A Brief Survey of Choice Traditional Irish Ballads:
Or how to be a truly sad and lovesick bastard
(1) Danny Boy
(Classic Irish heartstring-puller, in which our dear Danny Boy is heading off to war, pretty much guaranteed never to see the singer, or a good day, again.)
"And if you come, when all the flowers are dying,
And I am dead, as dead I well may be,
You'll come and find the place where I am lying,
And kneel and say an "Ave" there for me."
(2) Fields of Athenry
(That same old story in which a young lad is arrested for stealing the lord's corn, and thus set adrift on a prison ship bound for Australia, leaving his true love a single mother...)
"Against the Famine and the Crown
I rebelled they ran me down
Now you must raise our child with dignity."
(3) I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen
(In which a beloved wife dies a slow and painful death, and her devoted husband escorts her body back to her native Ireland. Incidentally, my grandpa Van used to sing this song to me when I was but a wee lass. Because we liked to keep it real and not sugar coat it.)
"The roses all have left your cheek, I've watched them fade away and die..."
(4) An Emigrant's Daughter
(A haunting sea shanty in which a daughter is put on a boat to America. But she gets a fever. She starts hallucinating. And, because this is an Irish Ballad, she dies. The they throw her body into its watery grave.)
"Oh please ne'er forget me though waves now lie o'er me
I was once young and pretty and my spirit ran free,
But destiny tore me from country and loved ones,
And from the new land I was never to see."
(In which a man starts hitting the bottle after being cuckolded by a bawdy and humorous ditty.)
"But I'll sing no more now till I get a drink,
For I'm drunk today and I'm seldom sober..."
(6) My Dark Rosaleen
(Here a man gets his serious pine on while missing his boo, Rosie.)
"Woe and pain, pain and woe,
Are my lot night and noon,
To see your bright face clouded so,
Like to the mournful moon."
(7) I'm Stretched on Your Grave
(I think this one pretty much speaks for itself...mel-o-drama!)
"I am stretched on your grave and I'll lie there forever..."
(8) The Wind That Shakes the Barley
(In which a doomed young rebel loses his love and marches into the 1798 Irish Rebellion, pockets stuffed with oats to munch along the way. Of course, it all ends badly. *Interesting side note: Random patches of barley popped up all over the countryside post-rebellion, indicating both the mass unmarked graves of Irish soldiers (barley in pocket), and symbolizing that stubborn Irish tenacity and a big fuck off to British rule. The Wind that Shakes the Barley is also a gorgeously sad film starting the extremely easy-on-the-eyes Cillian Murphy. In layer upon layer of fine Irish tweed.)
"While sad I kissed away her tears, my fond arms round her flinging
The foeman's shot burst on our ears from out the wildwood ringing
A bullet pierced my true love's side in life's young spring so early
And on my breast in blood she died while soft winds shook the barley."
(9) Four Green Fields
(This song is in it to win it. It pretty much delivers all the goods... plundering, pillaging, loss, starvation, dead family, blood, guts, screaming children, British invasion...)
"There was war and death, plundering and pillage
My children starved, by mountain, valley and sea
And their wailing cries, they shook the very heavens
My four green fields ran red with their blood, said she."
But, for all their suffering, and proclivity for reliving that suffering nightly through song, the Irish also have a tremendously big-hearted, admirable, and irreverent sense of humor.... and so I leave you with this gem..
(10) Lily the Pink
(In which the dubiously named witchy woman Lily the Pink prescribes her medicinal compounds to cure whatever ails the locals, for which she is immortalized in a drinking song.)
Quotes won't do it justice, so you'll just have to listen and watch this amazing cover here.