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Songs & Sources

The Female Cabin Boy

The Female Cabin Boy


Eileen Gogan: Vocals, Electric Guitar and FX
Neil Farrell: Guitars, Strings and Keys.
Written By: Traditional.
Mixed by Eileen and Neil.
Publishing: Stare Music
Cover design: Paul Callanan and Richard Mc Mahon.


I am a girl that’s deep in love, and no-one feels my pain,
I’m searching for my lover and Johnny is his name,
If I don’t find my Johnny, I’ll look so tenderly,
And if I had my own dear Johnny, I’ll sail across the sea.

I’ll cut off my yellow locks and sailor’s clothes I’ll put on.
I’ll hire with the sea-bold captain, and his decks I’ll march along.
I’ll hire with the sea-bold captain, and his cabinboy I’ll be,
And I’ll be his real comrade, in the land of liberty.

It being on a Sunday evening, that we were going to bed,
The captain laughed and shook his head, saying, ‘I wish you was a maid.
With your rosy cheeks and ruby lips, they are enticing me,
And I wish to God, and from my heart, that you was a maid for me.’

‘Hold your tongue dear captain, your talk is all in vain,
When the sailors come to hear of this, they’ll laugh and make great game.
When your ship shall reach those island, some handsome girl you’ll find,
When your ship shall reach those island, tis in we will prove kind.’

It being in a few days after, his ship had reached the shore.
‘Goodbye, goodbye oh captain, goodbye for ever more.
Goodbye, God bless you captain, goodbye for ever more.
Once I’d been a sailor on board, but now I’m a maid on shore.’

‘So return, oh return, my pretty girl, return once more with me,
I’ve got in the world with three thousand pounds and that I’ll leave to thee,
I’ve got in the world with three thousand pounds and that I’ll give to thee,
If you return, return, my pretty girl, and sail once more with me.’

‘The Female Cabin Boy’ is a ballad that circulated in Britain and Ireland in the nineteenth century. Printed versions were, for instance, published by Nugent & Co. in Dublin in the latter half of the nineteenth century. It is a relatively well-known song and there are quite a few different versions of it with varying titles (e.g. ‘The Handsome Cabin Boy’, ‘A Maid That’s Deep in Love’, ‘The Rakish Female Sailor’, ‘Short Jacket and White Trousers’). The version performed on this record clearly circulated among Irish singers – a recorded version of the song by Maddy Prior, from 1968, with broadly similar lyrics, was taken from the singing of Lal Smith, a ‘Belfast tinker’. Mikey Kelleher of Quilty Co. Clare, and living in London in 1977, was recorded singing the song at that time and he stated that it was ‘over a hundred and fifty years old’.  He knew it since he was a child, noting: ‘My old Mam she sung it and I only a baby’. The sea, in this song, holds out the promise of finding the narrator’s lost lover and also becomes a place where the female narrator can (quite contently it seems) take on a new identity as a ‘cabin boy’. This superb new version by Eileen Gogan with Neil Farrell re-interprets the narrative with a stunning vocal performance and sumptuous musical backing that evokes themes of the sea, desire, love, gender identity and cross dressing! 

A Pair of Packed Valises

A Pair of Packed Valises (before the Dunbrody), 1849


Written, performed and mixed by Carol Keogh (aka The Wicc). 
Publishing: Copyright Control
Sleeve concept and design: Paul Callanan and Richard Mc Mahon.


On the 8th of April 1849
Stand two young women, 20, 25
Awaiting embarkation for a new promised nation
Not racked with hunger and disease
Down at the river docks
Waiting to leave New Ross
Maybe their fates are not so sealed
And this Dunbrody
Under John Williams’ captaincy
It’s said delivers fewer bodies to the sea
One hundred people headed for New York or Québec
To work the Bowery or to slowly pick up French
Catherine and Biddy Keogh
Had no to option but to go
I hope they
I hope they make it
I hope I’m related

