This protest limerick has roots dating back as far as the 18th century describing the interaction between two Irish men walking along the seashore and a few English soldiers who tried to recruit them into the English army. It became popular as a song in the 1970s thanks to Paul Brady.
Definitive version of Paul Brady's classic.
Oh, me and my cousin, one Arthur McBride
As we went a-walking down by the seaside
Now, mark what followed and what did betide
For it being on Christmas morning…
Out for recreation, we went on a tramp
And we met Sergeant Napper and Corporal Vamp
And a little wee drummer, intending to camp
For the day being pleasant and charming.
“Good morning ! Good morning!” the sergeant did cry
“And the same to you gentlemen! ” we did reply ,
Intending no harm but meant to pass by
For it being on Christmas morning.
But says he, “My fine fellows if you will enlist,
It’s ten guineas in gold I will slip in your fist
And a crown in the bargain for to kick up the dust
And drink the King’s health in the morning.
For a soldier he leads a very fine life
And he always is blessed with a charming young wife
And he pays all his debts without sorrow or strife
And always lives pleasant and charming…
And a soldier he always is decent and clean
In the finest of clothing he’s constantly seen
While other poor fellows go dirty and mean
And sup on thin gruel in the morning. ”
“But “, says Arthur, “I wouldn’t be proud of your clothes
For you’ve only the lend of them as I suppose
And you dare not change them one night, for you know
If you do you’ll be flogged in the morning.
And although that we are single and free
we take great delight in our own company
And we have no desire strange faces to see
Although that your offers are charming
And we have no desire to take your advance
All hazards and dangers we barter on chance
For you would have no scruples for to send us to France
Where we would get shot without warning ”
“Oh now! “, says the sergeant “I’ll have no such chat
And I neither will take it from spalpeen or brat
For if you insult me with one other word
I’ll cut off your heads in the morning ”
And then Arthur and I we soon drew our hods
And we scarce gave them time for to draw their own blades
When a trusty shillelagh came over their heads
And bade them take that as fair warning
And their old rusty rapiers that hung by their side
We flung them as far as we could in the tide
“Now take them out, Divils! “, cried Arthur McBride
“And temper their edge in the morning “.
And the little wee drummer we flattened his pow
And we made a football of his rowdeydowdow
Threw it in the tide for to rock and to row
And bade it a tedious returning
And we having no money, paid them off in cracks
And we paid no respect to their two bloody backs
For we lathered them there like a pair of wet sacks
And left them for dead in the morning.
And so to conclude and to finish disputes
We obligingly asked if they wanted recruits
For we were the lads who would give them hard clouts
And bid them look sharp in the morning.
Oh me and my cousin, one Arthur McBride
As we went a walkin’ down by the seaside,
Now mark what followed and what did betide
For it being on Christmas morning.
A few years ago, I wrote an article in Folklife Center News about popular recordings inspired by AFC collection items. One of the ones I chose was Paul Brady's version of an Irish ballad he called "Arthur McBride and the Sergeant" (see the lyrics at this link).
- Paul Brady may have based his version of Arthur Mcbride on an AFC recording of the song by Carrie Grover in Maine in 1942. He never heard her sing it but was perhaps inspired by her lyrics
- Bob Dylan recorded a version of Arthur Mcbride in 1992
- Arthur Mcbride has a reference to being sent to France which implies the original limerick dates back to 1793 when France and England were at war.
- Paul Brady uses an "Open G" tuning for this song.
Long gathering dust on a shelf this is Tiernan McBride's 1977 film of Paul Brady's song 'Arthur McBride'. A wonderful document of a wonderful song.
Maine in the early 1940s. Her version of the song Arthur McBride may have influenced the current version made popular today by Paul Brady.
If you follow this site, you can hear the original recording she did!
This album contains the Paul Brady version of Arthur McBride
5 stars on Amazon
Spalpeen comes from the Irish word for a rascal or layabout.
Shillelagh a stick, sometimes a walking stick, that can also be used as a weapon.
Rowdy Dow Dow a drum
Hods a tray or trough that has a pole handle and that is borne on the shoulder for carrying loads
"Arthur McBride" (also called "Arthur McBride and the Sergeant") is a folk song found in Ireland, Scotland and England with slight variations.
Arthur Mcbride as played by Paul Brady circa ~1974.
very helpful instructional video if you want to learn how to play this song.
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