Poor Paddy Works on the Railway

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"Poor Paddy Works on the Railway" is a popular Irish folk and American folk song. Historically, it was often sung as a sea chanty. The song portrays an Irish worker working on a railroad.

There are numerous titles of the song including, "Pat Works on the Railway" and "Paddy on the Railway". "Paddy Works on the Erie" is another version of the song.

History[edit]

In The American Songbag, the writer Carl Sandburg claims that the song has been published in sheet music since the early 1850s.[1] The earliest confirmed date of publication is from 1864 from a manuscript magazine.[2] Ernest Bourne recorded the first version, released in 1941, by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1938[clarification needed].[2]

As a chanty[edit]

"Paddy on the Railway" is attested as a chanty in the earliest known published work to use the word "chanty," G.E. Clark's Seven Years of a Sailor’s Life (1867). Clark recounted experiences fishing on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, in a vessel out of Provincetown, Mass. ca.1865-6. At one point, the crew is getting up the anchor in a storm, by means of a pump-style windlass. One of the chanties the men sing while performing this task is mentioned by title, "Paddy on the Railway."[3]

The song was next mentioned as a chanty in R.C. Adams' On Board the Rocket (1879), in which the sea captain tells of experiences in American vessels out of Boston in the 1860s. Adams includes an exposition on sailors' chanties, including their melodies and sample lyrics. In this discussion he quotes "Paddy, Come Work on the Railway":

In eighteen hundred and sixty-three,
I came across the stormy sea.
My dung'ree breeches I put on
Chorus: To work upon the railway, the railway,
To work up-on the railway.
Oh, poor Paddy come work on the railway.[4]

Although these are among the earliest published references, there is other evidence to suggest that the chanty was sung as early as the 1850s. A reminiscence from the 1920s, for example, claims its use at the windlass of the following verse, aboard a packet ship out of Liverpool in 1857:

In 1847 Paddy Murphy went to Heaven
To work on the railway, the railway, the railway,
Oh, poor Paddy works upon the railway.[5]

Several versions of this chanty were audio-recorded from the singing of veteran sailors in the 1920s-40s by folklorists like R.W. Gordon, J.M. Carpenter, and W.M. Doerflinger. Capt. Mark Page, whose sea experience spanned 1849-1879, sang it for Carpenter in the late 1920s.[6]

Background[edit]

During the mid-19th century, Irish immigrants worked to build railways in the United States. The song reflects the work that thousands of Irish section crews did as track layers, gaugers, spikers, and bolters.[7] The song begins in 1841, during the time of the Irish diaspora.

Lyrics[edit]

There are numerous variations of the lyrics. This particular version is from Carl Sandburg's The American Songbag.

In eighteen hundred and forty-one
My corduroy breeches I put on
My corduroy breeches I put on
To work upon the railway, the railway
I'm weary of the railway
Poor Paddy works on the railway

In eighteen hundred and forty-two
I didn't know what I should do
I didn't know what I should do
To work upon the railway, the railway
I'm weary of the railway
Poor Paddy works on the railway

In eighteen hundred and forty-three
I sailed away across the sea
I sailed away across the sea
To work upon the railway, the railway
I'm weary of the railway
Poor Paddy works on the railway

In eighteen hundred and forty-four
I landed on Columbia's shore
I landed on Columbia's shore
To work upon the railway, the railway
I'm weary of the railway
Poor Paddy works on the railway

In eighteen hundred and forty-five
When Daniel O'Connell he was alive
When Daniel O'Connell he was alive
To work upon the railway, the railway
I'm weary of the railway
Poor Paddy works on the railway

In eighteen hundred and forty-six
I made my trade to carrying bricks
I made my trade to carrying bricks
For working on the railway
I'm weary of the railway
Poor Paddy works on the railway

In eighteen hundred and forty-seven
Poor Paddy was thinking of going to Heaven
Poor Paddy was thinking of going to Heaven
To work upon the railway, the railway
I'm weary of the railway
Poor Paddy works on the railway

Another popular version sung by Ewan MacColl with Peggy Seeger, and by the Dubliners and Galway City is as follows:

