This one got me in the gut many years ago and I never got free.

It’s tough to track down not only because of the regular folk song variations, but also because of the various ways of transcribing the Irish, so it results in a billion different titles all over the place.  Once partially or fully Englished, it becomes about the American Revolution rather than the Jacobite cause.  You’ll find it as, among other things:

  • Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier
  • Shule Aroon
  • Sweet William
  • Buttermilk Hill
  • Siúil A Rúin

I get exasperated when the vocalists do more gymnastics than are necessary for what is a compelling, haunting melody even with the words, and a terribly effective lamentation with the simplest of vocals.  It needs “space.”  Vocalists who do too fucking much and take up all the “space” in this song annoy me.

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Shule, Shule, Shule Agra: A Ballad of 1837 reported in the New York Times in 1901 (PDF)

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The version I first learned, and which is still the first to come to mind, begins:

His hair was black, his eye was blue
His arm was strong, his word was true
I wish in my heart I was with you
Is go dte tu mo mhuirnin slan
Siuil, siuil, siuil a ruin
Only death will ease my woe
Since the lad of my heart from me did go
Is go dte tu mo mhuirnin slan

I have *not* been able to find a copy of the version that exists in my head.  That may mean I have made it up myself without realizing, by unconsciously compiling various versions over the years into one apparently (but falsely) “original” thing in my head.  I did the same thing with Shady Grove in a way – I spent so long seeking out versions of it and hearing other versions of it, that when I heard Doc’s again, years later, I was shocked – in my mind, his version had a lot of verses that didn’t actually occur on the recording I’m pretty sure I was thinking was the first version I’d heard.  I’d have lost the bet on where I got some of the verses.

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last link check: 4 June 2012

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