Saturday, March 29, 2008

Song of a proud Irishman

My great-great grandfather Patrick Tierney was an Irish laborer who eked out a meager living in the North End of Boston in the late 19th-century. I have often heard of "No Irish Need Apply" signs facing Irish men and women seeking work in the U.S. during that time period and have wondered what types of struggles Patrick faced in his quest to provide for his family.

While thinking of Patrick recently I found the song What Irish Boys Can Do written by William Sutherland and published in 1864. It is one response to the insults that Irishmen received when others "called him green; an Irish bull" and posted "those dirty words: No Irish need apply!"

Here is the full song:

What Irish Boys Can Do
(Answer to: No Irish Need Apply)

They insult an Irishman, and think nought of what they say;
They'll call him green, an Irish bull: it happens every day.
Now to these folks I'll say a word; to sing a song I'll try,
And answer to those dirty words: No Irish need app'y!

So, if you'll give attention, I'll sing my song to you,
And the subject of this song shall be: What Irish boys can do.
If you'd come to Ireland, they'd treat you well, I'm sure;

Pat would share his last potato with the destitute and poor;

If you were sick and weary, and had no place to rest,
The bed you'd get, though poor perhaps, would be Pat's very best.
He'd nurse you, too: he would that, and give you whisky, too;
And you cannot find a nobler act than Irishmen can do.

Did you ever know an Irishman from any danger flinch?
In fighting too he'd rather die than give his foe an inch.
Among the bravest in the world are the sons of Erin's green isle.
Sure, the Iron Duke of Wellington was a native of the soil;

And didn't he badly whip the French on the plains of Waterloo?
Which plainly showed to the whole world what Irishmen can do.
Old Ireland's had her warriors, who fought both true and brave;

Pat's assisted every nation, on the land and on the wave.

And poets, too, she's had: yes, many and many a score;
Where can you find much brighter stars than Lover or Tom Moore?
Old Ireland's had her actors, and authors not a few;
And things of wit and humor the Irish all can do.

Did you ne'er hear tell of Sheridan, or of lamented Catharine Hays!
Did you ne'er see fun in Irish songs, or laugh at Irish plays?
Old Ireland's had her statesmen: their fame the wide world rings!
She's likewise had musicians to tune her old harp' strings!

Not all Irish girls are beautiful, but then they're always true,
And, for faith and generosity, the Irish girls will do.
And then, too, in the present war between the North and South,
Let no dirty slur on Irish ever escape your mouth;

Sure, did you ne'er hear tell of the 69th, who bravely fought at Bull-Run!
And Meagher of the seven days fight that was in front of Richmond,
With General Shields who fought so brave for the flag red, white, and blue?
And anything like a bayonet charge the Irish boys can do.

Then, why slur upon the Irish? Why are they treated so?
What is it you have against them is what I want to know.
Sure, they work for all they get, and that you can't deny!
Then, why insult them with the words: No Irish need apply?

If you want to find their principles, go search the wide world through,
And you'll find all things that's noble the Irish folks can do.

Tommy Makem, a modern day singer-songwriter, wrote his own version of a response to "No Irish Need Apply" back in the 1970's. The lyrics to his song They Told Us No Irish Need Apply can be found on his website

Tommy Makem's song includes mentions of many famous Irish-Americans including politicians, presidents, leaders of the Church and more. My favorite lines in his song are in the seventh verse and celebrate the more common Irishmen, my ancestors:

We're the men who built the railroads,
we're the men who fought the wars
We're the men who manned the police force,
we're the men who drove street cars
We're the men who formed your unions,
we're the men who sang your songs
We're the men who filled your history
and tried to right your wrongs.

For more on the 69th Pennsylvania infantry see my article at Small-leaved Shamrock entitled The fighting Irish in America's Civil War.

For some of the "poets Ireland's had" see "The Wearin' of the Green",
"We searched for birds in every furze...", The dreamer and A child's eye view here at A light that shines again; and The Celtic blessing: food for the soul and On "poor Pat" and his emigration from Ireland over at Small-leaved Shamrock.

You can also find the song What Irish Boys Can Do online at the Library of Congress' American Memory website and at the "Poor Pat Must Emigrate" webpages for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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