Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March 17: Mrs. McGrath

Two years ago, I posted about the song "Paddy's Lamentation" for St. Patrick's Day--it's a US Civil War-era song about an Irish immigrant who joins the Union Army and loses a leg in battle. This year, another Irish ballad about a disabled veteran--and his mother.

"Mrs. McGrath" (aka "Mrs. McGraw") is at least two hundred years old, but like a lot of ballads it gets adapted to the current circumstances as needed. It's sometimes sung as a dialog between Mrs. McGrath and her son Ted, back from war with both legs amputated. Some of the verses:
O captain, dear, where have you been,
Have you been sailing in the Meditereen,
And have you any tidings of my son Ted,
Is the poor boy alive or is he dead?

Well, up comes Ted, without any legs,
And in their place he's got two wooden pegs.
She kissed him a dozen times or two,
Crying, Holy Moses, it isn't you

Now was you drunk, or was you blind,
When you left your two fine legs behind,
Or was it walking upon the sea,
Wore your two fine legs from the knees away?

No, I wasn't drunk, and I wasn't blind
When I left my two fine legs behind,
But a big cannon ball on the fifth of May,
Tore my two fine legs from the knees away.

Oh Teddy, my boy, the widow cried,
Your two fine legs were your mamma's pride,
The stumps of a tree won't do at all,
Why didn't you run from the big cannon ball?

All foreign wars, I do proclaim,
Between Don Juan and the King of Spain,
And I'll make them rue the time
They took two legs from a child of mine.
Here's an upbeat version from Tommy Makem, and another from Pete Seeger. For a more somber contemporary version, here's Bruce Springsteen:

2 comments:

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