Article MT149

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No. 11: The Croppy Boy1

In two previous pieces in this series, discussing the songs Fanny Blair and The Kerry Recruit2, an attempt was made to present something of a morphology of text, indicating possible genesis and pedigree and going on to consider how oral and broadside versions of each song may have influenced each other.  A third strand in the discussion was to try to work out whether the song-texts as broadside had an origin in Ireland or England.  These processes are repeated below in a consideration of how broadside printers seem to have reacted to an incident located during the 1798 rising in Ireland. 

The story of the 'Croppy Boy', one supposes, is a generic one although historical evidence suggests that it could be based on facts, even if they had been collated.  In terms of immediate genesis or concoction some time afterwards as broadside the evidence seems to point towards retrospection.  In England, taking Pitts and Catnach as examples of printers whose eyes lit on most possibilities we find that Pitts printed a version from 6 Great St.  Andrew street to which premises he had not moved before 1819.  It is possible that he inherited stock, including The Croppy Boy, from the Evans family, and even printed for others, but no such copy can be identified (The Croppy Boy did appear in Pitts' 1836 catalogue).  Catnach, we know, operated from 2 Monmouth Court after 1813 which is where his version of the piece was printed (it appeared in Catnach's 1832 list).3 In England, no other extant printings of The Croppy Boy pre-date the second decade of the nineteenth century as a potential date of issue - Martin in London; Catnach's successor, Paul; Pitts' successor, Birt; Fortey, Disley, Such; Willey in Cheltenham, Pratt, Wright and Russell in Birmingham, Henson in Northampton, Keys in Devonport, Williams in Portsea, Harkness in Preston, Ross and Fordyce in Newcastle (although Fordyce will sustain another look).  The London printers after Catnach and Pitts look most likely to have inherited.  Willey had finished printing by 1837, Russell by 1839.  Pratt began in 1845, Harkness in the 1840s.  Keys gets us a little nearer to date of genesis.  He began printing around 1830 (and continued into the 1870s).  In his case, too, a network of agents can be found, beginning with Stone, an Exeter bookseller, in or around 1832; and at this stage Keys was operating from 7 James Street, Devonport, from where at least two printings of The Croppy Boy were issued.  In 1833 Keys moved to 10 James Street.  This all begins to give us a focus for first issue around or before 1830.  The piece, it should be added, also appeared in several catalogues additional to those of printers already mentioned - Hook, Walker in Newcastle, Pearson in Manchester, Lindsay in Glasgow and Sanderson in Edinburgh; but none of these either pre-date Pitts or Catnach.4

And in terms of Irish printings, one from Cork and the other, seemingly, from Dublin, since it is most likely that they appeared during the 1840s, they could not have predated Pitts and Catnach.5

This might all suggest genesis as print in the Pitts or Catnach stables or (and) in oral circulation of a song beforehand.

These English printed versions work, as already noted, in a generic mode (in contrast, there is an accumulation of specifics in Irish printings which is absent from English broadsides).  But internal evidence also indicates that, whilst the outline narrative is the same in all broadside versions, there are different kinds of issue, with the majority of printings following (the word is used tentatively) that of Catnach - Fortey, Disley, Martin, Such, Willey, Russell, Henson, Ross and Keys.6 In the case of Willey, we know that Catnach used him as an agent so it could well be that the piece was transferred directly.7 In Pitts and Birt copies and in a copy from Williams in Portsea8 certain different phrases occur in the narrative and there is one stanza which does not feature in the (possible) Catnach nexus and is briefly discussed below.  Pratt and Wright are not easily categorised and Fordyce, it turns out, has a different approach altogether, as will be seen.  This is, as well, to accept differences in orthography such as 'tried' for 'try'd' and 'passed' for 'pass'd' which lie scattered throughout the printings.

In terms of narrative outline, the 'boy', un-named, is apprehended as a rebel in Wexford, scene of early success during the rising for the Irish before the decisive rout of their forces at Vinegar Hill, on the outskirts of Enniscorthy, on 20th-22nd June 1798; and it appears that there was some sort of betrayal involved which led to his imprisonment and appearance on the gallows.  This is in keeping with other Irish song-matter about the rising where the idea of betrayal was rife - in General Munroe, The Bold Belfast Shoemaker, In Collon I Was Taken, Paid O'Donoghue, The Song of Prosperous, Dunlavin Green and so on.9

Where the boy's apprehension is concerned, the usual first stanza in The Croppy Boy refers to a time in the year before Vinegar Hill:

It was early, early in the spring,
The birds did whistle and sweetly sing,
Changing their notes from tree to tree,
And the song they sung was Old Ireland Free…
This is from Pitts and is followed by Birt as successor.10 Williams of Portsea had only 'It was early in the spring'.  Catnach, followed by all the others mentioned in his connection above had 'It was very early in the spring…' and no capital letters on 'old' and 'free' (Such - a late example of a printer who does not, therefore, count in terms of positing possible genesis - had 'old Ireland's free' in his opening stanza, unique in printings both in England and Ireland, but not in song-matter, where the consensus is, otherwise, absolute).11

