it the curse) begins to stir in me.
You know the old saying. “God created whiskey so the Irish wouldn’t rule the earth.
It may well be true. I will investigate this weekend, far from any parade, and get back to you on that.