Seamus Ennis--The Kerry Recruit--Traditional Irish Anti-Recruitment Song
Welcome aboard the World Express, our musical journey through Europe and beyond.
Today our train, the World Express, after a short stay in Germany for the Christmas Holiday, arrives back in Ireland and back through time to meet our special guest, Seamus Ennis, the Irish musician, singer, and song collector.
Mr. Ennis worked with the Irish Folklore Commission from 1942 to 1947, collecting folk songs across Ireland, the Aran Islands, and the Scottish Hebrides. He worked for Raidio Eireann and the BBC, and then as a professional musician. Seamus Ennis is one of the greatest uilleann pipers of Ireland and helped revive the instrument during the 20th Century.
“The Kerry Recruit” is loosely based on the broadside ballad “The Frolicksome Irishman” which was first printed in 1802 shortly after the Irish Rebellion of 1798 but the lyrics have been substantially changed to describe the Kerry recruit's experience in the Crimean War (1853-1856).
“The Frolicksome Irishman” is probably older than the first 1802 printed version and most likely dates back to the 18th century. “The Frolicksome Irishman,” and “The Kerry Recruit,” like the songs "Whisky You're The Devil" and “Arthur McBride,” as well as others, are examples of Irish anti-recruitment songs.
The songs warn young Irishmen to resist recruitment with the British Army and to not fight in wars on England's behalf.
“The Kerry Recruit” was also known in the United States through Irish immigration. There is a written historical account that the song was heard in the Black Hills of Tennessee c. 1830-1835. Also, the renowned American Appalachian folk singer Jean Ritchie recounts that her Uncle Jason Ritchie, a lawyer, knew and sang the song in Kentucky sometime probably around the late 1930s.
We have “The Kerry Recruit” as collected and sung by Seamus Ennis. Take it away, Seamus.
“The Kerry Recruit” Lyrics:
About ten years ago I was digging the land
With me brogues on me feet and me spade in me hand
Says I to me self, what a pity to see,
Such a fine strapping lad footing turf round Tralee
With me too rum a na, with me too rum a na,
With me too rum an urum an urum a na.
Well I buttered me brogues, an' shook hands with me spade,
An' away to the fair, like a dashing young blade
When up comes a sergeant an he asks me to 'list,
Dhera, sergeant a ghrá, stick a bob in me fist!
Now the first thing they gave me it was a red coat,
With a wide strap of leather to tie round me throat
Then they gave me a queer thing, I asked what was that,
They told me it was a cockade for me hat
The next thing they gave me, they called it a gun,
With powder an ball an' a place for me thumb.
Well first she spat fire, and then she spewed smoke,
An' she gave me oul shoulders a hell of a stroke
Well the first place they sent me was down by the sea,
On board of a warship bound for the Crimea
Three sticks in the middle all rowled round with sheets,
Faith, she walked on the water without any feet!
When at Balaclava we landed quite sound,
Cold, wet and hungry we lay on the ground
Next morning for action the bugle did call,
And we had a hot breakfast of powder and ball
(Last stanza transcribed by Josiah Wales)
And it 'twas often I thought on my mother at home
And while I was with her I was magahlore(? undecipherable word)
When the bullets had fly lads, I did let them pass
I got down in the ditch, all for fear I'd be shot.
Copyright 2020 Josiah Wales USA
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