We cannot, at this stage, discount the possibility that the setting of this piece was that of convention amongst broadsides.  One recalls, for instance, the lines, 'All early, early in the spring, I went on board to serve my king…' (see also David Marlow below) - couched as song in the same metre as The Croppy Boy and canvassed by Zimmerman as My Boy Willie, printed by O'Lochlainn.  Zimmerman is at pains to emphasise the nature of The Croppy Boy as a lyrical piece close to oral confection with a lack of connected motivational material and arrangement, instead, in incremental scenes.12 All this cements the generic form of the piece.

And in keeping with this apparently generic mode, Catnach has the boy taken, simply, 'early in the night' and this phrasing is followed by all other printers save Pitts, Birt and Williams who insist, more specifically, on a time 'early, early on Tuesday night'; and Fordyce, who is, again, different (below).

In all copy it was the 'yeoman Cavalry' that 'gave me a fright' (Fortey transmogrified the latter phrase to 'fight'13).  Usually, 'I was taken by Lord Cornwall' but Pitts again, Birt and Williams actually have 'Lord Cromwall'.  This may or may not have been a printer's error but - speculatively - the name might well have had echoes of 'Cromwell', an understandable metamorphosis.

In respect of the name, 'Cornwall', it is usually thought that this is an adaptation of 'Cornwallis' and would, therefore, have referred to Charles, first Marquis and second Earl (1738-1805), governor-general of India and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from May 1798.  Previously, Cornwallis had served in America where he had the dubious distinction, for a British officer, of surrendering to the American forces at Yorktown in 1781: an event which appears to have been the result of blunders made by others.  Alfred Williams, alongside his notation of text (see below), wrote that it was Cornwallis who 'effectively suppressed' the 'rebellion' in Ireland which, in outline, is true, though Cornwallis did not arrive in Dublin from England until June 20th 1798 exactly concurrent with General Lake's victory at Vinegar Hill.  Lake, indeed, had already been engaged in a ruthless campaign against the insurrectionists which did not stop and which was the cause of much lasting bitterness.  By all accounts, Cornwallis himself was more restrained and 'followed one simple rule, namely, to punish the ringleaders, and spare their unfortunate dupes.  The clemency of his character was shown in this policy…' He was particularly vigorous is rooting out corruption amongst officials in Ireland and was responsible for carrying the Act of Union of 1801 after which he returned to India.  There, before he could actually take up the reins once more, he died on 5th October 1805.14

However, if this is Lord Cornwallis' history during the rising it might not be that it was he who was being referred to and, in this regard, there is another alternative.  There was a Robert Cornwall acting as leader of a contingent of yeomen soldiers at Myshall, County Carlow, not far from Wexford.15 If this was the man involved, it would make sense of a reference to Myshall given below in connection with one Irish version of the song - it has to be said: in connection with that version only which leaves open the possibility that the connection was made, like the version of the song, after the event.  And would English broadside printers be likely to have such local knowledge?  The odds, still, remain with Lord Cornwallis.

Continuing: in the texts of The Croppy Boy, after the Cornwall stanza, there is one detailing the process which followed apprehension - the example this time is from Catnach

'Twas in a guard-house where I was laid,
And in a parlour where I was try'd.
My sentence pass'd, and my courage low,
When to Dungannon I was forc'd to go.
Martin, Disley, Willey, Keys and Russell followed this pattern.  To confuse the issue slightly, Fortey (after Catnach), had 'the' guard-house and 'a' parlour and Henson had the same.  Ross actually had 'in guard-house' and 'a' parlour'.

Pitts and Birt had :

It was in the guardhouse where I was laid,
And in the parlour where I was try'd,
My sentence pass'd and my spirits low,
When to Dungannon I was forc'd to go.
Williams had 'guard house', 'past' and 'Dunganon'.  Despite the slight shifts in orthography which must simply illustrate how different printers apprehended a piece or paid scant attention to previous copy the substance is the same (one may add that there are other examples of these slight differences throughout the texts under review but it would be tedious to enumerate them all).

Where, then, the next stanza employs familiar broadside imagery and, therefore, a generic mode, it is, again, apart from orthographical differences, consistent in all texts, introducing a brother, always named William, an 'aged father' and a 'tender mother' who 'her hair she tore'.

The next stanza (the example is from Catnach) is a crucial one where the narrative is concerned since:

As I was walking up Wexford street,
My own first cousin I chanc'd to meet;
My own first cousin did me betray
And for one bare guinea swore my life away.
There is a variant in wording involving the usage of the word 'bare' as description of the guinea, a feature of all printings (including that of Wright - see below) save those of Pitts and Birt - Williams included the word 'bare' which immediately distances him in part from Pitts and Birt; but the central idea of betrayal is consistent in all texts.

