'Mrs. McGrath' and the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoros

"Mrs. McGrath" is a song telling the story of a woman whose son enters the British Army, and returns seven years later having lost his legs to a cannonball fighting against Napoleon in the Peninsular War (presumably at the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro, fought between May 3rd and 5th, 1811). The general theme of the song is one of opposition to war, the mother claiming that she would rather have her son as he was. The Irish folk song collector Colm O Lochlainn described the song as "known to every true born citizen of Dublin"

Mrs. McGrath

Now, Mrs. McGrath, the sargent said,
Would you like to make a soldier out of your son Ted?
With a scarlet coat and a big cocked hat,
Now Mrs. McGrath, wouldn't you like that?
Wi your too-ri-aa, folly diddle-aa
Too-ri, oo-ri, oo-ri-aa
Wi your too-ri-aa, folly diddle-aa
Too-ri, oo-ri, oo-ri-aa.
Now Mrs. McGrath lived on the seashore
For the space of seven long years or more,
Till a great big ship came sail into the bay,
Says, It's my son Ted, will you clear the way,
Wi your too-ri-aa, folly diddle-aa
...
Oh captain, dear, where have you been,
Have you been sailing in the Meditereen,
And have you any news of my son Ted,
Is the poor boy living or is he dead?
Wi your too-ri-aa, folly diddle-aa
...
Well, up comes Ted, without any legs,
And in their place was some wooden pegs.
She kissed him a dozen times or two,
Saying, Holy Moses, is it you,
Wi your too-ri-aa, folly diddle-aa
...
Now was you drunk, or was you blind,
When you left your two fine legs behind,
Or was it from walking by the sea,
Wore your two fine legs from the knees away?
Wi your too-ri-aa, folly diddle-aa
...
No, I was not drunk, and I was not blind
When I left my two fine legs behind,
A cannon ball on the fifth of May,
Took my two fine legs from the knees away,
Wi your too-ri-aa, folly diddle-aa
...
Oh Teddy, my boy, the widow cried,
Your two fine legs were your mother's pride.
The stumps of a tree won't do at all,
Why didn't you run from the cannon ball?
Wi your too-ri-aa, folly diddle-aa
...
All foreign wars, I do proclaim,
Between Don Juan and the King of Spain,
And I'll make them rue the time,
They took two legs from a child of mine,
Wi your too-ri-aa, folly diddle-aa
...
Well then, if I had you back again,
I'd never let you go to fight the King of Spain,
For I'd rather have me Ted as he used to be,
Than the King of France and his whole navy,
Wi your too-ri-aa, folly diddle-aa

Views: 314

Tags: Latin America, Mexico, Poetry

Comment by Charles G O' Brien on May 11, 2014 at 7:46pm

Here's a version of Mrs McGrath recorded in 2009 in Letterfrack, Connemara. Myself and Tim Browne were just after coming from a mighty gig on Clare Island, the home of Granuaile, The Pirate Queen. I like the filter that was put on this video - it looks more 1979 than 2009! It seems so long ago to me that it might as well be 1979! The impromptu video was made by Jonty Cross - a friend of Tim's. Hope this video embedding works, let's see. That's myself on uke and singing, Tim Browne on Bazouki, and Davy Hope on guitar!

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