Article MT130

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No. 5: The Kerry Recruit 1

The printing history ofThe Kerry Recruit reveals the text as having changed its form more than once, appearing as The Frolicsome (or Frolicksome) Irishman, The Irish Recruit and The Kerry Recruit with one additional sub-title of The Lawyer Outwitted.  Still, in all copies there is a bias towards a joke involving the Irish; and this flavour is compounded when Irish printings and sung versions are contemplated - for, in these cases, the ‘Irish-ness’ of expression, if superficial, is even more prominent.  In the course of the narrative, ‘Paddy’ (not so-named, it has to be said) succeeds through his seeming gormlessness if not quite in turning the tables at least in departing the scene - sometimes bloody and chastened - for a quieter life.  The English army, apparently, was unable to cope with his ineptitude or to fathom his cunning.

And the text takes an eventual place amongst many other ‘Irish’ pieces such as Paddy’s Blunder, The Irish Smuggler, Barney Brallaghan’s Courtship and so on ... a numerous class, all amused at the antics of a perceived misfortunate or feckless character in a way which we would probably now think patronising, to be left for scrutiny on other occasions.

Actually, where broadsides of the text in question are concerned, the prime focus of this piece, there are not many to consider.   As far as can be ascertained, in England only the following issues can be found: those from Pitts, Jennings, Ryle, Paul, Fortey, Disley, Hodges and, outside London, Lane and Walker in Norwich.2 The printings consist of three forms of text, only the first two of which seem to have had any impact on singing habits.

The hierarchy of prototype and imitation that emerges, though, is not at all straightforward. To start with, that text known as The Frolic(k)some Irishman, appears only as copy from Pitts (note the spelling of the title in Pitts - with a ‘k’) and from Jennings in London and from Lane and Walker in Norwich (both minus the ‘k’).  The Pitts copy has a few expressions in it that might be termed gratuitously ‘Irish’.  The protagonist, for instance, thinks it a pity that such ‘a genus [sic] like I’ was ‘digging by the way’.  When the sergeant asks him to ‘list’, there follows an exclamation: ‘With my great gramachree give me your fist’ - ‘gramachree‘, an English transmogrification of words, meaning, literally ‘love of my heart’. And when quarters are mentioned and the recruit demurs, a rather obvious (to us) ‘shillelah’ appears as he attempts to bid the sergeant goodbye.

After this, the recruit is taken off to drill and is reviewed by a general:

The battle of Vinegar Hill is mentioned at which: ‘Vinegar Hill’ may simply be another plucking out of the hack’s word-bag; but could, equally, have some almost reasoned connection considering the Irish background of the piece.   Vinegar Hill was the site, outside Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, of a rout of Irish insurrectionists by government forces over the period of 20th-22nd June, 1798.

However, there is a reversion to a generic scene in the final stanza:

The line about God saving the King, if, at first glance, an unlikely one in the context, appeared in one copy of one other text with an Irish referential background, The Rambler from Clare; in lines in a sung version as follows: However, no other version of The Rambler ... , printed or sung, carries these lines and so, against the overwhelming agreement of text in all other versions, we would take this as an  instance of oral reconstitution.  Further still, similar lines appear in one version of The American Stranger, which is not obviously ‘Irish’ in character: G-D Zimmerman, in his ground-breaking Songs of Irish Rebellion, wrote that violent ballads might well end with a line such as ‘So here’s health to George the Fourth’ and gave what may now seem to be an ingenious but not wholly convincing suggestion that the villains of songs were not, as a rule, kings and queens but their agents or someone who had gone rotten in some way.5  Zimmerman’s concern, though, would not account for the lines as quoted above from The American Stranger.

Ultimately, then, we may only be talking about convention, about ‘floaters.  If, in the present discussion, ‘Success to Old England’, were to be taken at all seriously it might well be in the context of an English range of reference and an English artefact.  The final line in the Frolic(k)some texts (‘If the wars were all over ... ’) can hardly be seen as a development of narrative, but, more likely, as another facet of textual convention.  It does, however, turn up in one sung version of the song under review here, albeit changed in detail (see the Greig versions below).