And in the next stanza, in all cases, English or Irish, the sister is named, in generic fashion in the same way that 'Polly' or 'Nancy' might be used and as 'William' appears to have been used in connection with the boy's brother - in this case as 'Mary'.  One more intriguing point, though, is that in Catnach's version and those of his nexus, the sister runs up stairs in her 'mourning' gown…but, in the Pitts version, down stairs in her 'morning' gown.  Whether 'mourning' was meant to convey an emotional state is by no means clear and, by the same token, 'morning' might suggest a particular code of dress which might be thought unlikely where a presumably poor Irish family was concerned and may, therefore, be thought to have been a printer's or singer's addition with no close regard for strict actuality;

The sister, by the way, offered five hundred guineas to see the boy.  This mirrors the way in which money was referred to in other songs such as Erin's Lovely Home - various hundreds, thousands… and may be put down to a printer's imagination: certainly not to authenticity.

The remaining stanzas indicate how the boy was 'walking' up Wexford hill - 'walked' in Martin; 'marching' in Pitts, Birt, Williams and Wright (but see Fordyce below) - looking behind and before and realising that 'my tender mother I will never see more ' (Pitts) .  Then he is mounted on the scaffold high and, surprisingly, perhaps, 'My aged father did me deny' (Catnach and Pitts)… What pain is contained in these simple words if, indeed, they do reflect actuality.

The final stanza is the same in all versions although 'for' in the final line is sometimes different (Williams has 'on', thus following Catnach; for example):

It was in Dungannon the young man died
And in Dungannon his body lies.
All you good Christians that do pass by,
Pray drop a tear for the Croppy Boy.
Where the name, 'Dungannon', is concerned, it is more likely in actuality to have been 'Duncannon' since, geographically, there was a barracks on the Wexford side of Waterford Harbour at Duncannon, heavily invested by the British and used also as a prison for rebels during the most volatile progress of the 1798 insurrection.  Pakenham gives the information that the fort at Duncannon was rebuilt to an extent so that its guns faced the sea in order to counteract any threat of French invasion - and French invasion was what England feared most at the time of the Irish rising.  The name 'Duncannon' is, in fact, repeated in Irish versions of the song (below).16

One further point to note is that in the Catnach nexus the word 'Christians' begins with a lower case letter - suggesting imitation amongst printers.

Given the parameters as set out above, it is clear that Williams did not 'follow' either Pitts or Catnach and, in a similar manner, Wright, Pratt and Fordyce do not entirely conform to any one pattern.

Nearest to conformity is Pratt.  At least two copies exist17 and whilst one copy contains a number of printing errors the other has been tightened up to fall in with the Catnach pattern.  Principally, in the one copy the printer had trouble with a recurrent 'f' - 'It was early for the spring'; very oddly, 'Dunfennon' in stanza three where 'Dungannon' is clearly marked in the final stanza; 'Wexford fhill…but the storyline is consistent and follows Catnach in its progress.

Wright, on the other hand, appears, generally, to have 'followed' Pitts although he did not set the text out in separate stanzas.  Then, too, he had 'Lord Cornwall' and 'a' guardhouse and a variant stanza as follows:

As I was passing my father's door,
My brother William stood on the floor,
My aged father did grieve full sore,
And my tender mother her hair she tore
If this suggests anything it is that when a printer did vary his text he might, nevertheless, employ familiar broadside phraseology - 'did grieve full sore'.  If so, a generic tone is again proposed.

Wright also introduced the phrase, 'bare guinea', as found in the Catnach nexus: and; unaccountably, had 'But my tender I'll see no more…'.  He cannot, then, be quite pinned down.  Yet the significant point about Wright is that he employed the particular stanza that Pitts, Birt and Williams did and other printers did not (below).18

Fordyce is, in the terms set out above, something of a mystery.  We can allow for his use of 'f' is place of 's'; but his text has several distinctive features, beginning in the first stanza, where

It was early in the flowery fpring, [fing,
When the fmall birds whiftled & fweet did…
In the second stanza the boy was taken 'early, early laft Thurfday night' - Thursday appeared in a printing from Nugent in Dublin but nowhere else (below).  In the third stanza the boy was forced to go to 'New Guinea', a designation which leaves us to speculate about Fordyce's apprehension of text in whatever guise.  Then there comes a stanza not found in any other English printing (but see below in connection with Nugent in Dublin):
As I was marching through the ftreet,
The drums and fifes did play fo fweet -
The drums and fifes did fo fweetly play,
When to New Guinea I was forc'd to go.
The aged father 'did grieve full fore' and Mary ran 'down ftairs in her morning drefs'.  But there is no stanza indicating that a cousin denied the boy.  The boy then marched over 'Wexford-hills' - looking back and forwards 'But my tender mother I ne'er saw more'…a change in tense.  The viewpoint then switched to that of an observer describing how 'he was mounted on the gallows high' (my italics) before reverting to the usual final lines.19

