LivingTravelCarrickfergus Song Lyrics and History

Carrickfergus Song Lyrics and History

The Irish song ‘Carrickfergus’, as in ‘I Wish I Was in…’, is one of the best known laments for ‘auld country’. Who has not heard this heartbreaking memory of the home of a man growing old in exile, longing for his immigrant days to end, only to be once again in Carrickfergus, County Antrim. Well, it would, right? Despite the fact that Carrickfergus today is not a city that evokes much nostalgia, despite the famous castle.

“Carrickfergus” is one of those typical songs popular in the “Irish diaspora”, singing the praises of the country they left (or even their ancestors) and lamenting the seemingly insurmountable distance from there (and loved ones, friends, family, usually a fair maiden too). It remains, and always will be, very popular with Irish Americans who pass through boxes of whole tissues in tears. Although you could fly to Ireland these days for the price of a decent night in New York.

By the way, “Carrickfergus” is one of the songs of the “Pity the Poor Emigrant” genre which, although the name of an Irish town, does not give any indication of where the singer actually sings. Therefore, it can be sung with full conviction in Melbourne, Montreal, Manhattan or Manchester. A song to bring them all together, so to speak.

“Carrickfergus” Lyrics

I wish I was in Carrickfergus
just nights in ballygrant
I’d swim over the deepest ocean
to find my love,
but the sea is wide and I can’t cross,
and I don’t have wings to fly either
I wish I could meet a handsome boatman
To transport myself to my love and die.

My childhood days bring sad reflections
of the happy moments that I spent so long ago,
my childhood friends and my own relatives
they have now passed like melted snow.
But I will spend my days roaming endlessly.
Soft is the grass, my bed is free.
Ah, return now to Carrickfergus,
on that long road to the sea.

But in Kilkenny, it is reported,
on marble stones there as black as ink.
With gold and silver he would support her.
But I won’t sing anymore until I have a drink.
Because I’m drunk today, and I’m rarely sober.
A handsome tramp from town to town
Ah, but now I’m sick, my days are numbered.
Come all you young men and put me to bed.

What is the history?

Obviously “Carrickfergus” is an Irish folk song named after the town of Carrickfergus, although Kilkenny also has a name and ultimately the actual location in Ireland seems to have absolutely no consequence. The story is simple: the man sits somewhere (presumably crying into his drink), lamenting the fact that he is far from home, wishes to return once more. But he is old and is likely to die in exile. Unhappy, of course. End of story.

Throw in some flourishes and you have the typical emigrant song popular with the crowds.

Who wrote the song?

Absolutely no idea … “Carrickfergus” is said to go back to an old Irish song ” Do bhí bean uasal ” (literally “There was a Noblewoman”), written by Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna (who died in 1745). This song was printed in the mid-19th century in Cork, but the lyrics were not about a longing for home, but about a cuckold husband, in an obscene way. Compare that to the letter above and you will see that it does not match.

It has also been suggested that “Carrickfergus” is an amalgamation of at least two separate songs, which accounts for the lack of a consistent narrative, and the sudden (nonsensical) mention of Kilkenny, a no sequitur if ever there was one. George Petrie’s book “Ancient Music of Ireland” (1855), for example, included a song “The Young Lady”, the lyrics of which can be found partially in “Carrickfergus.”

The modern version could owe its existence to actor Peter O’Toole, the story goes that he sang it to Dominic Behan, who wrote the words, improvising a bit, and made a recording in the 1960s. Knowing how dim reality All in all he had O’Toole on occasion, it might as well have been some songs distilled into a heady ale that he sang.

Pop culture references

“Carrickfergus” has been recorded by a host of artists including Joan Baez, Bryan Ferry, Dominic Behan, Charlotte Church, The Clancy Brothers, De Dannan, The Dubliners, Katherine Jenkins (yes, the classical singer once appeared on Doctor Who ) , Ronan Keating, Brian Kennedy, Loreena McKennitt, Van Morrison, and Bryn Terfel.

It was also used to good effect in the episode “Blind Beggar” of the BBC crime drama Waking the Dead . Even the German band Scooter included a version with a helium voice in their song “Where the Beats.” And, of course, Loudon Wainwright III sang it over the end credits of Boardwalk Empire .

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