With closer regard to dating, it seems that Jennings printed contemporaneously with Pitts during the latter’s commercial domicile at 14 Great Andrew Street, where he first set up business in 1802 - in his book about Pitts Leslie Shepard tells us that Pitts moved to 6 Great Andrew Street in 1819 - and from where The Frolic(k)some Irishman was issued.  In fact, Mr Shepard believes that Jennings may have printed some of Pitts’ pieces.6  It also seems pertinent for dating that the Jennings copy of The Frolicsome Irishman was set alongside a piece which supported the radical endeavours of Sir Francis Burdett who, from 1802 on provided a focus for political reform, being sent to the Tower for his pains in 1810.7   We may be dealing with retrospection as is the case, for instance, with many texts referring to Nelson and other major players on the British and European stage but the Burdett text would have had little burning relevance to a later generation of purchasers nor did Burdett achieve the heroic status of a Nelson, so a contemporary printing is most probable.

Information on Lane and Walker is more difficult to assess.  Walker appears to have printed from 1780 on - at several addresses in Norwich.  He is known to have issued a piece about the death of General Abercrombie (1801) who, it will be recalled, was a victor on land against Napoleonic forces not long after the battle of the Nile (strictly, at Aboukir Bay), Nelson’s first great victory over the French in 1798; another piece with Waterloo as its central subject; and a piece on the execution of Henry Groom at Norwich in 1851.  These dates indicate parameters for printing activity.  R Lane printed a Waterloo ballad - as ‘Lane & Co., Bridewell Alley’, Norwich - and some ephemera as yet undated; and this material is not extensive.  Both firms issued one known piece - separately, that is - on the Queen Caroline affair in 1820.

However, at one stage, even coincidentally with individual production, according to several printings, Lane and Walker worked together out of St Andrew’s, Norwich, issuing ballads on subjects such as the battles of Trafalgar (1805) and Salamanca (1812), John Rannie’s piece, The Post Captain ... and the usual run of bits and bobs such as The farmers’ keepsake, The sprig of shillelah (attributed to Edward Lysaght, 1763-1810) and Sweet girl of Norwich city.   Both firms worked separately during the 1840s.8 

For present purposes: there would also appear to have been a straightforward connection between Lane and Walker and Pitts.  Leslie Shepard wrote that Pitts’ sister, Hannah, was born in Norwich and that Pitts probably came into contact with printers there and that, moreover (in considering the appearance of early Pitts broadsides), some of the broadside ballads later issued by Lane and Walker, Norwich, printed on rough blue or green paper, bear a marked similarity to the sheets published by Pitts in London after he became established at Seven Dials.9

Taking all the above information together, it seems that we are looking at the issue of The Frolic(k)some Irishman fairly early in the nineteenth century - when, incidentally, Vinegar Hill might still reside in the popular memory.   The three Frolic(k)some printings are close in form although, in the first stanza, both Jennings and Lane and Walker changed ‘genus’ - even now a well-known form of expression in the west of Ireland - to ‘ genius’.  We should note also that each printing has the recruit in ‘clogs’ since this detail changes as the form of text changes.

Further in this latter respect, texts from Ryle, Paul, Fortey and Hodges bear the title The Irish Recruit.10  The joke is still, principally, a generic one; but the narrative line is not the same as that in The Frolic(k)some Irishman.  The text encompasses a slightly more specifically grounded opening scene where the protagonist is digging ‘turf in Tralee’.  Then he downs tools and goes off to the fair and he meets a sergeant who tries to persuade him to enlist; is enlisted; is taken to the barracks and then given - in order - a red coat and stock, a cockade, a gun, and a horse.  In each case the recruit manages to misunderstand or mismanage the articles concerned.  For instance, Ryle and Fortey (unsurprisingly through their close, inherited connection - but see also below) both have the following stanza:

In all London printings, the gun ‘miss’d fire’.  In all the horse was grey - and in Ryle, Paul and Fortey there is the line ‘With bridle and saddle and my two legs across’ ... Hodges, however, has the last phrase as ‘with two straps across’.

One battle is cited - ‘Bolloyinch’ in Ryle and Fortey and ‘balloy I Inch’ [sic] in Paul and Hodges - which could have been a reference to the battle of Ballinahinch, 15th June 1798, involving the United Irishmen of County Down and at which government forces triumphed.   It does look as if some sort of vague gesture towards the 1798 insurrection was being made - though Vinegar Hill was not mentioned.  Whatever, ‘the smoke was so thick and the fire was so hot’ that ‘Pat could’t [sic] fire for fear he’d be shot.’