Fordyce, then, like Wright, can not be pinned down, seeming to have taken from varied sources and to have manipulated his text.  Even here, because Ross 'followed' Catnach, no proposition can be advanced that a northern form of the text was issued as with Fanny Blair.  And, finally, Fordyce, like Wright, did include the stanza found in Pitts, Birt and Williams but not in the Catnach nexus:

I chofe the dark, and I chofe the blue,
I chofe the pink and the orange too -
I forfook them all, and did them deny,
And I wore the green, and for it muft die.
One surmises the colours of soldiery here, clinched by the adoption of green.  Officers in volunteer regiments sometimes wore regimentals - blue and red, certainly - but 'pink' seems to be entirely out of place and this stanza, therefore, might just reflect a borrowing from another song altogether, perhaps in a similar way to the opening lines of the piece.  Green as a colour was adopted by the Irish during the eighteenth century and Zimmermman has linked it with shamrock as an emblem.20

Ultimately, the English texts, despite the two main lines of descent and the small differences apparent and despite the rogue element in Fordyce, are consistent in storyline.  The same applies to two extant Irish printings.  Here, though, detail has accrued (and Fordyce re-enters the frame).  There are the usual orthographic differences, of course, but the phraseology is sometimes distinctive and there is new material added which changes the character of the story.

Following stanza order, one broadside from Cork21 begins:

It was early, early in the spring,
When the small birds tune and thrushes sing…
The second stanza reads:
It was early, early on Tuesday night,
When the yeomen cavalry gave me a fright;
To my misfortune and sad downfall,
I was taken prisoner by Lord Cornwall…
These opening lines remind us of the Pitts printing but then changes occur.  The boy was 'led' to the guardhouse and then, significantly, as will be seen, 'To New Geneva I was forced to go…', an idea taken up in the final stanza.  And, in a later stanza one line becomes changed to 'As I was going up Croppy Hill…' (looking before and behind), an unmistakeable designation.  It is only after this - as far as narrative sequence is concerned - that the sister runs downstairs and, what is more, offering but one hundred guineas to see the boy 'liberated' in Wexford town.  Significantly in comparison with most English copy, the choosing stanza follows - the 'black' and the 'blue'…'And I'll wear the green like a croppy boy' (my italics)…the final phrase once more establishing specifics of an Irish dimension.

With regard to the nomination, 'Croppy', Zimmerman suggests that this is the title given to those who wore their hair cropped at the back of the head in the style made popular in France during the 1790s as an indication of Jacobin sympathy.  In 1798 this was considered to be a sign of 'disaffection'.22

New material in the Cork printing includes this farewell stanza:

Farewell father and mother too,
And sister Mary, I have but you,
As for my brother, he is all alone -
He's pointing pikes on a grinding stone.
This is a rare suggestion - that another member of the family was involved in the rising and, yet again, a clear Irish dimension is invoked in the reference to pikes.  Following on, we see, too, that there is no material relating to the father's denial nor the mounting of a scaffold but that the Cork printing has a different ending to that in English broadsides:
It was in Geneva this young man died,
And in Geneva his body lies.
All good Christians that are standing by
Pray the Lord have mercy on the Croppy Boy.
Zimmerman pointed out that New Geneva 'is near the village of Passage, County Waterford.  A colony of Genevese settled there in 1793, but they soon left for America.  The place was occupied by the British military, and used as a prison and a torture house in 1798.  Its ruins are still called "New Geneva" or "Geneva Barracks”'.23 This suggests local knowledge in both printing and sung version.  Zimmerman added that in some American versions of the song the boy is sent to 'New Guinea' which idea invokes Fordyce: one supposes that 'New Guinea' could have derived from 'New Geneva' or that Fordyce had different sources - his individual touches still intrigue.24

The only other Irish printing found is very much changed, couched in the first person except in its final stanza.  It begins with apprehension by 'The cavelry' (sic) and invokes 'duncanon' ('duncannon' in the final stanza) but does include some of the familiar elements…the sister, Mary, 'got an express' and laid down two thousand pounds; and:

As I was walking on the mountains high,
I looked around me at every side
I looked behind and I looked before
And my tender mother I will never see more.
But there is no denial by a cousin, no scaffold.  The final line is:
Let them say the Lord have mercy on the Croppy Boy.
Two stanzas in particular need mentioning.  Stanza three has this proposition, unique in the assembly of all versions, sung and printed:
And as I walked down James Street
A pair of painters I chance to meet
'Twas Jemmy O'Brien and Tom O'Neil
For one guinea they swore my life away.
As a long shot, one may recall that a Jemmy O'Brien was a notorious informer on the government side, himself hanged in 1800 for killing a man, but we can, at this stage, go no further than to ascribe the reference to variation on the outline narrative.