‘A Pair of Packed Valises (before the Dunbrody), 1849’ offers a striking and rich re-imagining of the departure of two women, Catherine Keogh (aged 20) and Biddy Keogh (aged 25), from Ireland to the United States. It is inspired by a passenger list from the Dunbrody, a ship, that left from New Ross, Co. Wexford for New York in early 1849, in the latter years of the Great Irish Famine.  It imagines the two women being driven, by circumstance, from Ireland and seeking refuge in North America.  The song is rooted in historical detail (e.g. the use of a date of departure on 8 April 1849 in the lyric) and offers a compelling evocation of the historical context of the journey – the passengers, we are told reassuringly, are on board one of the safer ships leaving Ireland at this time.  There is also some play with the historical detail – although the ship was bound for New York, the ultimate destination is left open as the song imagines the passengers either working in the Bowery in New York (a major destination for Irish migrants) or they might ‘slowly pick up French’ in Québec.  The song also departs from what might be regarded as the strictures of conventional historical writing by seeking a deeper personal connection to the two women at the heart of the song. Indeed, the women became the focus of the song because they shared a surname with the composer and this is reflected in the poignant closing lines: ‘I hope they make it / I hope I’m related’. The prospect of making it in the US, and a hint of the potential peril of not making it, is also simply and beautifully captured here. 

Old Oak Road

Old Oak Road

Mike Smalle: vocals, piano, guitar, electronics.
Cathal Coughlan: vocals
Jah Wobble: bass
Recorded by Mike Smalle
Mixed by Ian Catt
Mastered by Seán Mac Erlaine
Written by Mike Smalle

(with Richard Mc Mahon)
Publishing: Copyright Control
Sleeve concept and design: Paul Callanan and Richard Mc Mahon


Old oak road,
grey bird skies.
She wakes early,
slow to rise.

A little dispute,
a house unroofed.
Take the old oak road,
follow the old oak road —

never come home,
never come home.


On board ship,
song reaches lip.
A silence opened,
a secret broken.

Lives unbound
soon run aground.
Sail the queen’s ocean,
cross the fat queen’s ocean —

never reach home,
never reach home.


Shining new street
bears no retreat.
Hotel by a river,
pulse held by finger.

Little body found,
cold ribbon bound.
Take the old oak road,
follow the hard oak road —

never return home,
never reach home.

Source : The song is based on a statement, from 1881, by an Irish woman who was suspected of killing her infant child in New York City:

‘I arrived in this country in May last, I was then pregnant. I worked in a hotel in Jersey for a month, then I came to this city was ill for about a month. I then found employment in a street facing the river, I think it is on West St. I was there about 2 weeks. The latter part of August [?] I was in severe pain, & the next day in the evening I gave birth to the child, it was in my room – I think the child was alive, I took it to some[?] other room & put it in a fire place – there was no fire in it – I don’t know whether I put a ribbon or cord around its neck. I never told anyone what had happened or what I had done. I never informed any one that I was pregnant. I am [a] stranger her[e], the only relatives I have here are cousins who live in this city & other parts of the country’ [signed with a mark].

The narrative of the song re-imagines elements of her experiences from the day she leaves Ireland to her journey on board ship to the circumstances of her alleged crime in New York itself. Working alongside historian Richard Mc Mahon, Smalle collaborated with Coughlan and Wobble to create a rich and complex expression of the sense of alienation and shame imposed upon women who stepped outside the bounds of widely-accepted norms both in Ireland and North America. Musically, the song captures the ebb and flow of the migrant sea journey and the sense of tragedy that could underpin it. The song also offers a, perhaps needed, reminder of how lives can be irrevocably altered and damaged by the desire to control and determine the behaviour of women.

Golden Streets, Bitter Tears

Golden Streets,
Bitter Tears

Adrian Crowley; vocals, piano, mellotron
Brigid Mae Power: vocals
Recorded by Adrian Crowley
Mixed and mastered by Seán Mac Erlaine
Written and composed by Adrian Crowley
Published by Domino Publishing Co.. Ltd.

Sleeve concept and design: Paul Callanan and Richard Mc Mahon


Hurry hurry over the waves
There are riches here aplenty
Truly blessed is this land
And our days are heavy with honey
If you saw me, you wouldn’t know me 
For all my finery
Even the ditches here glitter and shine!

