'The Irish Volunteer' Finds His Bard: David Kincaid's new CD resurrects passion, war, and politics of the Union's Irish soldier with sparkle and dance:

IRISH REBEL: John Devoy and America's Fight for Ireland's Freedom, By Terry Golway — Review by Joseph E. Gannon, August '99

'The Irish Volunteer' Finds His Bard

David Kincaid's new CD resurrects passion, war, and politics of the Union's Irish soldier with sparkle and dance

REVIEW: "The Irish Volunteer: Songs of the Irish Union Soldier, 1861-1865." David Kincaid, 1998. Manufactured by Rykodisc Ltd.


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The Irish Brigade Association always does its best to throw a great hoolie on the night before we all march in the New York City St. Patrick's Day parade. A few years ago, when the march was held on a Saturday (the saint's day was Sunday, but of course we don't march on the Sabbath) there was a great crowd of men dressed as Civil War soldiers in the Officer's Club on Governors Island, all of us sitting around tables pushed together, pints in hand and singing every Irish and Civil War song we knew, one after the other into the night. It was heaven. The sound of men's voices, with unequal gifts but united passion, singing "Minstrel Boy," "Spancil Hill" or "Roddy McCorley" has the power to transport my imagination back to the night before Bull Run, when the Irish Brigade sang Thomas O. Davis's songs to swell their courage.

Ah, where...or when -- was I? Ah, yes, the "Irish Volunteer" review. Forgive me.

That night an energetic young man sat down next to me with an 1860s-style guitar. He added a fine voice and harmonies to our chorus and played his guitar with variety and skill. He even played us a few songs we'd never heard before. It was David Kincaid, a professional musician and one of the 116th Pennsylvania re-enactors.

Below right, Michael Corcoran leading his men into action. Currier & Ives lithograph

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When I heard, this month that he had produced a CD of songs of the Irish Union soldier of the Civil War, I was eager to hear it. When I read that he had searched original lyric sheets and soldiers' song books to find songs that had not been heard in this century, I was greatly relieved. I'm always looking for great new songs to learn, not more renditions of "Wild Rover" and "Rising of the Moon." This CD has a dozen songs and only two of them were in my repertoire: the tragic "Paddy's Lamentation" and the rollicking "Pat Murphy of the Irish Brigade," sung here with all twelve quatrains. The five I had learned from Jerry Silverman's collection of Civil War songs portray Pat as a bellicose, glory-seeking buffoon but David Kincaid restores stanzas that show a greater political sophistication, as Pat ridicules Jeff Davis, John Bull and Northern Abolitionists with equal wit.

The musicians include Jerry O'Sullivan on Uilleann pipes and tin whistle, John Whelan on accordion, Liz Knowles on fiddle, David himself on guitar, banjo, mandolin and bodhran, and other musicians playing harp, piano, cello, cittern, bones and more, with a four-part harmony for that round-the-campfire feeling on some of the songs. 

Illustrations From the Liner Notes of "The Irish Volunteer"

Kincaid has the good sense not to use all his musicians on every song. He uses them in appropriate combinations to produce arrangements with distinct flavors, from plaintive air to Victorian parlor piano-ballad to American Music Hall style to traditional Irish string-and-pipe-band enthusiasm. Kincaid shows he can sing with a vehement bravado on "My Father's Gun" or sweetly to his Mary Mavourneen on "Irish Volunteer -- #2". There's a great range of style here that fits the material very well.

Brig. Gen. Thomas Francis Meagher leading the Irish Brigade against the Confederates at the Battle of Fair Oaks, Va. Currier & Ives lithograph

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The title song opens the album and reclaims that great Irish tune "The Irish Jaunting Car", appropriated by the secessionists for "Bonnie Blue Flag." Thanks to David Kincaid for rediscovering such lyrics as:

Now if the traitors in the South should ever cross our roads,
We'll drive them to the divil as St Patrick did the toads,
We'll give them all short nooses that come just below the ears,
Made strong and good from Irish hemp by Irish volunteers.

Many of the songs relate the War for the Union to historical struggles for Irish freedom, as in the chorus to "Meagher Is Leading the Irish Brigade":

You true sons of Erin, Awake from your slumbers!
No longer leave tyrants your valleys invade
Let the long silent Harp vibrate its loud numbers.
Now Meagher is leading the Irish Brigade.

Or "The Opinions of Paddy Magee" (who must be a close relative of Billie Barlow, another boastful character featured in a jig-based tune):

With Columbia defying the bould British Lion,
The sons of ould Ireland forever shall be,
I'll have no intervention, if that's their intention,
And that's the opinions of Paddy Magee.

In the case of the lyrics to "Boys of the Irish Brigade", Kincaid had no tune reference but discovered that it fit perfectly the lovely waltz we know as "Flow Gently Sweet Afton" or "Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms":

For fighting, for drinking, for ladies and all,
No time like our times e'er was made, O,
By the rollicking boys, for war, ladies and noise,
The Boys of the Irish Brigade, O!

Have you listened to "The Irish Volunteer" yet? Do you think songs, like poetry, make poor history, as some wags have observed? What do songs reveal to the generations that follow? What do you think of David Kincaid's new CD? To discuss these questions and many others, drop by The Wild Geese Forum, where the epic sagas of Erin and Erin's far-flung exiles are our daily fare.

I do wish the collection had more historical documentation. Though the beautifully printed liner notes include all the lyrics and some background for each song, missing in many cases are the dates of publication and lyric authorship. David makes it very clear in the notes which songs he dug out of period sources. He tells of the eerie coincidences surrounding the writing of "Free and Green" by himself and Carl Funk, and even notes when he had to select a tune when none was specified with the original Civil War lyrics. So I do not mean to charge him with misrepresentation when I point out that not all the songs are clearly dated in the liner notes. Dates are important to anachronism-sensitive re-enactor musicians who are careful not to present a song in a time before it was written. I have never seen an author or a date documented for the lyrics to the powerful "Paddy's Lamentation" and I question its authenticity as a song from the Civil War period. Kincaid does not enlighten me with his notes on the song.

This is a collection of fine and professionally produced music, but it is not background music. It has too much passion, war and politics. Pick a CD of harp instrumentals to play with your dinner party, unless you want to restart the Civil War. But if you care a wit for these exiles and the story of their fight for their adopted country, these songs will fill you with pride of them, and if you're a reenactor musician, you'll be after learning some of this music that David Kincaid has restored to us.

Good on ya, boyo!

-- G. Leslie Sweetnam

G. Leslie Sweetnam is a member of the 27th CT Volunteers Civil War re-enactment unit. His folk music roots go back to the turbulent 60s (19, that is) and he has been playing his banjo and singing Civil War and Irish songs for more years than he probably wants to think about.

  1. Discography: "The Irish Volunteer: Songs of the Irish Union Soldier, 1861-1865" By David Kincaid, 1998.

  2. The Irish Volunteer [RealAudio]
  3. Boys That Wore Green
  4. Opinions of Paddy Magee
  5. The Boys of The Irish Brigade
  6. Paddy's Lament
  7. The Irish Volunteer (Nr. 2)
  8. My Father's Gun
  9. Meagher Is Leading The Irish Brigade
  10. Free And Green
  11. The Harp of Old Erin & Banner Of Star
  12. The List of Generals
  13. Pat Murphy of Meagher's Brigade
For more information or to order, follow this link.

Copyright © 2012 GAR Media LLC. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed without prior permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to permissions@garmedia.com.

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Tags: CD, David, Kincaid, Music, Review


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