Song of an Immigrant: Paddy’s Lamentation

Well it’s by the hush, me boys, and sure that’s to hold your noise
And listen to poor Paddy’s sad narration
I was by hunger pressed, and in poverty distressed
So I took a thought I’d leave the Irish nation

Here’s you boys, now take my advice
To America I’ll have ye’s not be coming
There is nothing here but war, where the murderin’ cannons roar
And I wish I was at home in dear old Dublin

Well I sold me horse and cow, me little pigs and sow
My little plot of land I soon did part with
And me sweetheart Bid McGee, I’m afraid I’ll never see
For I left her there that morning broken-hearted

Here’s you boys, now take my advice
To America I’ll have ye’s not be comin’
There is nothing here but war, where the murderin’ cannons roar
And I wish I was at home in dear old Dublin

Well meself and a hundred more, to America sailed o’er
Our fortunes to be made, we were thinkin’
When we got to Yankee land, they shoved a gun into our hands
Saying “Paddy, you must go and fight for Lincoln”

General Meagher to us he said, if you get shot or lose your leg
Every mother’s son of yous will get a pension
Well, meself I lost me leg, they gave me a wooden peg
And by God this is the truth to you I mention

Here’s you boys, now take my advice
To America I’ll have ye’s not be comin’
There is nothing here but war, where the murderin’ cannons roar
And I wish I was at home in dear old Dublin

The Diaspora to America is immortalised in the words of many songs including the famous Irish ballad, “The Green Fields of America”:

So pack up your sea-stores, consider no longer,

Ten dollars a week is not very bad pay,

With no taxes or tithes to devour up your wages,

When you’re on the green fields of Americay.

The experience of Irish immigrants in America is not always harmonious. Irish newcomers are sometimes uneducated and often find themselves competing with Americans for manual labour jobs or, in the 1860s, being recruited from the docks by the U.S. Army to serve in the American Civil War and afterward to build the Union Pacific Railroad.

This view of the Irish-American experience is depicted in “Paddy’s Lamentation”:

Hear me boys, now take my advice,

To America I’ll have ye’s not be going,

There is nothing here but war, where the murderin’ cannons roar,

And I wish I was at home in dear old Ireland.

Many Irishmen had been eager to sign up and fight for their adopted country. It was believed by some that, after helping America win the war, America would in turn help liberate Ireland from British rule.

“Paddy’s Lamentation” is the other side of the coin, bitter disapointment and a lament for lost dreams and failed expectations.  The poem and song express the sorrow of the Irish immigrant who, having just stepped off the boat — and sometimes this is literally true — the new arrival is pressured, convinced and sometimes tricked into joining the US army.

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