The other stanza worthy of attention is a farewell stanza which mirrors that in the Cork printing.  Clearly, the material concerning pikes and a grinding stone is an Irish addition.25

In such terms, it is Zimmerman, once again, who demands our attention.  He quotes a broadside from Nugent in Dublin which has the following stanza in it:

When I was marching through the streets,
The drums and fifes did play so sweet,
The drums and fifes did so sweetly play,
When to New Geneva I was forced away.26
This, in turn, brings Fordyce back into focus.  Further, Nugent also included the choosing stanza as did Fordyce, and one begins to wonder if there was a tie-up between Fordyce and existing Irish broadsides or at least to Nugent.  Fordyce actually predated Nugent as far as commencing printing is concerned - Fordyce is known to have been printing in the 1820s and Nugent operated after the mid-century mark - and some Fordyce material, such as the choosing stanza, also appeared in the Pitts printing so this particular tangle remains, as yet, unresolved.  Could it have been Nugent who borrowed from Fordyce?

Further still, another text in Zimmerman, this time extracted from Madden's Literary Remains…, may again, as in the Dublin printing discussed above, indicate in what guise general differences between Irish and English copies occur.  The first stanza is as follows:

Early, early last Thursday night,
The Myshall cavalry gave me a fright
To my misfortune and sad downfall
I was taken prisoner by Cornwall.
The Myshall reference is a reasonable inclusion since Myshall (Co Carlow) is not too far from Wexford town - and we return to a possible connection between Myshall, 'Lord' Cornwall and the Croppy Boy - again, frustratingly, without resolution.

Then there is a succession of stanzas two of which are unique in the whole assembly:

As I was going up the mountains high -
Who would blame me then for to cry -
I looked behind me, then before,
And my tender parents then I ne-er saw more.

When my poor parents did hear the news,
They followed me with money and clothes;
Five hundred guineas they would lay down
To let me walk upon sweet Irish ground.

They well guarded me through Borris town
The bloody Orangemen did me surround;
The captain told me he'd set me free
If I would bring him one, two, or three.
I'd rather die, or be nailed to a tree,
Than turn traitor to my country.

In Duncannon was my lot to die,
And in Duncannon my body lies,
And every one that does pass by
Pray the Lord have mercy on the Roman Boy.
Given echoes, the bulk of this material, particularly the Orange reference, has no correspondence elsewhere.  It should be understood that orange favours were not confined to the north of Ireland during the rising and that the threat amongst rebels of execution for all Protestants and vice versa was a constant feature of fighting, especially around Wexford.  Borris, incidentally, is in County Carlow.  Again, in the end, we probably see here but a variant on the narrative, whether adapted from oral versions or concocted in print.27

Zimmerman also quotes another Madden version where the final stanza is:

If it is my luck for to sea to go,
I'll earn a fortune for you, Mary O!
And if it e-er my luck to return home,
I'll grind my pike on an Orange bone.28
Here the last line obviously echoes the Cork broadside noted above.  The stanza as a whole parallels a variant in Joyce, as discussed below, with its suggestion of exile.  This suggestion may also reflect a well-known wish amongst the Irish that America, in particular, might furnish a destination and a salvation from current woes.  However, it might hesitantly be suggested as qualification that this is a phenomenon more usually associated with the famine of the 1840s and, as it is found in The Croppy Boy, could well have appeared at that time rather than concurrently with the events of '98.  Madden did claim to have got material from an earlier time to publication - we can never dismiss the possibility that text appeared contemporary with the events; but the best that can be done at this juncture is to underline the extent to which Irish broadsides have added material to those of their English counterparts and to suggest variations on a theme - except that Fordyce seems to represent some sort of link.

Overall, the amount of different detail in Irish broadside versions as compared to their English counterparts is too dense to be dismissed in the way that different orthographic layout might be.  It must represent a distinctive viewpoint, a particular conception of the way that the narrative sequences progresses and may, indeed, encapsulate an Irish perception of the events themselves.  One is reminded, although in a somewhat different manner, of how The Kerry Recruit achieved its status in an Irish song context as a result of association with the Crimean war.  The Jemmy O'Brien stanza may not quite be discounted either because it does offer evidence of how text was changed, perhaps according to a printer's whim, perhaps according to date of issue when actuality had become diffused towards legend or hearsay, perhaps due to a singer's apprehension of text when changed circumstances and the whole process of experience could have an effect on understanding of text or event, perhaps as different texts became entangled - the possibilities are fascinating.

