Mrs. McGrath

TITLE: Mrs. McGrath
AUTHORunknown
CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain
KEYWORDSwar, injury, separation, soldier
EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1916 (Colm Ó Lochlainn)
HISTORICAL REFERENCES: “This song of the Peninsular War dates, according to one source, to 1815. The earliest account of it in Ireland seems to be 1876 when Sam Henry’s informant learned it in Belfast. (The Age of Revolution in the Irish Song Tradition 1776 to 1815, Edited by Terry Moylan)

Mrs McGrath is an anti-war song in which a mother laments how her son lost both his legs in battle after being recruited into the British Army. Ireland was a rich source of soldiers for the British Army throughout the 19th century.

Mrs. McGrathMrs McGrath dates from the early 19th century and the time of the Peninsular War when Britain, Spain, Portugal and Napoleon’s France fought over the Iberian Peninsula, covering the territories of modern day Spain and Portugal. Mrs McGrath’s son Ted is sent off to fight in this war after being recruited into the British Army with the promise of “a scarlet coat and a big cocked hat”.

Ted is away at war for seven years and when he eventually returns, his mother’s delight turns to horror when she sees that his legs are missing, blown away by a cannonball. Mrs McGrath’s anger turns to thoughts of revenge with the words, “I’ll make them rue the time, They took two legs from a child of mine.” The anger and frustration is only to be expected, but part of the poignancy of the song is that Mrs McGrath’s threat is essentially meaningless.  (from Irish Music Daily)

OTHER TITLES AND VARIATIONS:

  • My Son Tim
  • The Widow McGrath

RECORDINGS: (mp3’s available through Amazon.com)

YOUTUBE VIDEO:

YOUTUBE AUDIO: download
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PPT LYRICS FOR THE CLASSROOM: download
BONUS YOUTUBE VIDEO: Bruce Springsteen

Mrs. McGrath

“Oh, Mrs. McGrath,” the sergeant said
“Would you like to make a soldier of your son Ted
With a scarlet coat and a big cocked hat
Now Mrs. McGrath would you like that?”

With me too-rye-ay Foddle-diddle-day
With me toorye oorye oorye-ay
With me toorye-ay Foddle diddle day
Me toorye oorye oorye-ay

Now Mrs. McGrath lived on the sea shore
And after seven years or more
She spied a ship coming into the bay
With her son from far away

“Oh captain dear, where have ye been?
You been sailing on the Mediterranean?
Have you news of my son Ted?
Is he living or is he dead?”

With me too-rye-ay Foddle-diddle-day
With me toorye oorye oorye-ay
With me toorye-ay Foddle diddle day
Me toorye oorye oorye-ay

Then up came Ted without any legs
And in their place two wooden pegs
She kissed him a dozen times or two
And said “My God Ted is it you”?

Now were ye drunk or were ye blind
When ye left yer two fine legs behind?
Or was it walking upon the sea
That wore your two fine legs away?”

With me too-rye-ay Foddle-diddle-day
With me toorye oorye oorye-ay
With me toorye-ay Foddle diddle day
Me toorye oorye oorye-ay

Now I wasn’t drunk and I wasn’t blind
When I left my two fine legs behind
A cannonball on the fifth of May
Tore my two fine legs away

“My, Teddy boy,” the widow cried
“Yer two fine legs were yer mother’s pride
Stumps of a tree wouldn’t do at all
Why didn’t ye run from the cannon ball?”

With me too-rye-ay Foddle-diddle-day
With me toorye oorye oorye-ay
With me toorye-ay Foddle diddle day
Me toorye oorye oorye-ay

“All foreign wars I do proclaim
Live on blood and a mother’s pain
I’d rather have my son as he used to be
Than the King of America and his whole Navy!

With me too-rye-ay Foddle-diddle-day
With me toorye oorye oorye-ay
With me toorye-ay Foddle diddle day
Me toorye oorye oorye-ay
With me too-rye-ay Foddle-diddle-day
With me toorye oorye oorye-ay
With me toorye-ay Foddle diddle day
Me toorye oorye oorye-ay

SOURCES:

  • Folk Song Index: A Comprehensive Guide to the Florence E. Brunnings Collection, Florence E. Brunnings, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London 1981—Amazon Books

SONGBOOKS:

NOTICE: I’m not the best guitar player or vocalist, but no one loves these songs more than I do. The tune and lyrics are in the public domain unless otherwise noted. The recording © copyright 2013 by Stephen Griffith and may be used by permission of the copyright holder. The variation of the song I’m posting is the version I perform and is not exactly replicating the sources cited, but is always in the same song family. If anyone has more details about this song, or believes I’ve stated something in error, please let me know. I’m also open to suggestions to improve the site. Thanks. sgg

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