Then, up then comes a sergeant to whom the recruit tells his story and, likewise, a colonel to whom he gives his name and country, adding that ‘my father and mother were two Irishmen’.  After this, abruptly, the recruit sails off to the north ... actually back to Ireland ... to ‘dig murphies again’.

The outlines of the particular form of text do suggest a connection, if not a close one textually, with the Pitts nexus; but, conversely, as well as the bend in the narrative line, there are, as indicated, several differences amongst texts of The Irish Recruit from the London printers.  Ryle may be cited first:

Fortey’s copy has the same pattern, as indeed it has throughout bar small alterations.  Two particular features of expression in both sets of text may be set out.  When the recruit straddles his horse and tips it with his steel, then, ‘Thuro-mon dale she will ride to the de’il’.  And the recruit had evidently served ‘seven long years, thank God its not ten’ (Fortey; ’tis’ in Ryle).  Paul’s text again follows the same pattern throughout and includes the ‘Thuro-mon da;e’ [sic] line and seven years’ service though, in one of the myriad changes that broadside printers made in general as a text was handled, regurgitated and mis-handled, he has ‘broggs’ and ‘broogs’, not ‘clogs’; and, in the final stanza the recruit sails off to the ‘Nore’ rather than the ‘north’ and the text declares that things will ‘quickly be o’er’.

Hodges is a little different in the beginning:

Similarly, when the recruit encounters the sergeant and, in Ryle and Fortey, the line is ‘Och, sergeant, says I, can’t you tip me the fist’, in Hodges it is, ‘Wisha cush la machree, will you tip me your fist’.

One might also surmise a genuine ‘corruption’ in the last line of the next stanza of the Ryle and Fortey texts where (my italics) we find:

whereas in the Hodges text, it is, perhaps more ‘sensibly’: Paul printed the last line as above thus: In Hodges, though, there is then an extra stanza: (the appearance of a bayonet again makes more ‘sense’ of the tipping of the horse).  The red coat stanza in Hodges is, again, a little different in expression to the other London printings: The similarities and differences amongst the gun and horse stanzas have already been mentioned and the stanzas with the sergeant’s next appearance and that of the colonel are also close in expression in all printings.  In the battle stanza the opening line in Hodges is: ‘On Vinegar Hill; in Ballinamuck’, thus both recalling to the Pitts nexus form where the line is ‘in a battle of muck’ but which may also be introducing a new element - Ballinamuck, in fact, was the site of the battle, on the 18th June 1798, at which French and Irish troops under General Humbert, surrendered to British forces.

There are differences in various refrains which bespeak different tunes, either in the minds of a hack, a printer or, after issue of the text, found by the singer.

The point is that, overall, in comparison to the texts of The Frolic(k)some Irishman, the London printers, each adopting the same narrative outline which, as has been shown, is more extensive than that in The Frolic(k)some Irishman, also inserted different ‘Irishisms’ and indicated different geographical locations - perhaps, then, exploiting the existing text and as material from the imagination rather than grounded in any genuine historical actuality with 1798 as a background.  So that we have two distinct outline forms of text at hand - The Frolic(k)some Irishman and The Irish Recruit - and the distribution of printings looks to be particularly circumscribed.  In respect of dates of operation of the London printers, Annie Ryle, Catnach’s sister, took over from him in 1838.  Paul was manager under Annie Ryle and became a partner during 1844-5 before the firm reverted to the Ryle name.   Fortey eventually inherited in 1860.  Hodges began printing in 1839.11  Since no Catnach text of The Irish Recruit has been found one has to assume that his successors initiated production.  From this collection of dates it would appear that texts of The Irish Recruit came later than The Frolic(k)some Irishman.  It is worth noting that, despite such close connections amongst printers, so many small changes in layout and expression occurred - they surely parallel the changes made as oral versions were disseminated and indicate that print, therefore, did not necessarily confer an unchallengeable format.

Nor, so far, has the title The Kerry Recruit surfaced and it is only when we encounter Irish broadside printings that it does emerge - Birmingham and Nugent in Dublin and Haly in Cork are the sources.   Birmingham was printing ballads at 92 Thomas Street in Dublin between 1849 and 1854; John Francis Nugent is more difficult to pin down but seems to have been printing at roughly the same time, both as himself and as ‘and Co.’.   Haly, in Cork, was known to have been active during the late 1840s.12  It is hardly possible to be absolute in terms of printing dates but the internal evidence as discussed below suggests that Irish printings emerged after The Froli(ck)some Irishman and The Irish Recruit.

