Article MT150

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No. 12: The Rambler from Clare 1

As companion piece to that discussing The Croppy Boy, the following considers The Rambler from Clare as another element in the way that broadside printers reacted to events which appear to have been located in the 1798 insurrection in Ireland.  It should be said that there is scarce a handful of songs that emerged in England devoted to major historical events in Ireland such as the insurrection, a little strange considering the fierce tie-up between the two countries.  In a general 'Irish' sense, without specific identification, there are more songs that highlight everyday lives - The Irish Girl is a classic example, with no confirmation of genesis in Ireland and a conventional storyline concerning a love affair.  The Rose of Ardee is another such example, a lament for a love left…it would seem that the name 'Ardee' was used for the sake of rhyme only.  It is the latter sorts rather than pieces focussed on aspects of Irish history and social life that are par for the course and so the comment that follows does not reveal any intimate treatment of the insurrection where English material is concerned.

The story in The Rambler… concerns an enlisted man who is, like the Croppy Boy, taken and imprisoned.  In his case, however, a band of soldiers frees him and he is made a 'commander' before sailing into exile

The first thing to note in broadside terms is that there is no showing in either Pitts or Catnach but that both Fortey, after Catnach, and Hodges, after Pitts, carried the piece.  This may simply because no printing has surfaced from the earlier couple but the piece does not appear in either the 1832 Catnach list or the 1836 Pitts list.  The available printings all date from a period after the initial Catnach-Pitts upsurge and include those from Fortey, Hodges, Disley, Paul and Such in London; Pratt in Birmingham, Ross in Newcastle, Harkness in Preston and Buchan in Leeds; and in Ireland, Haly (Cork) and Birmingham (Dublin).2  Unlike the possibilities with texts of The Croppy Boy then, there may be doubt that printers inherited from Catnach and Pitts.  The dates for production by the printers cited above possibly extend from 1838 when Paul began managing for Annie Ryle, Catnach's sister, who took over the business when Catnach himself retired.  Paul became a partner in 1841, after Catnach's death, but this partnership with Annie Ryle was dissolved in 1845 and the Ryle name continued until Fortey took over in 1860.  Effectively, then, if the Paul imprint is viewed with strict consideration, The Rambler… may not have appeared in his list until after 1841.  During the 1840s Hodges, Ross and Harkness were all prominent and during the 1850s Disley and Pratt.  Such operated from the 1860s on.  Buchan is very late, commencing work in the mid-1870s.  It looks very much as if 1838 was the earliest possible date for the appearance of the first broadside texts of The Rambler… .

There is a crop of lists bearing the title - Walker, Birt, Pearson, Sanderson and Disley and Such… all 'late' references.

There are three distinct forms of printing.  London printers have one; other English printers another; and Irish printers a third.  However, one or two printings refuse this simple categorisation as will be seen.

Taking the London printings first - from Fortey, Hodges, Paul, Disley and Such - we find that the narrative line is absolutely consistent and that there are but one or two minor variants in orthography.  The first stanza is as follows:

The first of my courtship that ever was known,
I straight took my way to county Tyrone,
Amongst the pretty fair maids they used me well there,
And they called me the stranger, or rambler from Clare.
This, from Paul, is exactly the same in all London texts.  The rambler then proceeds to the town of 'Trullee' (Disley actually has 'the county Trullee') where he courts Sally M'Gee - there are variants in the spelling of this name as will be shown (which in a sung version can be discounted).3  At any rate the rambler leaves Sally in Tyrone, and enlists in the town of Fermoy.  However, 'I had so many masters I could not comply' and, in this evident confusion, the rambler deserts.  Then (again from Paul),
I was surrounded and taken in the town of Racule,
And as a deserter my fate to bewail.
Twas off to head quarters I had to repair;
In the black hole they confined the poor rambler from Clare.
He hopes that his colonel will prove kind but, instead, he is bound and confined.  His 'innocent mother got a sudden surprise' (one notes the conventional broadside image of the mother, often also 'tender'), his brothers shouted their displeasure and his father called upon his 'brave boys' to fetch the rambler back.  So (from Paul),
We marched all along in harmonious gang
With our guns on shoulders we're one thousand strong,
The firing commenced and our horses did rear,
We broke the gaol down and freed the rambler from Clare.
At the very next tavern the rambler is made a 'commander'.