However, prosaically, one returns to a consideration of the relationship between text as set out above and as it existed in known sung versions (this is to except all 'modern' versions).  There it can be seen that extant English sung versions and broadsides of The Croppy Boy correlate as far as the general outline of the story is concerned but that they differ in detail and no one sung version can be said to correspond to any one printed version.  And, as with broadsides, there are greater differences between English sung versions and the one Irish version of the song available to us.

The text of a version from a Mr Frank Stockley, got by the Hammond brothers, provides a starting-point.29  It contains all but one of the elements that are found in the bulk of available material and begins very much in the Pitts line - 'early, early' and 'early last Tuesday night'.  It also includes the choosing stanza .  At the same time, it has 'one bare guinea' which links the version with the Catnach nexus and there is a circumspect alternative rendering of the word 'mo(u)rning'.  Presumably the collectors did not ask for possible explanations.  Finally, the location, 'Duncannon', appears as place of death for the boy.  Where did Mr Stockley get this reference from?  'Duncannon' does not appear in English broadsides.  Have we here a genuine case of oral transmission, perhaps through an Irish sung version such as that of Joyce discussed below or was Mr Stockley aware of the existence of the Dublin printing discussed above?  Nothing is at all surprising in such puzzles, especially considering the difference in time between broadside issue (as discussed above) and the dates of collecting from Mr Stockley, in 1906.  The more startling aspect is that so much was retained.

There are, too, other distinctions in the Stockley text ranging from the reference to 'sweet Liberty' in his first stanza where the overwhelming choice elsewhere is 'old Ireland free' - the phrase, 'sweet Liberty' appears elsewhere only in the Joyce sung version - and the name, 'Ann', where every other version which names the sister has 'Mary', to the obscure final line of his second stanza:

'Twas early, early last Tuesday night,
When the yeoman cavalry was my affright,
The yeomen cavalry was my downfall,
Taken I was by not to all.
All this suggests oral input.

At any rate, the version as sung corresponds, mostly, with another version from a Mrs Munday, collected by George Gardiner in 1907.30 There is one missing element, however, that found in every other version, Irish and English, printed and sung and which may then be said to be a constant element in the constitution of the storyline.  Mrs Munday had it as follows:

It was in a guard room where I was laid,
And in a parlour I was tried.
My sentence passed and courage low,
And to a dungeon I was forced to go.
Of course, Mr Stockley could simply have forgotten this stanza on the occasion of its transfer to George Gardiner.

The version from Mrs Munday, like that of Mr; Stockley, appears not to favour any one printing.  It begins with the 'early, early' phrase as given by Pitts but the second stanza, whilst using “early, early', nonetheless continues, simply; 'all in the night'.  Two likely oral interpolations occur - the boy, as can be seen above, is sent to a 'dungeon', not Dungannon (although this place-name appears in the final stanza); and the first cousin betrays the boy for one 'fair' guinea, 'fair', perhaps, suggesting derivation from 'bare' in the Catnach nexus.  Mary's part comes later in sequence and she 'run upstairs in her morning dress'.  Finally, Mrs Munday had 'scaffold high'.  The changes, slight though they are, are indicative of the exigencies of dissemination even as, like Mr Stockley's version, the remarkable thing is that so much was retained…was this retention a measure, perhaps, of the generic nature of the song and the predominance of easily held, conventional broadside images?

The most interesting set of variations to this outline can be found in the versions collected respectively by Alfred Williams and Cecil Sharp in Oxfordshire.  Williams' version was got:

in parts of Charles Tanner, Bampton and Shadrach Haydon, also now living at Bampton.  Neither knew of each other's acquaintance with the song…31
In stanzaic order, the differences between this version and that of Mr Stockley, bar one or two details of orthography, may be summarised.  Williams, in the first stanza, has 'The birds did whistle and sweetly sing'.  His second stanza (corresponding to broadsides, as it happens) is:
It was early, early in the night,
The Yeoman Cavalry gave me a fright:
The Yeoman Cavalry was my downfall,
And taken was I by Lord Cornwall.
This makes more ostensible sense than Mr Stockley's second stanza - not necessarily a consideration amongst singers, perhaps, so much as a convenience for comparison here.  Williams then has 'Dungara' in place of 'Dungannon' (and Mrs Munday's 'dungeon').  The sister in his version offers 'five hundred guineas'.  The first cousin swears away the life of the boy for 'one 'burgala' (see below in comparison with Sharp's version).  There is no 'colour' stanza.

Williams' version can still be seen to be a very full one in the light of the comparisons made above and this may have been as a result of collation; but the most intriguing aspect, apart from internal anomalies, is how it and both those of Mr Stockley and Mrs Munday shape up against the Cecil Sharp version (and its anomalies) as got from one of the two singers visited by both Sharp and Williams - Shadrach Haydon.32

This version accords in its first stanza but then has references to 'This human calvary' in its second.  In the third, a guardhouse stanza, the boy is sent to 'Dungaw'.  In the fourth he is mounted on a 'platford eye' and 'My aged father he stand by the door'.  In the next; the sister 'heard they express' and 'runned' downstairs…

Five hundred guineas they would pay down
To see my brother marched through Wexford town
and the version ends up as follows:
As I was marched down Wexford street
My own first cousin I chanced to meet
My own first cousin did me betray
And for one burgan threw my life away

O you good Christians as you pass by
Pray drop one tear for the Croppy Boy.

