One of my favorite ballads of all time is Arthur McBride, which most of us know because of Paul Brady’s pure, sweet version.
It’s about two cousins walking along on Christmas morning who are accosted by British army recruiters. They make bogus promises to the cousins who politely refuse, not wanting to be sent off to France to die in a foreign war. It turns out the recruiters won’t take no for an answer, but because “its being on Christmas morning” the Irish cousins won’t let them not take no for an answer.
“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, Devils!”, 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.
I think about this song whenever I see poor kids being sweet-talked by the Army recruiters at the mall. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!