There follows a farewell stanza:

Farewell to my comrades, wherever they be,
And my loving sweet heart, young Sally M'Gee,
Our ship it is ready, the wind it does blow,
Oh, he's gone, God be with him, he's the rambler from Clare.
If the relatively late date of issue is indicative and if oral versions were in circulation, without dismissing the relatively conservative nature of textual retention, certain features turn out to be a little unsettling.  'Trullee' and 'Racule' certainly smack of misreading or mishearing.  The final two lines underline a seeming carelessness in rhyme… although Disley has the penultimate line contain 'the wind it blows fair'.  And, as story, even if we would not necessarily expect consistency, why a rambler from Clare in the west would proceed to Tyrone in the north and then back down to 'Trullee' in the south-west (probably Tralee) and across to Fermoy in Cork is puzzling unless it is to emphasise the idea of rambling. 

Other English printings, from Ross in Newcastle, another put out collectively by Ross, Stewart in Carlisle and Dalton in York, one from Harkness, and one from Pratt in Birmingham, all have an opening stanza in which the opening phrase is 'The first of my travels… ' and then 'I straight took my way to the town of Athlone' - a markedly different locational reference to a town in the centre of Ireland.  Tralee, Sally Magee and Fermoy make their appearance but, then, after desertion, 'To the city of Limerick went the rambler from Clare'.  Further, with a touch of motivation,

My cause of desertion I meant to reveal,
I was taken and handcuffed in the town of Recale…
If the supposed cause of desertion had anything to do with confusion over orders then the piece reflects a similar dilemma found in The Kerry Recruit but here expressed but briefly and without the attendant comedy.4  The name 'Recale' can hardly be thought otherwise than having been made up or existing as a corruption - we might assume the same with 'Racule' - but the one or two variants revealed below make interesting comparison. 

In the same stanza, the rambler was 'Confined in the guard-house'.  In the next, he was 'Confined in cold irons… '

The narrative line goes on in accordance with London versions but the 'harmonious band ' has swelled to 10,000 strong who:

Fired our small arms and opened our rear,
We broke down the jail - took the rambler from Clare…
after which, in the next stanza,
We assembled together with a harmonious gang,
With our guns on our shoulders and our pikes in our hands…
before 'we came to Roscommon' and 'we drank hearty there' and made the rambler a 'full commander' (in passing we should note the spelling of 'jail' as opposed to 'gaol' in London printings and the appearance of pikes which lend a clear Irish 'military' flavour).  Finally, the next stanza underlines the differences between London and other English printings:
> When we marched along to Balacendare,
When some of the enemy were in camp lying there,
Our firing began among Orangemen there,
But we fought well commanded by the rambler from Clare.
The variant geographical locations - the name, 'Balacendare' ('Balcendare' in the Pratt printing) offers a most particular puzzle - and the introduction of Orange favour are especially distinctive.  As usual, we can get no nearer in terms of genesis and pedigree except to speculate on different means of acquisition, but there are just signs of a north-south divide in printing terms as there was with Fanny Blair.  In this, though, Buchan in Leeds stands out as following the pattern of London printers He is so 'late' that he would not have affected genesis but there is no reason to suppose that his text would have been ignored by those wishing to avail themselves (see the discussion of Mr Stephen Spooner's sung version below).

A farewell stanza concludes the piece as it is found in these 'country' printings but here, too, there is a difference as compared to London printings in the opening line which is 'Here's a health to my comrades wherever they be… '.

The points of change between London and other English printings do not need further rehearsal in detail but it is worth emphasising that, in England, it is the courtship, desertion, capture, release and farewell which take precedence: as if the song is emerging in English versions without a specifically political dimension but more as a popular generic imagining with an anonymous protagonist (as he is in The Croppy Boy).  Anonymity during this period of song production can be found in several songs relating to European events involving England and France in particular - The Banks of the Nile, referring to Napoleon's Egyptian campaign, is a typical example.  The Isle of France, a 'convict song', also features an anonymous victim.  And we shade off into unspecified periods with The Bonny Light Horseman.  All the same, this should not provoke any rash assumptions for there are also many named heroes during the period under consideration here - Nelson, in scores of texts; other admirals such as Rodney and Jervis; Wellington… ; in an Irish context, all verifiably real, Willie Reilly or Brennan the highwayman… and, of course, Fanny Blair… in respect of the '98, General Munroe… no more than is to be expected when the vast output of text is taken into account.

