‘Ballyhooly’ Bob Martin
WE HAVE JUST returned from the west of Ireland, revived and refreshed by the various liquids on offer there. Though most of these came from the sky, we were not deterred from swimming in Lough Derg, on the western bank of which we stayed for a day or two in the hospitable house of Tom Haran. On the way there we had stopped for a stroll in Killaloe, which I had not been in for many years. I had forgotten that it was Ireland’s Budapest, being really two towns joined by a bridge (or, I suppose, one town divided by a river) – Ballina on the east and Killaloe on the west at the point where the Shannon takes its leave of the lake.
So it was quite a coincidence that when we got home there was on the doormat a large envelope containing photocopies of a song called ‘Killaloe’. An exceptionally kind correspondent in Newcastle West, County Limerick, John Cussen, had posted it to me in January – a long delivery time indeed!
In Ireland’s Other Poetry we had printed what I thought was the entire song. As so often, I was quite wrong. The version I used was the 22 lines that appear in that invaluable account by Eugene Watters and Matthew Murtagh of Dan Lowrey’s Music Hall in Dublin during the last two decades of the 19th century. Here now was the whole thing, complete with its music.
For some reason, I had failed to register that the ‘Bob’ Martin whom we credit with the authorship of ‘Killaloe’ was in fact Robert J Martin of Ross (1846-1905), brother of Violet, the ‘Martin Ross’ half of Somerville and Ross of Irish RM fame. I learned this interesting titbit from the background details about the author that the good Mr Cussen had taken the trouble to supply me with. In his envelope he had also put a copy of the cover of Robert Martin’s most popular book, which bears the less than enticing title, Bits of Blarney. This was published in 1899 under the pseudonym of ‘Ballyhooly’ (from the title of his most famous song).
That other adept of light verse, Arthur Griffith, with whom Martin shared more than either of them might have admitted, once called him ‘a thing called Robert Martin, which has done more to slander Ireland than any man alive.’ The author of ‘Killaloe’ must certainly stand guilty of the charge of promulgating the old stage-Irish stereotype, but only a hyper-nationalist curmudgeon could deny that ‘Killaloe’ shows that he had a fine comic way with words.
In any case, I look forward to reading more of Robert Martin’s work, both the anti-Government (and anti-Land League) songs in his earlier collection, Days of the Land League, and the ones in Bits of Blarney, if I ever manage to lay hands on them.
For the meantime, here is the whole of the text of ‘Killaloe’, as it ought to be. As for the music, which was also written by ‘Ballyhooly’ Martin, since I am incapable of reading it, I don’t see why you should be allowed to either!
Well I happened to get born at the time they cut the corn,
Quite contagious to the town of Killaloe:
Where to tache us they’d a schame, and a Frinch Mossoo he came
To instruct us in the game of parlez vous.
I’ve one father, that I swear, but he said I had a père,
And he struck me when I said it wasn’t true,
And the Irish for a ‘jint,’ or the Frinch for ‘half a pint,’
Faith we larnt it in the school at Killaloe.
You may talk of Boneyparty, you may talk about Écarté,
Or any other party, and ‘comment vous portez vous!’
We larnt to sing it aisy, that song the Marsellasy,
Boolong, Toolong, the continong, we larnt at Killaloe …
‘Mais oui,’ Mossoo would cry, ‘well, of course you can,’ says I,
Non, no – ‘I know,’ says I with some surprise;
When a boy straight up from Clare heard his mother called a mère,
He gave Mossoo his fist between the eyes.
Says Mossoo, with much alarm, ‘Go and call for Johnny Darm,’
‘There’s no such name,‘ said I, ‘about the place,’
‘Comment,’ he made reply, ‘Come on, yerself,’ says I,
And I scattered all the features of his face.
Oh boys, there was the fun, you should see him when ’twas done,
His eyeballs one by one did disappear,
And a doctor from the south took some days to find his mouth
Which had somehow got concealed behind his ear.
Then he swore an awful oath, he’d have the law agin us both,
And thin he’d lave both Limerick and Clare;
For he found it wouldn’t do to tache Frinch in Killaloe,
Unless he had a face or two to spare.
To the Magistrate he wint, and a lot of time he spint,
Says the Magistrate, ‘Begorry I’m perplexed,
For a fellow who, you see, spells whiskey O,D,V,
You never know what he’ll be up to next.’
Thin nothing more was said, Mossoo wint home to bed,
And mixed no more in Killaloe affairs,
And the papers of the place said the Foreign tacher’s face
Was closed for alterations and repairs.
If disguises you would try, or would prove an alibi,
Or alter your appearance just for fun,
You’ve just one thing to do, go tache Frinch at Killaloe,
And your mother will not know you for her son.
Frinch may be very fine, it’s no enemy of mine,
But as I think you’ll aisily suppose,
Whatever tongue you take, it is mighty hard to spake
While your ear keeps changing places with your nose.
Now I’m glad to find ’tis true ye are plased with Killaloe,
And our conduct to the tacher they did send;
But I’ve tould you all that passed, so this verse must be the last
That’s the reason I have left it to the end.
We’re all Irish tenants there, and we’re all prepared to swear
That to the Irish language we’ll be true,
But we all, wid one consent, when they ax us for the rent,
Sure we answer them in Frinch in Killaloe.