Arthur McBride

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"Arthur McBride" (also called "Arthur McBride and the Sergeant") is an Irish folk song (Roud 2355) found in Ireland & Britain 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.[1] The song expressed the sentiment that not all the young Irish were willing to fight war for the British crown.[2]

The only authentic recording of the song was a version performed by a farmworker named Alex Campbell from Aberdeenshire, Scotland, recorded by James Madison Carpenter between 1929 and 1935, which can be heard online via the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.[3]

In the song, the narrator and his cousin, Arthur McBride, were taking a walk when they were approached by three British military recruiters,[4] 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, in some variations of the lyrics, take their pouch of money,[citation needed] and throw their swords and the drummer's drum into the ocean.[4]

Commercial Recordings[edit]

"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; and by Bob Dylan on his 1992 album Good as I Been to You. 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.[5] 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 Open G tuning. Brady's eight verse version of the song contains the Irish word spailpín meaning "wandering landless labourer" and (occasionally) "layabout, rascal or ruffian".


The story-line of the song has been dramatised into a film, Christmas Morning (1978).[6]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Loesberg, John (1980). Folk Songs and Ballads Popular in Ireland Volume 3. Cork: Ossian Publications. p. 75. ISBN 0-946005-02-8.
  2. ^ Karsten, Peter (1983). "Irish soldiers in the British Army, 1792-1922: Suborned or subordinate?" (PDF). Journal of Social History. 17 (1): 59. doi:10.1353/jsh/17.1.31. JSTOR 3787238
  3. ^ "You Needna Be Bragging About Your Braw Claes Arthur McBride (VWML Song Index SN18334)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-16.
  4. ^ a b Milner, Dan; Kaplan, Paul (1983). Arthur McBride. Songs of England, Ireland, and Scotland: A Bonnie Bunch of Roses. Oak Publications. pp. 87–88. ISBN 1-783234-92-X.
  5. ^ "Arthur McBride and the Sergeant". Irish Music Daily. Retrieved 2014-04-04.
  6. ^ Rockett, Kevin (1996). The Irish Filmography: Fiction Films, 1896-1996. Red Mountain Media. p. 28. ISBN 0-952669-80-3.
  • Ord, John; Fenton, Alexander, eds. (1997) [1930]. "The Recruiting Sergeant". Bothy Songs and Ballads (2nd Revised ed.). Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers Ltd: 306–307. ISBN 0-85976-303-X.
  • Grigson, Geoffrey, ed. (1975). "Arthur McBride". The Penguin Book of Ballads (Penguin Poets). London: Penguin Books Ltd: 93. ISBN 0-14-042193-9.

External links[edit]