At any rate, to return to the point at hand: Irish broadsides, identifiably from Haly in Cork and Birmingham in Dublin, change the geography yet again although the narrative line is consistent.5  Birmingham has the familiar sequence of Fermoy and Limerick as exemplified in English 'country' printings but Haly, instead of Fermoy, has Moy - an interesting variant because there is a Moy tucked away in the south east corner of Tyrone (near to the city of Armagh in the next county) - Fermoy, as noted, being at the opposite end of the country.  More pertinently still, though, the name of the town in which the rambler is taken is given as Kinsale (Birmingham) or Rathkeal (Haly).  Kinsale is in County Cork and there is a Rathkeale in County Limerick and some plausibility is made of the rambling if we plot Fermoy, Tralee, Limerick and Kinsale or Rathkeale, and assume a desire to get out fast where Sally M'Gee was concerned; but this, of course, may be to attribute too much authenticity to the text and, in view of the swathe of locations featuring in the song, it is probably not wise to attach too much importance to terms of geographical verification and, instead, to think of the piece as a broadside construct.  One stanza in this respect does, though, stand out:

We marched along through the Barony Fort,
Where some of our heroes lay in camp before,
The firing began, and I can't tell you where,
We fought commanded by the Rambler from Clare.
It is not certain but the Barony Fort mentioned would seem to be an area just outside Wexford.  A barony is a measurement of land but, in the particular case, the reference might be to the area known as the Barony of Forth - which gives us an immediate flavour of '98…
At Wexford and at Oulart we made them quake with fear
For every man could do his part like Forth and Shelmalier…
… the litany is from Robert Dwyer Joyce's The Boys of Wexford which his brother, P W Joyce (see below) claimed was founded on an old Wexford song.  Incidentally, O'Lochlainn, in his version of the song, cites the 'Barony of Forth' in his text, the only known printing so to do, but his notes are not helpful, citing Joyce and unattributed broadsides, although he claims that the song seems to have been a genuine United Irishmen outpouring.6

Following on this aspect of localisation the next stanza places a specific connection onto the text in naming a group associated with the '98:

Now that I have got the title of an United Man,
I cannot stay at home in my native land,
Now off to America I must quickly repair,
And leave all my friends in the sweet town of Clare.
Briefly, the United Men - United Irishmen - began formal association in the north or Ireland during the 1790s, principally, at inception, to secure constitutional and economic reform in line with brethren, principally middle-class, in England.  The movement was particularly attracted to the ideals of the French revolution, eventually itself became revolutionary - Wolfe Tone, one of its leaders, called for an Irish republic - and went underground, its members being sworn to secrecy.  The English government, through its own activities and through informers, struck by arresting many of the leaders including Lord Edward Fitzgerald (in May 1798) and this had an effect on the military action of the '98, leaving it disrupted and sporadic.  Nonetheless, in various parts of Ireland, some groups did achieve success - as exemplified in The Rambler… .

Further, as regards the text here, and as was noted in discussion of The Croppy Boy, we see how America would seem to have offered a refuge for the discontented, hunted and defeated Irish.

And, where consistency is concerned, it still seems strange that 'the sweet town of Clare' (my italics) remained in Irish text.

Overall, taking the last three factors into consideration, and knowing, too, that both Haly and Birmingham came late onto the scene - Birmingham after 1857 and Haly, it seems, during the 1840s - it does seem clear that the accumulated detail in Irish broadsides must have been an Irish addition.

In this respect, although it may not affect this general proposition, a text 'Sold' by Mayne in Belfast introduces a rogue element, consisting of adherence to the familiar narrative line but, variously, including the Limerick reference of English 'country' texts, apprehension of the rambler in Kinsale and a reference to the United Men, both the latter, as noted, Irish additions to the text.  If the printing came from Mayne we still need to take into account the fact that he was not an early progenitor, but known to have been active during the 1840s and 1850s.