One copy of The Kerry Recruit (as it can be found at the University of Sheffield Library) is from Birmingham in Dublin.  There are at least four other printings in the National Library of Ireland, none with an imprint, which echo the Birmingham text.  Two others in the Bodleian Allegro archive have slightly changed text - from Nugent and Haly.13

In Irish printings there are expressions which have a rather more intensely ‘Irish’ ring to those encountered in either The Frolic(k)some Irishman or The Irish Recruit.  For example, when ‘up comes a sergeant’ who ‘asks (asked) me to ‘list’’, there is a distinctive reply (my italics):

Following this exchange, ‘Kimmens’ - or ‘kimmeens’ is, evidently, a derivative of the Irish siomanna  which indicates pretences.

Another Irish-type expression can be found:

- ‘och mavrone’ in another version, deriving, it appears from the Irish phrase mo bhron - my sorrow; and, yet again: - ‘cleaveens’ in another version, the term being a plural of cliamhain, meaning a relation by marriage.  Add to this the references to ‘brogues’ and also less clearly marked linguistic phrases in the following lines as further evidence of the tone (again, my italics): with the obvious feminine identity, and and, finally, All these excerpts correspond with the known Birmingham broadside and furnish a clear ‘Irish’ - more exactly, Anglo-Irish - flavour in expression.

What is even more striking about all Irish broadsides, though - and what suggests a definite time for printing - is that after the recruit is introduced to coat and gun, there is no horse stanza but, instead, the recruit is taken down to the sea where he encounters a ship bound for the Crimea.

There follow stanzas detailing his Crimean experience: at Balaclava, at the Alma and at Inkerman and then at the Redan where the army was ‘whaled’ by the Russians and where the recruit lost an eye and a leg.  Finally, after a stanza revealing heads, arms and legs lying scattered around, Obviously, the song has taken on a new character entirely.  It does look as though, in printing history, we are watching an English concoction making its way over to Ireland to be adopted and adapted.  Certainly, no English broadside texts contain these details and tentative dating, as above, favours the earlier appearance for those English texts.

There was yet a further ‘change’ in the text in which the twin title of The Kerry Recruit or The Lawyer Outwitted appeared in both England and Ireland but, in this case, the narrative is not the same.  The text has a story line where the recruit is conned when the sergeant gives him a shilling for a drink and claims that the poor man has enlisted and when, subsequently, the recruit re-enacts the scene in front of a judge, a Mr Flynn, who, taking the shilling from the recruit in the course of the demonstration, is himself designated as being enlisted; whereupon he returns the shilling, gives the recruit ‘one pound one’ and absolves him of his ‘bargain’.  Lastly, in this text, the recruit is described in his civilian guise as a ‘spalpeen fornach’ (Disley) or ‘fanagh’ (the Irish imprint).  Perhaps there is here a case of an extended exploitation of the joke.  Certainly songs were spawned with the title of An Spailpin Fanach, a record of the wanderings of a poor labourer, often at harvest time; but in one version, at least, the spailpin joins the army and the tale of exile is grim enough.  Where dating of this particular form of ‘recruit’ text is concerned, Disley, who printed it and called it, merely, The Kerry Recruit, set up on his own in the late 1850s and his copy of this ballad must, then, have come after the appearance of The Frolic(k)some Irishman and The Irish Recruit.  The references are very specific to the middle of the nineteenth century - fighting for Queen Victoria; John Bull, The Russians, British troops fighting at Inkerman.   Haly also printed a copy and orthodoxy suggests that Irish printers, in the main, copied those from England - we cannot be quite sure.16. 

In sum, we do seem to be approaching a hierarchy in dating of the available broadsides with The Kerry Recruit in its singular guise and with its double title looking to be last in the printing stakes.