In eighteen hundred and forty one
Me corduroy breeches I put on
Me corduroy breeches I put on
To work upon the railway, the railway
I'm weary of the railway
Poor Paddy works on the railway
In eighteen hundred and forty two
From Hartlepool I moved to Crewe
And I found meself a job to do
Workin' on the railway

I was wearing corduroy britches
Digging ditches, pulling switches, dodging hitches
I was workin' on the railway

In eighteen hundred and forty three
I broke me shovel across me knee
And went to work with the company
In the Leeds and Selby Railway

I was wearing corduroy britches
Digging ditches, pulling switches, dodging hitches
I was workin' on the railway

In eighteen hundred and forty four
I landed on the Liverpool shore
Me belly was empty, me hands were raw
With workin' on the railway, the railway
I'm weary of the railway
Poor Paddy works on the railway
In eighteen hundred and forty five
When Daniel O'Connell he was alive
Daniel O'Connell he was alive
And workin' on the railway

I was wearing corduroy britches
Digging ditches, pulling switches, dodging hitches
I was workin' on the railway

In eighteen hundred and forty six
I changed me trade from carryin' bricks
Changed me trade from carryin' bricks
To work upon the railway

I was wearing corduroy britches
Digging ditches, pulling switches, dodging hitches
I was workin' on the railway

In eighteen hundred and forty seven
Poor Paddy was thinkin' of goin' to heaven
Poor Paddy was thinkin' of goin' to heaven
To work upon the railway, the railway
I'm weary of the railway
Poor Paddy works on the railway

I was wearing corduroy britches
Digging ditches, pulling switches, dodging hitches
I was workin' on the railway

Some song versions include the lyrics "Fil-i-me-oo-re-i-re-ay/Fil-i-me-oo-re-i-re-ay/Fil-i-me-oo-re-i-re-ay" between each stanza. In Daniel Cassidy's book How the Irish Invented Slang: the Secret Language of the Crossroads, Cassidy claims that Fil-i-me-oo-re-i-re-ay is the English phonetic spelling of the Irish phrase “fillfidh mé uair éirithe” (pronounced fill’ih may oo-er í-ríheh), which means “I’ll go back, time to get up,” but Cassidy spoke no Irish and genuine linguists and Irish-language experts regard his work as fantasy.[8] In fact, "Fillfidh mé uair éirithe" would usually be interpreted as "I'll return when it's time to get up", which would make no sense at all, unless Poor Paddy was on the night shift! [9]

Melody[edit]

For a number of versions, the melody of the first lines of each stanza resembles the song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home".

Oftentimes, the song becomes faster progressively.

Appearances[edit]

This song has been performed by numerous musicians and singers, including Ewan MacColl, Authority Zero, Luke Kelly of The Dubliners, The Wolfe Tones, The Tossers, The Kelly Family, Shane MacGowan, and The Pogues.

In the Shining Time Station episode, "Impractical Jokes", two versions of this song was sung. One was sung by Tom Callinan, Matt and Tanya and the other was sung by Tex and Rex.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sandubrg, Carl (1927). The American Songbag. New York : Harcourt, Brace & Co.
  2. ^ a b Cohen, Norm & Cohen, David (2000). Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-06881-2.
  3. ^ Clark, George Edward. Seven Years of a Sailor’s Life, Adams & Co. (1867) p. 312.
  4. ^ Adams, Captain R.C. On Board the Rocket, D. Lothrop & Co. (1879) p. 321.
  5. ^ Chatterton, Edward Kemble, The Mercantile Marine, W. Heinemann (1923) p. 158.
  6. ^ The James Madison Carpenter Collection Online Catalogue. Retrieved 17 Dec. 2011.
  7. ^ Robert Hedin (1 May 1996). The great machines: poems and songs of the American railroad. University of Iowa Press. pp. xv–xvi. ISBN 978-0-87745-550-9. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  8. ^ http://cassidyslangscam.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/crony/
  9. ^ "Slanguage: Paddy Works on the Erie". 

External links[edit]