The potential points of linguistic discussion here - 'calvary', 'Dungaw', 'human', 'platford', 'he stand', 'they express', 'runned' and 'burgan' - mostly, it seems, reflect vernacular use of English, the coincidence of which, as we shall see, may support the possibility that it was Shepherd Haydon amongst the singers under review who seems to have altered the parameters of the song or, at least, presented the most altered version.

It has, then, to be asked: because there are a number of discrepancies between the Williams compound version and that from Shepherd Haydon and because it is in Shepherd Haydon's version that a condensed storyline appeared, could it have been the case that he merely forget the father's denial when recalling the song for Sharp or was the denial Charles Tanner's particular contribution for Williams?  What, indeed, considering the truncated nature of Shepherd Haydon's version given to Sharp, might Charles Tanner's part have been in the 'double' notation found in Williams?  There is, after all, a period of over seven years between Sharp's notation from Shepherd Haydon on August 21st 1909 and the appearance of the Williams collated text in Wilts and Gloucester Standard on 15th January 1916.  And we know that Sharp visited Shepherd Haydon on no less than five occasions but can only assume that Williams visited the once: so how might this difference in contact affect the ultimate sung versions?  Shepherd Haydon had been living at Hatford, a few miles to the south of Bampton and was there in 1871 but, at some stage before 1881, when he was 52, had moved into Bampton and two of his children, as recorded in the 1881 census returns, were born there.  Williams named Shepherd Haydon in his collecting groupings as 'Old Sheddy' (but, oddly, still referred to Shepherd Haydon as 'the old shepherd of Hatford' in the introduction to Folk Songs of the Upper Thames.33 Charles Henry Tanner (baptised 1845 and died 1922) lived at Weald, Bampton, working as an agricultural labourer, for all his life.  So far, no tangible encounters between Mr Tanner and Shep Haydon have been unearthed.

There is a further gloss on the song.  In an article in Oxford Times, Williams, commenting on the period when he was billetted in Fermoy, Co Cork, when serving with his battalion in 1917, remarked the coincidence of songs found there with those of his native heath.  More particularly, he added that 'In 1914 I obtained the song of the 'Croppy Boy' at Filkins, near Lechlade' (not now extant in the manuscripts).  'This was in an imperfect and corrupt condition.  At Fermoy I corrected the copy with the help of an old Irishman who had been to the front and was wounded at the battle of the Somme.'  This at least suggests that Williams' mediation was not simply in favour of printed sources; and, of course, illustrates one aspect of transmission.34 But what light does it throw on the Tanner-Haden version?  Did Williams include any of the 'correction' found in Ireland?  In other words, were some of the alterations due to Williams' editorial hand?  Why, in this respect, did Williams retain the distinctive title of Copy Boy for his compound version?  It is worth remembering that he had retained the word, 'burgald'.  Its use, and Sharp had retained 'burgan' in his notation from Shadrach Haydon.  The fact that both collectors left the words alone shows not just a laudable degree of editorial sensibility but that the retention must have been deliberate and that tidying up, the attempt to provide a 'reading' of the word, was not a factor.  Perhaps the two collectors heard the same word and simply could not decipher it.  Much the same may be thought about 'Dungaw' and 'Dungara”.  In this context one would assume that 'platford eye' was simply Shepherd Haydon's locally accented rendering of 'platform high'!  Whatever the case, Shepherd Haydon's version turns out to be quite different to the majority and in it we may, therefore, be encountering ways in which text underwent change as it progressed through English repertoire.

The intrigue is heightened because, firstly, there is no record of any close contact between Sharp and Williams and, secondly, Sharp himself recorded extensively from Charles Tanner but does not appear to have got The Croppy Boy.  Taken with Williams' assertion that neither Mr Tanner nor Shepherd Haydon knew of each other's version of the song we might conclude that they were not apt to spend time in each other's company though near neighbours at one stage of their lives.  So we may, perhaps, countenance different means of acquisition and, perhaps, different geographical and community areas of transmission.  Shepherd Haydon could have acquired his version of the song before moving to Bampton.  Neither Williams nor Sharp, in their respective careers, seem to have thought it fit to investigate any other possible connections between Charles Tanner and Shadrach Haydon.  This song, then, slips away between the two lives… offering only frustration in terms of tracing genesis and dissemination.