When sung versions are considered as they surfaced especially during the years of the English ‘folk song’ Revival - our major source in the history of traditional songs and singing - we find that they parallel two of the three forms of text discussed above.  Firstly, there are two sung versions which are very similar to The Frolic(k)some Irishman nexus.  These are in the collections of Percy Grainger and were noted from George Leaning and George Gouldthorpe and have similar titles: Digging Turf Land and Digging Torf Land.17  They follow the Pitts nexus narrative line except that the fifth stanza, referring to the general and a review, is missing.  Instead, lines from it and the fourth Pitts stanza become entangled.  Mr Leaning sang:

and this is paralleled in Mr Gouldthorpe’s text (the first two lines are ‘from’ the Pitts stanza four).

Each version has a reference to Vinegar Hill and we recall the same reference in broadside copies.  It seems unlikely that either Mr Leaning or Mr Gouldthorpe would have been aware of the full significance of this reference since, in the two sets of relevant lines, Mr Leaning sang:

and Mr Gouldthorpe, which, at best, could be described as puzzling; though, apart from the one accountable geographical reference and although this may be thought a strained line of thought, there might just be an echo of ‘Ballinamuck’ (rather than ‘Balloyinch’).  The ‘good luck’ phrase suggests another connection to the Frolic(k)some texts.

In both Lincolnshire versions, the protagonist has ‘clogs’ on his feet - as the Frolic(k)some ... texts also have it - and he is a ‘roving young blade’ (Leaning) and ‘a likely young lad’ (Gouldthorpe) who was ‘digging turf on the lea’.

Further, in his second stanza, Mr Leaning sang:

and Mr Gouldthorpe, These lines again parallel those in the Pitts nexus and contrast sharply with lines in Irish printings as described here.  Both Lincolnshire versions conclude in a distinctive fashion - in Mr Leaning’s case, as follows: and, in Mr Gouldthorpe’s case, which two latter lines are repeated.  These endings clearly echo both the Pitts nexus - and the version of The Rambler from Clare - as discussed already.  Despite the Vinegar Hill references, it does seem that it is the generic nature of text, its place in the imagination rather than in historical actuality, which is prominent and that the reference is by way of being an oral extension.

In turning to other sung versions from the Revival period we find that the two fullest southern English ones are very similar in form to the broadside texts of The Irish Recruit.  One of these is that noted by Alfred Williams which begins as follows:

The protagonist, as can be seen, just as he does in the Lincolnshire texts, wears ‘clogs’ which is one more possible link in the chain between The Frolic(k)some Irishman and The Irish Recruit.

In answer to the recruit, the sergeant offers ‘five golden guineas’.  There follow lines protesting about ‘quarters’; and then the incremental episodes occur with coat, gun and horse.  In the latter case,

A captain is then introduced who ‘ ... ordered me straight to fall out of the ranks’; then a corporal to whom the recruit tells his story and uncovers his birth to ‘two Irishmen’; and, finally, the recruit packs up his ‘traps’ - after having served nine years - and goes back to Ireland ‘digging murphies again’.

The Williams version may be compared to one from a Mr Carpenter as found in the Clive Carey manuscript collection.  The bumpkin element is certainly emphasised in both: the joke about ‘quarters’ and being quartered; the bewilderment over the cockade (‘cockay’ in Mr Carpenter’s version); the firing of the gun; and the shock of being placed on a horse.  The Carpenter version refers to ‘the battle of Blarney’ - which suggests a relatively superficial gesture in terms of location; and it has a sergeant rather than a corporal asking the recruit’s name whereupon he is told that ‘my father and mother were true Irishmen’.  Mr Carpenter also has seven years’ service and the Recruit speaks of ‘a neat little barge sailing off to the North’.  A handwritten copy alongside a fair copy had ‘barge’ not ‘barque’ in the final stanza.  The latter may have been a mishearing or an editorial liberty.  It was not likely to have been a ‘mistake’ on the handwritten copy since the writer (was it Carey himself, perhaps?) included the apostrophe in ‘’Tis’, and spelled words such as ‘quarters’, ‘sergeant’ and ‘brogues’ correctly.  Mr Carpenter’s final line reads:

which has its own distinctive linguistic tang (my italics).19

Neither the Williams nor the Carey versions mention injuries such as were described in Irish broadside versions.