If we take the various manifestations of text - London, 'country' and Irish - together it may even have been the case that variants were emerging at one and the same time but from different sources rather than there being a linear development although the very consistency in narrative puts the case for 'borrowing'. 

In turning to sung versions, excepting modern ones, we find two in the manuscripts of the English Folk Song Revival.  The first was actually given to Dorothy Marshall by Mr Stephen Spooner but appears in the Clive Carey manuscripts.7  In Mr Spooner's version first, it can be seen that the first stanza accords with the first, third and fourth lines in London broadsides except in one significant respect:

The first of my courtship that ever known
(I straight took my way to the county of Tyrone)
All amongst those pretty fair maids, they used me well there,
They called me the stranger, the rambler from Plare.
A note on the fair copy, made by Frank Purslow in his capacity as editor of the Carey papers, gave the information that the singer always sang 'Plare' which has to indicate, if nothing else, a seeming obliviousness as to location and, by extension, paramount interest in the narrative content of the song.  Another note explains that the second line, in brackets, was added from a broadside.

The second Spooner stanza also accords with London broadside form except that Mr Spooner evidently sang 'Tralee'.  Then he apparently only recalled the first two lines of the third stanza (both of which are also found in broadsides); the text lacks any lines involving capture; but much of the rest of Mr Spooner's text matches those of London broadsides given the usual small changes - 'harmonious' becomes 'enormous', for example; and the stanza in which it is found uses the third person.  Such changes can usually be ascribed to oral transmission although, where 'harmonious' and 'enormous' are concerned, it does mean that a slightly different interpretation may be called for in each case.  Further, a note to Mr Spooner's song as it was eventually published in JFSS, points out that 'As the broadside is so well-known the correct name has been substituted'.  In this case, Mr Spooner's insistence on singing 'Plare' is then relegated and an individual's variation which indicates a breaking from a specific Irish context or, at least - in this case - following a generic route denied.  And we come across a slight discrepancy here anyway… Lucy Broadwood that the gaps in the Spooner version were filled from Buchan.  This contradicts the evidence of Carey's manuscript assembly because the Such printing - hand-copied in Lucy Broadwood's own hand, it seems, and with a clear attribution - was placed with Mr Spooner's song.  In the end, it is of little consequence except in terms of complete bibliographical accuracy.  The two printings follow each other exactly.  The handwritten copy, all the same, does change some punctuation and 'head quarters' in the printed texts is rendered as two words in the copy whilst 'free'd' is given as 'freed'.8  We have already seen how one simple change in O'Lochlainn's version gives a particular resonance to the piece.  It is as well to be wary.

The reconstruction (so-named for convenience here) in Mr Spooner's sung version may, of course, have been taking place simultaneously in other singers' minds and from disparate material, not necessarily from a single 'original' either, thus mirroring possible developments in broadside issue - we have no way of knowing this from the available evidence.  To be fair, as well, the text from Mr Spooner as set out in JFSS does not hide the insertions from broadside. 

Whatever the case, also in JFSS, Cecil Sharp also wrote that he had 'a major variant' (meaning the ostensible musical key) - which must have been one that he collected from Mr Downing, for he does not appear to have recorded any other.  Sharp noted this version on December 31st 19089 when engaged in what turns out to have been an extraordinary trip to Marylebone Workhouse where he took down a large number of songs, frequently Irish in character, and, whilst there is no evidence to show if these songs were passed on, this episode highlights what might be called a halfway stage of existence amongst singers, paralleled, in some ways, by the repertoires of Irish-born singers who settled in England and who then can be shown to have passed on songs - notably in recent times Mrs Cecilia Costello.10

Mr Downing's version of the text begins with familiar lines in which the rambler makes his way to 'the town of Tyrone'.  In the second stanza this becomes 'Tyro' but the narrative line is upheld.  There are no lines involving the capture of the rambler but his encounter with the colonel is familiar.  The next stanza is unusual in the whole assembly of material:

