American Wake

by Patrick Clifford

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about

For Carmel

On a brisk spring day about ten years ago, I spoke with my mother over steaming cups of Barry’s Tea in the kitchen of my first house in Cranford, NJ.

An uncle had recently retired and returned to County Kerry, after 40 years’ living and working in the U.S. This cycle seems to have always been enshrined as the emigrants' dream: Rest and reward at home after a life of labor in exile. Even after the days of the American Wake, it was rare, a miracle of sorts, to actually return from the great beyond.

I recalled that Mom had landed, here in the great beyond (at Idlewild Airport, to be precise), mere days before Kennedy was shot. To her credit, she refused to see this as an omen; within a decade, she had become a citizen.

"I suppose you'll be doing the same one of these days," I said. “Going back, I mean.”

She sipped, then shook her head slowly. "No," she said. "I couldn't leave America now. I'm changed too much."

She couldn’t have known it, but with those words, she made me two things I had never entirely considered myself before: The son of an American, and certain of where I belonged.

And now, with this collection, including some of the favorites I managed to sneak past Customs, I hope she’s reassured that we didn't arrive here empty-handed.

Patrick Clifford
August 2010

credits

released 25 August 2010

Produced and performed by Patrick Clifford.

Thanks:
Jane, sine qua non— my best collaborator, my dearest friend, my own true love; Grace and Bennett, who make it all matter; Seamus, Kevin, and Bernadette, for the first years; Martin, Dave, and Keith, for the first miles.

*

ABOUT THE TITLE

An American Wake took place in an Irish home the night before a family member emigrated (usually to America), and included the same conjunction of sorrow and glad memories common to a traditional wake for the deceased. Friends and neighbors would come to say their last goodbyes, and to console the grieving parents.

At the time-- that is, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century-- ocean travel and life abroad were dangerous, communications were unreliable, and most poor Irish were illiterate. This night would have been not only the last time they might see each other, but also the last time they might even hear from each other, so the parting often felt as final as death.

The emigrant's steamer trunk was sometimes placed on a table, like a coffin on a bier.

For a powerful rendering of the event, read "The Year 1912," from The Road to Brightcity, by Máirtín Ó Cadhain.

*

“Thousands Are Sailing” by Philip Thomas Ryan (PRS), published by Wardlaw Music (BMI).

“The Narrowback,” “Paddy Yank’s Blues,” “The Golden Door,” and music to “Sea-Fever” by Patrick Clifford (ASCAP); © 2010 The Irish Side LLC (ASCAP).

All other tracks traditional, arranged by Patrick Clifford (ASCAP); © 2010 The Irish Side LLC (ASCAP).

Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.

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Track Name: Thousands Are Sailing
The island it is silent now
But the ghosts still haunt the waves
And the torch lights up a famished man
Who fortune could not save
Did you work upon the railroad
Did you rid the streets of crime
Were your dollars from the white house
Were they from the five and dime
Did the old songs taunt or cheer you
And did they still make you cry
Did you count the months and years
Or did your teardrops quickly dry
Ah, no, says he, 'twas not to be
On a coffin ship I came here
And I never even got so far
That they could change my name

CHORUS:
Thousands are sailing
Across the western ocean
To a land of opportunity
That some of them will never see
Fortune prevailing
Across the western ocean
Their bellies full
Their spirits free
They'll break the chains of poverty
And they'll dance

In Manhattan's desert twilight
In the death of afternoon
We stepped hand in hand on Broadway
Like the first man on the moon
And "The Blackbird" broke the silence
As you whistled it so sweet
And in Brendan Behan's footsteps
I danced up and down the street
Then we said goodnight to Broadway
Giving it our best regards
Tipped our hats to Mister Cohan
Dear old Times Square's favorite bard
Then we raised a glass to JFK
And a dozen more besides
When I got back to my empty room
I suppose I must have cried

CHORUS:
Thousands are sailing
Again across the ocean
Where the hand of opportunity
Draws tickets in a lottery
Postcards we're mailing
Of sky-blue skies and oceans
From rooms the daylight never sees
Where lights don't glow on Christmas trees
But we dance to the music
And we dance

CHORUS:
Thousands are sailing
Across the western ocean
Where the hand of opportunity
Draws tickets in a lottery
Where e'er we go, we celebrate
The land that makes us refugees
From fear of Priests with empty plates
From guilt and weeping effigies
And we dance

copyright 1988 Phillip Chevron
Track Name: The Shores of Amerikay
I'm bidding farewell to the land of my youth
And the home that I love so well
And the mountains grand of my own native land
I'm bidding them all farewell
With an aching heart I'll bid them adieu
For tomorrow we sail far away
O'er the raging foam, to seek a home
On the shores of Amerikay

It's not for the want of employment I'm going
It's not for the want of fame
For fortune bright to shine over me
And give me a glorious name
It's not for the want of employment I'm going
O'er the dreary and stormy sea
But to seek a home for my own true love
On the shores of Amerikay

And when I am bidding my last farewell
The tears like rain will fall
To think of my friends in my own native land
And my home back in old Ireland so small
But if I'm to die on a far foreign shore
And be buried so far, far away
No fond mother's tears will be shed o'er my grave
On the shores of Amerikay
Track Name: The Galway Races
As I rode down through Galway Town
To seek for recreation
On the seventeenth of August
Me mind being elevated
There were multitudes assembled
With their tickets at the station
Me eyes began to dazzle
And they're off to see the races

CHORUS:
With me whack fol the do fol the diddlely idle ay

There were passengers from Limerick
And passengers from Nenagh
The boys from Connemara
And the Clare unmarried maidens
There were people from Cork City
Who were loyal, true and faithful
Who brought home the Fenian prisoners
From dying in foreign nations

And it's there you'll see the gamblers
With the thimbles and the garters
The sporting Wheel of Fortune
With the four and twenty quarters
There was others without scruple
Pelting wattles at poor Maggy
And her father well contented
To be gazing on his daughter

And it's there you'll see the pipers
And the fiddlers competing
The nimble-footed dancers
And they tripping on the daisies
There was others shouting cigars and lights
And bills for all the races
With the colors of the jockey
And the price and horses' ages

And it's there you'll see the jockeys
And they mounted at their stations
The pink, the blue, the orange and green
The colors of all the nations
When the bell was rung for starting
The horses seemed impatient
You’d think they’d never once touched the ground
Their speed was that amazing

There were half a million people there
Of all denominations
The Catholic, the Lutheran
The Jew and Presbyterian
And yet no animosity
No matter what persuasion
But fáilte, hospitality,
And peace throughout the nation
Track Name: Sea-Fever
Sea-Fever, by John Masefield

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again to the vagrant gypsy life.
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.
Track Name: The Shores of Botany Bay
I'm on my way down to the quay
Where the big ship at anchor lays
To command a gang of navvys
I was told to engage
I thought I'd drop in for a drink
Before I went away
For to take a trip on an emigrant ship
To the shores of Botany Bay

CHORUS:
Farewell to your bricks and mortar
Farewell to your dirty lime
Farewell to your gangway and your gang plank
To hell with your overtime
For the good ship Ragamuffin
Is lying at the quay
For to take old Pat with a shovel on his back
To the shores of Botany Bay

The boss came up this morning
He says "Well, Pat you know
If you didn't get your navvys out
I'm afraid you'll have to go"
So I asked him for my wages
I demanded all my pay
And I told him straight I was going to emigrate
To the shores of Botany Bay

And when I reach Australia
I'll go and I'll look for gold
There's plenty there for digging up
Or so I have been told
Or else I'll go back to my trade
Eight hundred bricks I'll lay
And eight bob I'll lift for an eight-hour shift
On the shores of Botany Bay
Track Name: The Leaving of Liverpool
Farewell to you, my own true love,
I am going far, far away
I am bound for California,
Though I know that I'll return someday

CHORUS:
So fare thee well, my own true love
When I return united we will be
It's not the leaving of Liverpool that's grieving me
But my darling when I think of thee

I am bound on a Yankee sailing ship,
Davy Crockett is her name,
Her Captain's name is Burgess,
And they say that she's a floating shame

I have sailed with Burgess once before
I think I know him well
If a man's a sailor, he will get along
If he’s not, then he's sure in Hell

Now the sun is on the harbour, love,
I wish I could remain,
For I know that it will be a long, long time,
Before I see you again
Track Name: Spancil Hill
Last night as I lay dreaming
Of pleasant days gone by
My mind being bent on rambling
To Ireland I did fly
I stepped on board a vision
And I followed with a will
And shortly came to anchor at
The cross in Spancil Hill

It been on the twenty-third of June
The day before the fair
When Irelands sons and daughters
And friends assembled there
The young, the old, the brave and the bold
Came their duty to fulfill
At the parish church in Clooney
A mile from Spancil Hill

I went to see my neighbours
To hear what they might say
The old ones were all dead and gone
The young ones turning grey
But I met the tailor Quigley
He's as bold as ever still
Sure, he used to make me britches
When I lived at Spancil Hill

I paid a flying visit
To my first and only love
She's as white as any lily
And gentle as a dove
And she threw her arms around me
Saying: "Johnny I love you still"
Ah, she's Ned the farmer's daughter
And the pride of Spancil Hill

I dreamt I held and kissed her
As in the days of yore
Ah, Johnny you're only joking
As many's the time before
Then the cock crew in the morning
He crew both loud and shrill
I awoke in California
Many miles from Spancil Hill
Track Name: Mary from Dungloe
Oh then fare thee well sweet Donegal, the Rosses and Gweedore
I'm crossing o’er the main ocean where the foaming billows roar
It breaks my heart from you to part where I spent many happy days
Farewell to kind relations, I am bound for Amerikay

Oh then Mary you're my heart's delight, my pride and only care
It was your cruel father who would not let me to stay here
But absence makes the heart grow fond, and when I am over the main
May the Lord protect my darling girl, 'till I return again

Oh I wish I was in sweet Dungloe and seated on the grass
And by my side a bottle of wine, and on my knee a lass
I'd call for liquour of the best, and I'd pay before I'd go
And I'd roll my Mary in my arms, in the town of sweet Dungloe