Apart from these two versions the only other evidence for the song’s circulation in England during the Revival years rests in fragments.   There are lines, without a tune, which came from a Mr John Childs:

In the first place here, the opening lines here could well have come from a different song altogether although there is some resemblance to other known texts as discussed above; and the phrase, ‘buxom young lad’, is an unlikely one in the context and, predictably, is not found in other versions: it is much more a stock phrase.  In the second place, whilst the use of the phrase, ‘Up steps ... ’, could be said to be characteristic of narrative form, the phrase, ‘When you gets,’ is not of the same order and, linguistically, is a typically southern English manifestation.  These two aspects, undistinguished pieces of evidence in themselves, nonetheless, indicate expression which contradicts any supposed Irish flavour and more of a grounding in the English vernacular which process, in turn, represents oral transmission.

Another set of fragments was got from Mrs Marina Russell by the Hammonds in Dorset. The lines are as follows:

These contrast with the Williams, Carpenter and Childs sung versions but - if not exactly - come near to the Lincolnshire ones.  In a note, Frank Purslow, editing the Hammond manuscripts, expressed uncertainty about the lines but thought that those beginning ‘The milk was so hot ... ’ corresponded sufficiently closely as to be identified with others including ‘The balls were so hot ... ’ and so on from a copy of The Kerry Recruit.  We can now see more clearly that the Russell fragments correspond with lines from The Frolicsome Irishman.  There is no simple acquisition of the text by singers whether by oral means or even if we surmise direct transmission from text.

There are three versions of the song in Gavin Greig’s collections, entitled, respectively, The Irish Recruit, The Listing of the Spademan and Paddy Turned Soldier.22  The first looks to be a version of The Irish Recruit alright but lacks certain incremental stanzas, has changed expression - a fairly obvious development anyway given location and the exigencies of transmission - and finishes, similarly, in a way suggesting oral change:

The final line here reminds us of a similar sentiment in the texts of the Frolic(k)some texts.

The Listing of The Spademan complicates matters once again for it seems even more than the version just noted to be compounded of lines from both The Frolicksome Irishman and The Irish Recruit.  For example, we find the Irishisms - ‘genius’ and ‘great gramachree’ (but not ‘shillelah’).  Then, in contrast, after a drill stanza comes one about handling a gun which ends:  ‘But before that I fire I fall down on my knees’.  There is, though, in this version, nothing more.

The third copy can be associated a little more clearly with The Frolic(k)some Irishman since it contains Irishisms as listed above (not ‘shillelah’, mind), a drill stanza, and the following variant :

Yet the reference to ‘vinegall’ tends to suggest that if there was a one-time specific Irish connotation it was not maintained.  Again, we are back in the realms of a generic text.  Again, too, we are looking at oral transmission.

Finally, though, in this particular text, there is, firstly, a lurch towards the Irish Recruit ... versions since ‘This nine years are over, I’m glad it wisna ten’.  Even so, secondly, ‘Here’s a health to the Queen ... ’ links the version with the Frolic(k)some nexus again.   If the reference to the Queen is taken at face value then there may be a date in the offing when the particular text journeyed north.  Taking the continuing swapping of references and the Queen’s name together it would stand to reason that varied means of acquisition - most probably oral - occurred and the historical descent seems to have involved two of the three forms of text outlined above.

This is very speculative.  Nonetheless, a look at Irish broadsides and Irish sung versions seems to confirm that any Scots versions of the song, whether they were disseminated via or were influenced by broadsides, or through oral dissemination, came from England, not from Ireland.  That is: in the nature of absorption from either text or oral source, none of the details noted in connection with Irish broadsides or, as will be seen, in Irish sung versions, which refer to the Crimea occur in Greig’s three versions; nor are the more extreme ‘Irishisms’ included; but, as demonstrated, Greig texts can be linked to English broadside texts through form of expression.  Greig’s texts, too, would seem to have been acquired at a relatively late date, after English broadsides appeared.  Their individual nature, finally, suggests ways in which oral transmission appears to have worked out.