My father turned round to the boys he did say
Brave boys to your guns now to your guns now repair
Brave boys said my father to your guns now repair
And bring back my own darling the Rambler from Clare
Similarly, there might appear to have been a compression of events in the next stanza (as compared to known texts):
We all march along in glorious array
With our guns on our shoulders full five hundred strong
We surrounded the prison and we then set him free
He is gone God be with him he's the rambler from Clare
A final stanza begins as expected but then introduces unique material:
Our ship it is ready and she will soon sail
Kind Providence protect her with a sweet pleasant gale
And when we are landed we'll dance and we'll sing
In that beautiful country singing God save the King.
These lines inevitably remind us of some in The Kerry Recruit and one refers to Zimmerman's contention that grievances, especially where land and tithes were involved, were not aimed at:
kings or queens, ministers or other politicians, but the 'enemies' encountered at first hand by the peasants: the landlords and the parsons, the 'peelers', and more especially the land agents, bailiffs and proctors who were employed to grind the poor.
He goes on to say that by the second half of the nineteenth century these references to monarchs were frowned on by ultra-nationalists (though he does not say that they had disappeared).11  In Mr Downing's case this may not have been a factor at all though it still invites speculation as to how he came across the reference, whether from oral or printed sources, and when, in turn, it had had its genesis.  Since known versions other than that of Mr Downing's do not include this stanza it might be suggested that it has been added, perhaps by the singer himself.  Yet the stanza can also be found in its entirety, in the song, The American Stranger, which was noted many times by the collectors of the Revival and which also appeared on broadsides.  There is a version from Alfred Williams' collection, for instance, from a John Flux, Filkins, Oxfordshire, which reads:
Now we're bound for America, the ship she has set sail,
Kind Heaven protect us with a prosperous gale!
And when we are landed we'll dance and we'll sing
In a plentiful country, and sing God Save the King.
A broadside from Birt is similar…
We are now bound for America,
And our ship will soon set sail,
Kind Heaven will protect us,
With a swift and prosperous gale;
And when that we are landed,
We'll dance and we ill sing,
All in a plentiful country,
And God save our noble King.  12
We might, as a result, conclude, rather tamely, that the lines were floaters - but, seemingly, English floaters.

And where floaters are concerned, Sharp evidently resisted any temptation to 'straighten out' Mr Downing's text and it has not yet proved possible to trace Mr Downing's ancestry and possible singing contacts.  In the workhouse, he was amongst both English and Irish inmates and he could, anyway, have come across broadside text.  The fact remains that, in comparison with the known full narrative line, Mr Downing's version may be thought lacking in some ways and the apparent vagueness of text, its repetitions, and the inclusion of floating lines, must represent ways in which a song travelled and changed.

It can, in turn and along with Mr Spooner's text, be compared with a sung version that P W Joyce published.13 Joyce declared that the song was 'a Ninety-eight song which tells its own story'; that it was popular in Munster 'sixty years ago' (around the 1840s which was an era during which the Young Ireland movement, in its literary guise under Thomas Davis, made great capital of patriotic-sounding verse) and that he retained only part of the song in his memory; 'but I subsequently found the whole song printed on a ballad-sheet, though greatly corrupted.' And these comments immediately draw attention once again, as in the case of Joyce's version of The Croppy Boy, to a lack of corroboration for Joyce's observations.  How, for example, could he be so sure that the broadside text was corrupted even as he admitted that his own remembrance of what was presumably an oral version was uncertain?  Was this only a measure of the unflattering opinion of broadside production amongst most collectors? 

As points of contrast between the Downing and the Joyce versions, too, it is noticeable that Mr Downing had apparently omitted one dramatic idea, which Joyce has (and so do broadsides), of desertion from the English army.  And Joyce has capture, the threat of punishment and the timely arrival of a band of the United Men who broke the Rambler out of gaol and made him a 'full commander'.  He sums up the middle part of the song:

The rebels fight some successful battles under the Rambler's command.
If broadside versions are compared, there is merely a mention of a single skirmish.  This is apart from the breaking down of the gaol door in order to free the Rambler.  In fact, broadsides only mention 'fighting' when the force marched through the 'Barony Fort'.

Joyce's variant of events is as follows:

'Twas then the United Men marched to the town;
They attacked and they conquered with fame and renown;
The jail they broke open and rescued me there,
And they made full commander of the Rambler from Clare.
The smoothness of this stanza might seem to be a little too plausible.  None of the broadsides have this stanza.  The breaking of the gaol door and the introduction of the United Men come in separate stanzas.  Joyce, surely, is a particularly independent contributor even if there is a faint suspicion about strict authenticity in his remembered versions.

Finally, in the Joyce version, the Rambler admits to being forced, as a United Man, to leave for America.

The sum total, just as in Irish broadsides, is still that of a detailed version with a specific Irish ambience in the progress of the narrative and its potential outcome (actually giving something of a lie to Joyce's claim of imperfect remembrance).  In this total view, crucially, in returning to consider Mr.  Spooner's version, we find that it, like the Downing version, has divested itself of a specifically 1798 ambience and this all does seem to echo what might have been a process of elision or, alternatively and more likely in view of the information given above, Irish additions, observed in The Croppy Boy.

Where the tunes are concerned, beginning with the comparison above between Mr Downing's and Joyce's versions, there are but superficiaal similarities (for example, in the three-four time-signature), and the melodic arch in the Downing tune does not rise so dramatically in the second and fourth strains; nor is there a flattened note in the first and fourth strains.  The Spooner tune is different again.  Further, according to Lucy Broadwood, Petrie's version of the tune was 'distinct': it certainly is, with no corresponding movement of melody although, once again, in conventional three-four time.14  This diversity is interesting when compared to the way that the tunes for The Croppy Boy did tend to resemble each other a little and, whilst it may not be axiomatic, such diversity for The Rambler from Clare might indicate an uncertainty in singers' minds; a reaching out for available tunes; and less of a consistent and constant iteration during the processes of transmission.  The song may not have been particularly widespread… the two English versions noted above represent all that is known in England except during relatively recent times.15

Only tentative conclusions may be drawn.  Mostly, for a start, the narrative line is consistent in all texts, printed or sung, but the changes in English sung text and the additional material found in Irish broadsides and in the Joyce sung version are not only notable in themselves but, just as in The Croppy Boy texts, begin to indicate a rendering of Irish history in English text as being generic in character.  We would not expect English singers to have been familiar with events in Ireland either from the standpoint of a time a hundred years afterwards or, moreover, concurrently…  There is no confirmation concerning the apprehension of red-hot encounters - Pakenham noted how the '98 had little impact in England during its summer course.  Reports in newspapers were edited by the government, and it is a fair bet that, if there was any alarm, it would have been because of threats of French invasion direct across the channel.16  In the case of The Rambler from Clare the evidence does seem to point to recollection or concoction some time after the event in which case inconsistencies which may have arisen over a period of time are understandable.  Against this we must set the tendency amongst song-text for remarkable retention of detail and the presence of Irish material which confirms such detail cannot be ignored.  In the end, in one way, perhaps, detail in text mattered more in Ireland rather than taking its place amongst other material as inherited or concocted song so it may be that the two Irish printers noted above felt it incumbent to emphasise the Irish dimension.  Joyce's memory, contemporary with Irish printing, and even if a trifle suspect, underlines the point.

Conversely, if we add to the discussion above that which accompanied Fanny Blair and The Kerry Recruit as well as The Croppy Boy, English singers appear to have found most delight in narrative.  English printers may not have bothered themselves overmuch except in commercial terms… why resurrect the material in The Rambler… unless it was in such terms?  There is a sense in which printers may be said to have manipulated public taste and expectation and it is interesting that this was couched in an outmoded idiom, appealing in its familiarity, perhaps in its links with the past, however ungolden.  Specifically, like The Isle of France, mentioned above, the piece in question has an appeal also through exotic location.

Yet even if certain elements of pattern emerge it does seem necessary to treat each song or broadside with caution and individual attention as has been pointed out earlier in this piece.  One might assume a constant interchange of London texts and a reasonable consistency as a result but in each of the song-texts so far studied there are surprises when other printers are canvassed.

There is one other point to be made.  As is clear, the versions of the song as discussed above throw out all sorts of tangential detail.  Fascinating though this often is, it has not been possible to pursue such lines at this juncture but, it is hoped, some points will be developed as this series progresses.  Perhaps other contributors can enlighten us further.

Roly Brown - 26.1.05
Oradour sur Vayres, France


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