A ballad is narrative tale, whether the author is known or not, which may or may not be sung, and the 'Limerick Rake' is as good a ballad as you'll get in the South of Ireland. I got it from my mother, Kathleen Behan of Dublin, who sings it to the tune: 'Agas fagamid siud mar a to se'. Origin and transition: Irish (Nenagh) Street song, long part of the folk-tradition and very popular at fairs and wakes.
Charlestown, the barracks cum-prison. notorious in American life for nearly two hundred years as a 'Hell of despair'. was only demolished last year. I heard this sung by a tinker in Youghal. Co. Cork in 1942, to this tune 'My Love Johnnie'. An alternative air is 'Pat O'Donnell'. Origin and transition: Irish (Surprised?) brought to America and now a firm favourite with Irish Americans of the 'Wild Colonial Boy' breed.
Get Me Down My Petticoat
This song was very popular in the slum tenement days of Dublin, and especially with the older generation (by which I mean anyone born after I was). To the Linen Hall the widows of soldiers proceeded for their pensions, and to Curragh Military Training Camp in County Kildare, the various Irish Soldiers of the Crown went for their training before embarkation for parts unknown. Anytime a bloke wanted to thwart or annoy his wife, he would sign up in another name to prevent her getting the pension. Quite naturally, the Mother-in-law (Oul wan. here) would he blamed. The chorus is: 'For he was a quare wan (queer one) fol, di, doo yeh (you) gow-a-dat (go out of that) he was a quare wan I tell you'. I first heard this song sung by my other brother, Brendan. Origin and transition: Dublin street into public house. Boer war song.
This is but a snatch of a song made popular by that inimitable comedian Jimmy O'Dea, to whom more than a few Dubliners are indebted for a ray of sunshine in a dark life. Origin and transition: Music hall to street, very popular with Dublin kids. Sung to the tune of 'Biddy Mulligan'.
Rocks of Bawn
A sister of my father's, Julia Behan, sang this song to me in 1940. She had stocks of such songs and more than necessary to keep a party going all night. God help her, she had as much out of this world as the man Sweeney mentioned in the song. Origin and transition: One of the best songs of the pre-famine period, fit and able to rank with the best of any in these islands. Tune: 'Sum an Sleibte'.
Notes by Dominic Behan