None of the above sung versions, English or Scottish, use texts which could be associated with the form, The Kerry Recruit or Lawyer Outwitted.  This text seems to have disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared.  There is, however, a development in respect of the content of The Kerry Recruit.  The catalogue of injuries in The Kerry Recruit is paralleled in the song Mrs McGrath. 23  The significant references here are to Don John, The King of Spain and The King of France ... which gives us a wide choice of periods for genesis.  The song, My Son John (the Australian singer, Sally Sloane, had it as My Son Ted24) includes similar material.  Interestingly, with regard to My Son, John, in Fred Hamer’s book, Garners Gay, he wrote that the brother of his informant, David Parrott, ‘produced evidence that this was sung by an ancestor ... who had served at Waterloo’ and that this ancestor ‘invites us to imagine that this is the conversation that takes place when a father takes his son, wounded at Trafalgar, before a naval surgeon ... ’.25  In total, this may be thought to muddy the waters as far as the pedigree of The Kerry Recruit is concerned but the broadside evidence of how the song spread still seems clear enough and there is no reason to suppose that these variations on a ground-base appeared before The Frolic(k)some Irishman.  They might well have emerged at around the time of the Crimean war and the appearance of The Kerry Recruit and become attached, in the imagination, to past events.

Of Irish versions other than on broadside there is little to say.  The song does not appear in Joyce (Old Irish Folk Music, 1909: a standard collection), for example, and, since Joyce consistently delved into his childhood past - roughly during the 1830s - this might confirm the late appearance of the text in Ireland as exemplified by broadside issue.  Of more modern versions, O’Lochlainn does have a text - in line with Irish broadsides.26  Sam Henry (Songs of the People) did not print it.  James Healy’s printed version is the same as that found in the Irish (Birmingham) broadside versions - and is of the same character as that in O’Lochlainn.27  Later still, in publishing terms, Hugh Shields printed a version which left out the Crimean references and instead had the recruit listed to India.28  Even more recently, Tom Munnelly published a version from Tom Lenihan which, textually, is like that of O’Lochlainn.29  In the case of each text we are facing derivations from a known quantity on broadside whether or not the particular version, like O’Lochlainn’s and Tom Lenihan’s, was learned orally.

As for tunes, in England that from Mrs Russell appears to be cut specifically for the fragment of her text and Mr Carpenter’s tune for his text - though, in this case, Carey’s transcription, about which he admits to having doubts, does not actually fit easily - perhaps imperfectly recalled on the occasion of notation but which, with a very simple adjustment in singing terms, can, in fact, work smoothly enough.  The two tunes have some structural similarities and one or two phrases offer mutual echoes.  The two Lincolnshire tunes, very close to each other, underlining the possibility of a common source, enjoy a morsel of the same rhythm to other English tunes but nothing else.  Naturally, one wonders where these Lincolnshire versions came from.  It is worth recalling that Lincolnshire was a favourite meeting-point for harvesters from Ireland during the nineteenth century.   One commentator made the point that Irish migrant labour in the Lincolnshire area maintained a presence from 1815 on, declining between 1850 and 1870, when it fell off considerably as agricultural depressions occurred.   However, it seems that the labourers came from the poorest western parts of Ireland.   Another commentator made the further point that the majority of those from these western areas still spoke Irish.  So that, despite the coincidence of Irish labour and the song’s dissemination, it is likely that the song in question came from an English source. 30

All the English tunes, in six-eight time (that is, using conventional musical terms), are quite different to those in Greig, which march on in four-square time; and whilst Irish tunes are all in six-eight rhythm they have no melodic phrases in common.   In the end, the tunes vary much more than they correspond to the point where no useful comparison can be made.  There is nothing here to suggest that any one tune had become a constant companion for the text as was the case with some songs (The Bonny Bunch of Roses, The Enniskillen Dragoon, Erin’s Lovely Home ... ): not surprising given the variation in pedigree and suggestive of a singer reaching out for the nearest available tune.

Ultimately, then, as a nineteenth century phenomenon, we have at least two out of three forms of the text circulating which are loosely paralleled by two forms of sung versions - the legacy of which can be found in later twentieth century versions.  In total, the songs began as generic comment; but, until Irish printings were issued, there was no reference at all to the Crimea, in which connection, the title, The Kerry Recruit, emerged.  Even in this small history the convolutions of transmission through print and, one assumes, oral dissemination, are apparent.  Yet, in this particular case, given the printing histories adduced above and the relatively late evidence for oral circulation, it is hard to resist making the suggestion that known sung texts did, in fact, derive from those initiated in print.  This need not necessarily surprise us.  Otherwise, as on so many occasions, matters of genesis and pedigree, of absorption and adaptation, are relatively inconclusive in the huge task that is faced in unravelling the workings of tradition and the individual talent.

Roly Brown - 31.10.03
Massignac, France,

Article MT130


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