At this point, one may add that there is a single stanza of the song as noted from a William Alexander in Preston Candover, Hampshire, by George Gardiner, but that it does not add to our fuller apprehension of the progress of the song.  And there is a curious amalgam of the first usual stanza of The Croppy Boy and then the tale of A Sailor's Life from one of George Gardiner's singers, David Marlow, which at least illustrates how songs can get tangled and produce new ones or variations: again, we are no further enlightened as to genesis of The Croppy Boy itself although a kind of progress is indicated.35

We now turn, then, to versions as published by Joyce - and these are the only versions found in Ireland as far as has been discovered, before O'Lochlainn (1939).  In Ancient Irish Music (1904) Joyce gave the tune and with what, in broadside terms, has been the second stanza:

'Twas early, early last Thursday night,
The yeomen cavalry gave me a fright.36
In Old Irish Folk Music (1909) he gave a fuller version of the song, this time beginning with the first stanza as found on printings and with a tune in transposed key.  However, the narrative is truncated.  There are no denials; the family does not look on; there is nothing about the gallows; and the final two stanzas are different to that of broadsides.  The penultimate stanza is as follows:
As I was walking the hills so high,
Who could blame if I did cry,
With a guard behind me and another before,
And my tender mother crying more and more.
The final stanza, all the same, parallels a final stanza from Haly and, together, these two versions, in their final lines, may be said to be suggesting an overt military, even nationalist, outcome:
So farewell, father and mother too,
And sister Mary, I have but you;
And if e'er I chance to return home,
I'll whet my pike on these yeomen's bones.
The implied outcome may also be said to be different, there being no clear indication of execution.  It may well be that an editorial hand is at work here since he does say that 'I have a broadsheet with the words rudely and very incorrectly printed'.  That 'incorrectly' may indicate that Joyce has been at work 'correcting', either towards a remembered version or one that he had based on a remembered version but, conceivably over time, had himself altered.  The problem with Joyce here, as always, is that he was in a sense collecting from himself and whilst it is not appropriate simply to deny the accuracy of his memory there is no useful corroborating evidence.  Joyce, too, seems mostly to have remembered the 1840s and after by which time the song, if it had, in fact, emerged contemporary with the events of 1798, had had plenty of time to have assumed changed character.37

One then has to ask whether it would have been a likely option for English singers to have introduced specific Irish reference or whether the somewhat strange English linguistic detail (such as 'runned' and 'was my affright', 'burgaw' and 'burgan') can be ascribed to mis-hearing or mis-reading.  What possible linguistic reason was there for English singers to have introduced these expressions or those of 'Dungara' and 'Dungaw' except as a misunderstanding of existing text or as the process of oral version dissemination was taking place?  Irish printings of the text, be it said, apart from being set out in the English language, do not pick up English vernacular expressions.

When the tunes are considered, it can be seen that Joyce's air, which he declares to be 'much older' than his text and the 1798 insurrection itself, differs from the English versions as far as specific note-value is involved.  He changed the key from F to D and some of the barlines between the publication of AIM and OIFMS.  The general shape, though, remains the same and there is, in this sense, rather more than just a resemblance to Shepherd Haydon's tune (as noted by Sharp) and to that of Mr Stockley.  Another English tune, noted from a Benjamin Arnold is further removed.  Essentially, though, the movement in all of them, English and Irish, seems to have been governed by the text; and the varied time-signatures in the Arnold tune, in particular, suggest a personal way of singing which notation of variants emphasizes.  This movement can be found in other songs such as The Isle of France and The Newry Highwayman… it seems to have been a popular measure.38

Although it is in a much later compilation, Colm O'Lochlainn gives a tune which, he says, is 'allied' to Tiocfaidh an Samhradh (Summer is Coming) whose overall shape is certainly similar to the English tunes; but, more strikingly, some of the opening words of this song (given in translation) pre-echo those of The Croppy Boy:

The summer is coming and the grass is green
The leaves are budding on every tree
The pretty small birds will join and sing
And you're welcome home my true love again.39
This brings us back to conventional settings.  It would not be a surprise, either, that existing tunes were employed for the song.  It would seem, for instance, that the tune of Caleno o custure me is also in the frame….40 One notes, too, O'Lochlainn's points of reference, giving a whole string which bring us back to the brink of a predominant Gaelic culture.  Subsequently, other tunes have been used.41

None of this, though, helps in the quest for genesis of the song.  The conclusions seem tame.  We are left with but tentative evidence which suggests that texts as broadside began life in England.  Perhaps Irish printings derived from Irish oral versions.  Still, too, the Fordyce saga intrigues, as does its possible connection with Nugent.  Unfortunately, details of the song as set out above suffer the usual constraints involving absence of clinching evidence for dissemination and leave us with rough or fading edges.  Oh, for the voice of Frank Stockley.

Roly Brown - 12.12.04
Oradour sur Vayres, France


Article MT149

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