Garryowen

Few songs have enjoyed so close an identification with the mood martial as this double jig from Ireland, whose people, Chesterton once noted, love sad songs and merry wars. Merriment is unquestionably the tune’s predominant key, ornamented with a boyish rowdiness and an elegant bravado. The quest of stout hearts for fame and glory has always been a crucial ethic of war, and here it dignifies the cheerful violence of boyos inflamed by esprit de corps no less than good brown ale. “Boys no man dares dun” from gallowglasses to West Pointers, from Gentleman Jim Corbett to General George Custer, have thrilled to its bold recklessness and marched from Garryowen in glory.

The song – here combined with a jig called “St. Patrick’s Day” – dates from the 1770’s and originates in the city of Limerick in the west of Ireland. A northern suburb known as Owen’s Garden was the home of a prosperous brewer blessed with two sons whose exploits became the stuff of local legend. These roisterers scoffed at the local authorities, flaunting their rough and tumble tastes before a public both annoyed and mildly amused. Since then, “Garryowen” has become the anthem of bruisers and bluff hearts everywhere and enjoyed special fame as the official march of the Fighting 69th of New York, the famous National Guard Regiment which distinguished itself in World War I as part of the Rainbow Division, the vanguard of the American Expeditionary Force.


Garryowen

Let Bacchus’s sons be not dismayed,
But join with me each jovial blade;
Come booze and sing, and lend your aid
To help me with the chorus: –

CHORUS:
Instead of Spa we’ll drink brown ale,
And pay the reckoning on the nail,
No man for debt shall go to gaol
From Garryowen in glory!

We are the boys that take delight in
Smashing the Limerick lamps when lighting,
Through the streets like sporters fighting
And tearing all before us. (Chorus)

We’ll break windows, we’ll break doors,
The watch knock down by threes and fours;
Then let the doctors work their cures,
And tinker up our bruises. (Chorus)

We’ll beat the bailiffs, out of fun,
We’ll make the mayor and sheriffs run:
We are the boys no man dares dun,
If he regards a whole skin. (Chorus)

Our hearts, so stout, have got us fame
For soon ’tis known from whence we came;
Where’er we go they dread the name
Of Garryowen in glory. (Chorus)

Johnny Connell’s tall and straight,
And in his limbs he is complete;
He’ll pitch a bar of any weight,
From Garryowen to Thomond Gate. (Chorus)

Garryowen is gone to wrack
Since Johnny Connell went to Cork,
Though Derby O’Brien leapt over the dock
In spite of all the soldiers. (Chorus)

FATEFUL LIGHTNING: The Civil War Songs of the Civil War Garryowen