Friday 20 April 2018

They don't sing election songs like they used to

Election fever is in the air and candidates are laying out their stalls:

He's pledged to get you many things, a few of them I'll mention

And as I put them down in rhyme, I crave for your attention

A footpath into Wexford town, a railway to Blackwater

And every labouring man will marry a farmer's daughter

And then we'll be all-brother in-laws and every man shall prove his worth

Whether harvest or haymaking

He shall get the tae three times a day and heaps of Irish bacon

Another problem he'll address without apology or pardon

That every family badly housed will have a cottage and a garden

They certainly don't make manifestoes like that any more. Johnny Codd's election song of 1899 surely puts even the Haughey anthem 'Arise and Follow Charlie' in the shade.

Written by Edward Leary and Jack Keating with more attention to the rhyme scheme than any political reality, it helped to make a county councillor of John Codd from the Ardcavan/Castlebridge area. No recordings of this stunningly effective campaign ditty are known to exist but it may be performed to the air of 'Slattery's Mounted Foot', according to Geraldine O'Connor.

Geraldine's notes on the matter are included on the intriguing website of the Wexford Song Project ( along with all the words – in two versions of the three classic verses.

The website is a mine of cultural and historical information harking back to a time when issues of current affairs were routinely captured in song.

A quick check suggests that 'I got U' by Duke Dumont is the current top of the Irish pops, with no mention anywhere in the top ten of anything topical along the lines of 'The Mad Shatter's Tea Party' or Mick Wallace's 'Laughing Policeman'.

Project coordinator Aileen Lambert confirms that there are at least 35 lyrics reproduced on the website.

They deal with everything from disasters at sea to lullabies, examining real Wexford issues and real Wexford people. She reckons that there are hundreds more songs from around the county waiting to be dusted off and invested with fresh life.

Aileen, a resident of Ballindaggin, was delighted to welcome assistance from the legendary Paddy Berry in compiling the collection along with such seasoned balladeers as John O'Byrne and John Furlong. However, she was also pleased that a younger generation, such Declan Sammon and Laetitia Breen, lent their beautiful voices to the job of assembling the collection showcased on the website. Unfortunately, the money ran out before Aileen and her collaborators could record the songs for The project has been, to all intents and purposes, stood down.

Since the official unveiling of the project earlier this year, when 16 singers took the stage to sing 16 of these long overlooked gems, Aileen has moved to rear her family and teach art or singing in schools around Wexford.

At least, thanks to the efforts of all involved, we can still call up on screen the words of classics such as 'The Capture of Captain Davy Walsh', a blood curdling tale of barbarity 1798 style. Or we may relive the junior county final of 1926 in 'The Springmount Hurlers' when the predecessors of today's Duffry Rovers dispatched their Ferns rivals:

Brave Billy Brennan from Monbeg he played upon the wing

And when he met a Ferns man, his stout camán did ring

Great stuff!

Aileen Lambert has been speaking about the effort that goes into finding tunes to accompany some of the old lyrics, so that they may once again become informal party pieces or set piece show stoppers.

She claims to have led a successful hunt for an air to revive a 19th song, the words of which appeared in print under the title 'The Wexford Lovers'. The action of the story in the ballad appears to be set in or around Taghmon and it concerns the fate of a Protestant girl who troubled her family by falling for a Roman Catholic farming chap. The result in those less tolerant times was a great deal of unhappiness and a row resolved only after the discharge of at least one firearm.

Aileen eventually tracked down an air that fitted on a website posted on the internet in Newfoundland, of all places, where the story of the lovers is very much the same but the piece is called 'Willie Reilly'.

Now Aileen is in a position to respond with a rendition of 'The Wexford Lovers' whenever she is invited to perform. Indeed, she has already done so in Rosslare and Enniscorthy.

Gorey Guardian