"Arthur McBride" (also called "Arthur McBride and the Sergeant") is a folk song found in Ireland, Scotland and England with slight variations. The song can be narrowly categorized as an "anti-recruiting" song, a specific form of anti-war song, and more broadly as a protest song.
Reportedly, it was first collected around 1840 in Limerick by Patrick Weston Joyce; also in Donegal by George Petrie. The roots of this song, however, likely link back to the 17th century, given Ireland's involvement in the Glorious Revolution (1688), the Nine Years War(1688-97), and especially the Williamite War in Ireland (1689-1691), since the song refers to being "sent to France," which suggests the Flight of the Wild Geese: the departure of the Irish Jacobite army under the command of Patrick Sarsfield from Ireland to France, as agreed in the Treaty of Limerick on 3 October 1691.
In the song, the narrator and his cousin, Arthur McBride were taking a walk when they were approached by three British military recruiters, a recruiting sergeant, a Corporal and a young drummer. The recruiters attempt to induce the narrator and Arthur McBride into military service, extolling the virtues of serving the King, having money to spend, and wearing nice clothes. Arthur McBride tells the recruiter, if they joined, the clothes would merely be loaned to them and that they would be made to go to war in France where they would certainly be killed. The recruiter, taking offence at Arthur's disrespect of the offer, becomes angry at Arthur and the narrator, and threatens to use his sword on them. Then, Arthur and the narrator use their shillelaghs to hit the recruiters and the drummer over their heads, and after doing so, take their pouch of money, and throw their swords and the drummer's drum into the ocean.
"Arthur MacBride" has been recorded by numerous performers, including Planxty (on their 1973 self-titled debut album, Planxty); Andy Irvine; Dave Swarbrick; Martin Carthy; Paul Brady; a US-based band, Ourselves Alone, and in his later years (1992), by Bob Dylan. Most contemporary performers who have "Arthur McBride" in their repertoires were inspired by and acquired it via Irish and UK sources. While Planxty's 1973 release may be thought of as the vector renewing the song's present-day familiarity, Paul Brady's 1977 rendition is of special interest due to significant lyrical variations from the "usual" versions of the tune, including several additional verses. Brady is from Strabane in County Tyrone but, ironically, he hadn’t heard the song while living in Ireland. He came across it while working in America in 1972. He was given a copy of book called, A Heritage of Songs, compiled by collector Carrie Grover. One of the songs listed was Arthur McBride. Brady started to perform it to a virtuoso guitar accompaniment using an open G tuning. Brady's eight verse version of the song contains the Irish word spalpeen meaning layabout, rascal or ruffian.
Notes and references
- Ord, John; Fenton, Alexander, eds. (1997) . "The Recruiting Sergeant". Bothy Songs and Ballads (2nd Revised ed.) (Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers Ltd): 306–307. ISBN 08-5976-303-X.
- Grigson, Geoffrey, ed. (1975). "Arthur McBride". The Penguin Book of Ballads (Penguin Poets) (London: Penguin Books Ltd): 93. ISBN 01-4042-193-9.
- Cantaria - Information about the song, lyrics, and a recording of the song
- Lyrics and guitar chords
- Brady - Arthur McBride Lyrics and guitar tablature of Paul Brady's version
- Shaky Horse - Arthur McBride On the Wild Mountain Thyme EP, March 2011
- Ourselves Alone ES-77714 Ourselves Alone self-titled LP, 1977
- Roud Folksong Index #2355 Retrieved on 27 February 2014.
- The Ballad Index Retrieved on 27 February 2014.
- The Digital Tradition Retrieved on 27 February 2014.