Long gone are my days 
of desperate perdition
And no more shall I suffer
devil hunger pains
Here I walk with the best of the town
in my crown of glory
And long gone too are my misery chains!

Golden streets bitter tears
Golden streets bitter tears
Golden streets bitter, bitter tears

Fortune springs eternal 
From the Arkansas river
Wild fruit hanging low
Along the Erie Canal
Great high windows 
Of shining houses
Some of them even touch the sky!

Golden Streets Bitter Tears
Golden Streets Bitter Tears
Golden Streets bitter, bitter tears
Golden Streets Bitter Tears
Golden Streets Bitter Tears
Golden Streets bitter, bitter tears.

Source and Reading:  This song is a beautiful and poignant evocation of the idea of the sea journey as a means of escape from the poverty and inequalities of nineteenth-century Ireland and of the promise and perils of migration in a more universal sense. The narrator has not only migrated overseas, but is encouraging others to do the same and leave behind the ‘devil hunger pains’ that characterised his life in the home country. America is ostensibly portrayed as a land of equality and freedom where he can ‘walk with the best of the town’ and he is freed from ‘misery chains’, with an implicit juxtaposition of the liberty and opportunity in America and the repression and restrictions of life in Ireland. The attractive and enticing image of life ‘over the waves’ is, however, superbly undercut by the song’s refrain ‘Golden Streets, Bitter Tears’, suggesting all is not as it seems. This refrain offers a subtle but compelling hint at what we hope will be a key theme of this project; the promise and peril of the migrant sea journey of the nineteenth century and the often bitter consequences for many who sought to leave or, indeed, return. The song is inspired by migrant letters sent back to Ireland which offered an idealised image of life in the United States and the lyrics draw in part from the original letters and in part from the careful imaginings of the composer.

For a discussion of these migrant letters and the source for the title of the song, see Kerby A. Miller and Bruce D. Boling, ‘Golden Streets, Bitter Tears: The Irish Image of America during the Era of Mass Migration’, Journal of American Ethnic History, Fall, 1990 – Winter, 1991, Vol. 10, No. 1/2, The Irish in America (Fall, 1990 – Winter, 1991), pp. 16-35.

The Cunard Line

The Cunard Line

Adrian Crowley, vocals, viola, mellotron, effects
Recorded by Adrian Crowley
Mixed and mastered by Seán Mac Erlaine
Written and composed by Adrian Crowley
Published by Domino Publishing Co. Ltd.

Sleeve concept and design: Paul Callanan and Richard Mc Mahon


Source and Reading:  The song is based on an excerpt from the diary of George Hay in 1870. It evokes the return journey to Ireland and offers an intriguing counterpoint to ‘Golden Streets, Bitter Tears’ by focusing on someone, like Hay, who had sufficient wealth to travel in comfort. Indeed, he could afford to purchase a silk hat and a soft hat before departure (with one hat, at least, later being lost as sea!). This is a long way from the ‘bitter tears’ of the migrant who travelled to North America and had no means to return to visit family. A reminder perhaps that the individual experience of the nineteenth-century sea journey (and access to it) was clearly a reflection of and served to uphold distinctions rooted in wealth and social class. The diary itself offers, as many nineteenth-century diaries do, a near obsessive accounting of the weather, in this case, while on board ship. A heavy storm is encountered near Ireland. The passengers are sea sick. The rigging is torn to pieces. The ship’s dog is washed overboard! Crowley’s lyric lingers, however, on the calm before the storm – the quiet accounting of money spent and the sense of all being ‘clear and pleasant’ at sea upon leaving the port. The weather, in the early part of the journey in September 1870, is even ‘bright and beautiful’ . But the musical and vocal accompaniment is less infused with the ‘bright and beautiful’ than with a certain sense of foreboding of what might lie ahead even for those travelling in comfort. It offers, in sum, a brilliant evocation of a relatively little-studied phenomenon – the return journey of the wealthy to Ireland – with the weather at sea determining the immediate prospects of the diarist and the fate of his luxury items .

The excerpt from the diary is available here: