More Songs About Ireland and The Irish


Once again we welcome you to a celebration of songs about Ireland and the Irish. Though we shall start off on a serious note, we hope that most of the music this month will uplift your spirits and help you join in the celebration of St. Patrick's day, Ireland's National Day. We have more than the usual count of songs this month including several "new" and obscure ones and a couple of Irish blockbusters, Danny Boy and My Wild Irish Rose. Sure'n Begorra and may the luck of the Irish be with ye evermore.

No Irish Need Apply


Music by: Miss Kathleen O'Neil
Lyrics by: O'Neil
Cover artist: Unknown

We want to reach back far into American and English music history for this first "Irish" song. Before we can celebrate, I think we should all be reminded that the Irish were not always welcome, here and in other countries. In the 19th century, the Irish potato famine from 1846 to 1850 took as many as one million lives from hunger and disease, and changed the social and cultural structure of Ireland in profound ways. The Famine also spurred new waves of immigration, thus shaping the histories of the United States and Britain as well. It began with a blight of the potato crop that left acre upon acre of Irish farmland covered with black rot. As harvests across Europe failed, the price of food soared. Subsistence-level Irish farmers found their food stores rotting in their cellars, the crops they relied on to pay the rent to their British and Protestant landlords destroyed. Peasants who ate the rotten produce sickened and entire villages were decimated with cholera and typhus. Parish priests desperate to provide for their congregations were forced to forsake buying coffins in order to feed starving families, with the dead going unburied or buried only in the clothes they wore when they died.


Landlords evicted hundreds of thousands of peasants, who then crowded into disease-infested workhouses. Other landlords paid for their tenants to emigrate, sending hundreds of thousands of Irish to America and other English-speaking countries. But even emigration was no panacea -- shipowners often crowded hundreds of desperate Irish onto rickety vessels labeled "coffin ships." In many cases, these ships reached port only after losing a third of their passengers to disease, hunger and other causes. While Britain provided much relief for Ireland's starving populace, many Irish criticized Britain's delayed response and further blamed centuries of British political oppression on the underlying causes of the famine.


The result of the waves of emigration was a great deal of fear, resentment and oppression of the Irish in both America and England. As with any cataclysmic social event, songs portrayed the situation and music assuaged the souls of those who were affected. Perhaps the most poignant song from this era is this one. I'll let the music and lyrics speak for themselves and as you listen and read, remember that all was not shamrocks, pots o' gold and smooth sailing for the brave Irish who came to our shores with nothing. However we should celebrate that they have in the ensuing decades, contributed mightily to our success as a nation.


This song has some question as to its origins. The copy we have attributes the words and music to Kathleen O'Neil, a popular English music hall performer. The date given is 1863. Other references attribute the song to John F. Poole, in 1862. He is generally accepted as the original composer and lyricist. It is likely O'Neil took up the song and wrote her own version in 1863. Copyright laws were virtually nonexistant at that time and almost any popular song was ripe for the picking. In addition, several versions of the lyrics exist, some with a male as the victim, others like this version, a woman. Furthermore, the actual appearance of ads or signs that "no Irish need apply" is in question and in one case, is stated to be a "myth of victimization" (see Richard Jensen's essay for an excellent article about this issue and this song, I highly recommend you read it). Regardless, the idea is commonly accepted and the song makes for an entertaining and thought provoking experience.


When I originally published this issue, I was unable to find any information about Kathleen O'Neil. An alert and thoughtful reader, Donald, wrote to us in February of 2004 and provided the following biographical information.

Kathleen O'Neil. Kathleen was an American-born daugher of Irish immigrants in New York, probably born in 1852. She was later better known as a dancer rather than a singer under the name "Kitty O'Neil" and died in Buffalo in 1893.

At the time she was singing "No Irish Need Apply," she was only about ten
years old and a newly discovered protegee of the famous variety showman Tony
Pastor. Pastor had a habit of visting the English music halls and bringing
songs back to New York, so he probably gave this obviously English song to
Kathleen and credited her as the composer in order to build up her name.

As "Kitty O'Neil" she became the most famous variety "jig dancer" of the
1870s and 1880s, performing most frequently in the New York theaters run by
Josh Hart, Tony Pastor, Ned Harrigan and Harry Miner. She also toured the
variety circuit as far afield as San Francisco.

Enjoy this provocative 19th Century song(SCORCH format)

listen to MIDI version


My Wild Irish Rose


Music by: Chauncey Olcott
Lyrics by: Olcott
Cover artist: Unknown


By the end of the 19th century, though the Irish (especially the Irish Catholics) were still facing resentment and obstacles to integration into our society, there was much more acceptance and the country (America) was recognizing the contribution of the Irish. In Lockport New York, a young man of Irish extraction named Chancellor John Olcott began writing music about the Irish and Ireland that would come to define much of what we recognize today as Irish music. That young man revered his Irish heritage and created an Irish persona, Chauncey Olcott whose music took the world by storm for the first two decades of the 20th century.


Olcott collaborated in composing many Irish ballads, but My Wild Irish Rose was his own composition. His widow, Margaret O'Donovan Olcott, told the story, after his death, of how My Wild Irish Rose was composed. In 1898 they were visiting Ireland and while they were walking at Glengaris, County Cork, a young boy gave her a flower. She asked the name of it and he replied, "Sure, it's a wild Irish Rose." She put the rose in an album and later when he asked her for suggestions for a title for a tune to be included in the score of A Romance In Athlone, she opened the album, pointed to the flower and said, "There's the title for your new song."


Chauncey Olcott's (1858 or 1860- 1932) ancestors came from Ireland. His mother was born in Ireland and came to America with her family when she was eight years old. They went first to Montreal, Canada, and then came to Lockport, NY in the 1840's. They lived in what Chauncey Olcott would later call "an Irish shanty" on the banks of the Erie Canal. The "Irish shanty" was located on the east end of West Genesee Street next to a sawmill on the Clifford Lumber Company lumberyard. Newspaper articles concerning Chauncey Olcott's early life are very contradictory. His mother is reported in some articles to be "Margaret Buckley" while other articles say his mother was "Margaret Doyle." One news article reports that his mother married Mellon Whitney Olcott in Lockport, then moved to Buffalo where Chauncey Olcott was born July 21, 1860.(In conflict with other published birth dates) Other articles note Chauncey's birthplace as Lockport. Two years after Mellen Olcott died, Margaret Olcott married Patrick Brennan. Chauncey was Margaret's only surviving son, two others having died.


It would seem though that Chauncey Olcott was most probably born in Buffalo in 1860. After his death, his widow told of his having taken great delight when they were first married in showing her his birthplace, above his father's stable in Buffalo. His mother's second husband, Patrick Brennan, was Chief Engineer for the Buffalo Water Works for many years. Chauncey's mother and stepfather continued to live in Buffalo, and Chauncey attended Buffalo public schools. His early musical training took place at the Buffalo Academy of Music. His maternal grandmother continued to live in the "Irish shanty" on West Genesee Street where Chauncey would spend his summer vacations from school in Buffalo. Chauncey Olcott's musical career actually began when he was very young. Some Lockport residents recalled times when Chauncey, while visiting in Lockport, was hoisted onto a table at the Washington Hose firehouse on Church Street where he would sing Irish ballads. In 1879, at the age of 19, Chauncey Olcott appeared with Emerson and Hooley's Minstrel Company in Chicago. The next year he joined a group called Haverly's Mastodons at Buffalo, New York, and they opened at the Drury Lane Theatre in London, England. In October 1881, he opened with Billy Emerson's Minstrels in San Francisco. Chauncey was very successful in the minstrel shows, but because of the special quality of his light lyric tenor voice, theatre managers encouraged him to sing Irish ballads and take leading roles in plays, operas and operettas.


In March 1886, Chauncey Olcott made in New York City debut at the Union Square Theatre as Pablo in Pepita. Later he starred in The Old Homestead, Pinafore, and The Mikado. In 1890 he went to London where he made stage appearances and studied voice for three years. An accomplished composer, Olcott wrote musical scores for a number of plays including Minstrel of Clare (1896), A Romance in Athlone (1899) and Old Limerick Town (1902).


Despite his tremendous success and stage appearances in New York and London and touring extensively, Chauncey Olcott always remembered his NY roots and regularly returned to Lockport for appearances at the Hodge Opera House. In 1900 he appeared in Eileen Astore, in 1903 in Sterrance; in 1907 it was Old Limerick Town, and in 1912 it was Machusla.


In 1897, he married Margaret O'Donovan of San Francisco. Margaret Olcott was a co-author of two plays in which her husband appeared, Ragged Robin and Lusmore. After his death in 1932, she wrote Song In His Heart, a biography of Chauncey Olcott. This later was made in a motion picture called appropriately, My Wild Irish Rose. She died in 1949, age 70.


In November 1925, while on tour in The Rivals, Chauncey Olcott was stricken with a serious illness and he never appeared on stage again. He retired to Monte Carlo and died there March 18, 1932. At his bedside during his last hours were his wife and his son, Earl, and daughter, Jeannie Olcott. Both son and daughter were adopted. His adopted daughter had been born in Monte Carlo and was 15 years old at the time of Chauncey Olcott's death. His son was an instructor at Heidelberg at the time of his death. According to his obituary, which appeared in the New York Times, Olcott's body would be returned to New York on board the Conte Biancamaro for burial in Woodlawn Cemetery.


Other Irish ballads that Chauncey Olcott made famous were Mother Machree, A Little Bit of Heaven, Sure They Call It Ireland, and When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. In many respects, Olcott could fairly be called the father of the Irish ballad in America.

Listen to and see this hit song (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version




Where The River Shannon Flows


Music by: James J. Russell
Lyrics by: Russell
Cover artist: Edgar Keller


By the early 20th century, Irish songs were quite popular, thanks to Olcott and other composers such as Ernest Ball's success with Irish ballads. In addition, John McCormack, (1884-1945) the Irish-American tenor who was the rage of the early 20th century had popularized Irish song such that it was becoming an important part of the American music scene. As with most popular trends, lots of folks got on the bandwagon and composers, Irish or not, were scrambling to write and publish "Irish" songs.


Both well known and unknown composers and songwriters joined in the fray and James J. Russell was in there too. Lissauer's (see our resources page) lists this as the only song by Russell and little is known today about him. On the cover is an inset photo of the Russell Brothers, John and James. James wrote this song for their act and it was introduced by them in 1905 and subsequently published and was quite successful. It is a very nice tune and has enjoyed a long life of performance and recording. McCormack recorded it as did Bing Crosby and Kate Smith. It could be regarded as an old standard in the Irish ballad repertoire.

Hear this great old melody (scorch format)

listen to MIDI version




Arrah Wanna


Music by: Theodore Morse
Lyrics by: Jack Drislane
Cover artist: De Takacs


Theodore Morse jumped on the Irish bandwagon and has the distinction of composing what might be one of the oddest Irish songs of the era. Arrah Wanna tells the tale of an Indian maid courted by an Irishman. The music and words have about as much of an Irish flavor as a meatball sandwich. In spite of that, Morse and Drislane managed to create a song success that enjoyed fair success and several recordings. The cover certainly brings together two of the most diverse images of the times, a man in traditional Irish garb playing the pipes and a Native American woman at her teepee!

The music is even more strange. With an Indian drum-like bass line and an Irish-like melody, Morse created either the most mismatched song in history or he created a masterpiece of musical creativity. The words are humorous and tell the story called "An Irish Indian Matrimonial Venture." The song was also later published as a piano solo intermezzo. In that version, the musical themes are better developed and the song actually takes on a completely different character, at least to my ear.


Theodore F. Morse (b. 1873, Washington, D.C., d. 1924, New York, N.Y.) was one of the most important composers of the period before and up to the First World War. He wrote many, many popular songs as well as the scores to several popular stage shows. His wife, Theodora Morse was also an accomplished composer and performer who often composed under the name of Dorothy Terriss. Theodore Morse was a privately tutored student of piano and violin and began his education at the Maryland Military Academy. At age 14 (1887), he ran away from the Academy and went to New York where he became a clerk in a music store. His first song was sold when be was only 15 and by age 24 he had his own publishing house, The Morse Music Co, which was in existence from 1898 to 1900. Morse is well represented on ParlorSongs and has a long list of popular hits to his credit. Among his most famous works are, Blue Bell (1904), M-O-T-H-E-R (1915), Down In Jungle Town (1908) and Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here (1917). In 1903, Morse wrote Hurray For Baffin Bay for a new stage show that would become the basis for a blockbuster movie, The Wizard of Oz.


Hear this unique Irish/Indian song (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version




My Irish Girl


Music by: H. Blanke-Belcher
Lyrics by: Alfred Bryan
Cover artist: Trip

The Irish song concept spilled over to stage shows as well and a number of wonderful musicals and plays were produced with Irish themes, such as those produced by Olcott and others. Even non Irish shows seemed to manage to find a way to include a little bit o' the green and sometimes it was a long reach. The 1911 production, The Wall Street Girl included this song, written by a virtually unknown (today) composer but with lyrics by the great Alfred Bryan. This version was issued as a Sunday supplement to the Cleveland Plain Dealer on December 3, 1911. These Sunday supplement sheets are becoming more and more rare due to the acidic nature of newsprint. See our October 2000 feature on Sunday supplements for more information about these unique American musical publications. In many cases, songs that were not published in any other medium were issued in this manner. It is also apparent, that though there are some musical treasures to be found in Sunday supplements, most were the lesser known and less popular songs and acted more as a teaser for a production or other music. This version is in pretty good shape and well preserved. It folds out into a full size newspaper page and on the inside is a real treasure, an original short story by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure Of The Three Students.


This song is interesting musically to me in that I find the chorus to be harmonically very odd and rhythmically cumbersome. The verses start out in the key of B flat and then the chorus changes to D . The verse section is very pleasant and tuneful. As I first played the song's chorus, I kept wanting to change some of the notes as they just did not sound right. In the end, I have presented it here exactly as written and would like to hear from any of you as to your comments about it. I've made this a printable score (scorch) so any of you musicians can print it off and noodle around with it. If any of you produce a more pleasing result, please share it with us.


Enjoy this rare song (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version



When I Dream Of Old Erin (I'm Dreaming of You)


Music by: Leo Friedman
Lyrics by: Marvin Lee
Cover artist: E.H. Pfeiffer (1st, second cover unsigned.)


This song was a major hit in 1912, and musically, it rightfully should have been. It was published a number of times, by different publishers under license and enjoyed a relatively long life as an Irish favorite yet has fallen by the wayside and is nearly forgotten today. We have two different cover versions in our collection as you can see by placing your cursor over the cover. The first was published by Harry Williams Music Co. and the second by Frank Clark Music Co. in Chicago. It is a tender and soothing ballad about the "homeland across the sea" and the beauty of Ireland and of course, an Irisman's true love.


Leo Friedman was born in 1869 in Elgin Illionois and died in 1927 in Chicago. His major all-time hit was Let Me Call You Sweetheart (MIDI) in 1910 with Beth Slater Whitson. He also wrote the hit Coon! Coon! Coon! in 1901 which was a popular vaudeville and minstrel tune. In 1908, also in collaboration with Whitson, he produced Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland, a huge hit in its time. As with many of the greatest hits of the era, Judy Garland performed it in the 1949 film, The Good Old Summertime.


Little is published about Marvin Lee. We do know he wrote both words and music to the 1917 song Livery Stable Blues which is distinguised by having been recorded by the Original Dixieland Band and W.C. Handy's Orchestra. That song was briefly revived in 1938 by Bunny Berigan and his band.

Listen to this old Irish ballad (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version




Danny Boy


Music by: Adapted by Fred E. Weatherly from an Old Irish Air
Lyrics by: Fred E. Weatherly
Cover artist: unknown


In my humble opinion, this is the greatest Irish ballad ever written. It has remained the definitive Irish ballad since it was first published. The music was adapted from the Londonderry Air, a traditional Irish melody that was composed by a now unknown composer. Some scholars trace the melody back to the early 1600s. The first appearance of the tune in print occurred in 1855, in a collection of old Irish music. Danny Boy is one of over 100 songs composed to the same tune, the lyrics of which are rarely if ever seen or heard due to the overwhelming success of Danny Boy. According to the composer in his autobiography, Piano and Gown London & New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1926 p. 45 , in 1910 Weatherly wrote the words and music for an unsuccessful song he called Danny Boy. In 1912 his sister-in-law in America sent him a tune called the Londonderry Air, which he had never heard before. He immediately noticed that the melody was perfectly fitted to his earlier lyrics, and published a revised version of the song in 1913. One other account states that it was his sister-in-law who made the connection between music and lyrics and that was why she sent the music to Weatherly. As far as is known, Weatherly never set foot in Ireland.


Recorded by virtually every Irish tenor in history and many of the greatest popular singers of the 20th century, the song's haunting melody and Weatherly's words combine for an emotional tour de force of music. Often sung at funerals and wakes for Firemen, Policemen and those of Irish origin, the lyrics lend themselves to a sorrowful good-bye and are a befitting salute to a dearly beloved who has departed.


Frederic Edward Weatherly (1848-1929), was a songwriter and in his later years, a radio entertainer. Born in Portishead, Somersetshire in England he studied law at Braesnose College and was a barrister of the Inner Temple in 1887. Weatherly also wrote a number of books including children's books and several quite serious titles including Questions in Logic, Progressive and General; The Rudiments of Logic, Inductive and Deductive and Musical and Dramatic Copyright. He also was a prolific poet, which was the source of his song lyric talent as well.


Weatherly wrote hundreds of songs among them few if any that have survived the decades since like Danny Boy has. Among his "lost works" are; In Sweet September, The Deathless Army, The Midshipmate and Polly. He also wrote other works that have survived the ages and are still well known including London Bridge, and When We Were Old and Gray. Little noticed today, Weatherly ranks at the top of the list of 19th and early twentieth century songwriters in terms of output having produced thousands of songs.


According to Michael R. Turner and Antony Miall in The Edwardian Song-Book: Drawing-Room Ballads 1900-1914, Methuen, London, 1982

The most prolific poet of the Edwardian—and for that matter Victorian and Georgian—ballad, the genial and indefatigable Fred E. (Frederick Edward) Weatherly (1848-1929) was virtually a one-man song factory. Seven of his lyrics appear in this book, but he wrote thousands, of which at least fifteen hundred were published, with music by dozens of composers who vied to get their hands on his verses. …The law was as much a love as poetry, and he studied and was called to the Bar at the age of thirty-nine, thereafter enjoying a comfortable career on the Western Circuit, often appearing in criminal cases, almost invariably for the defence. According to his own account, in court he was remarkably keen-witted and effective. Songs poured from him, he translated opera (including Cav. and Pag.) and he published quantities of verse and children's books. He revelled in his considerable celebrity. A little man physically, he had, as a friend put it, 'a blithe and tender soul'. He may have been self-satisfied but he was much loved and was certainly no fool, cheerfully dismissing his facility as a lyricist as no safe ticket to Parnassus. His most commercially successful ballad was 'Roses of Picardy' which became one of the great popular songs of the Great War, and it made its writer a small fortune.


Listen to this lasting Irish ballad (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version




See our resources page for a complete bibliography of all resources used to research this and other articles in our series.


WAIT! There are more Irish Song masterpieces to see and hear. The second part of this issue features more rare and different works.

More hit music and covers in this month's issue, go to part B.

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