FolkWorld #57 07/2015
© Seán Laffey

The Battle of Waterloo

 Eighteenth of June 

All you people who live at home easy
And are far from the trials of war
Never knowing the dangers of battle
But are safe with your families secure
Know you, the long scythe of destruction
Has been sweeping the nations all round
But it never yet cut with the keenness
That it did on the eighteenth of June

And what a sad heart had poor Boney
To take up instead of the crown
And to canter from Brussels to Paris
Lamenting the eighteenth of June

It began about five in the morning
And it lasted till seven at night
All the people stood round in amazement
They had never yet seen such a sight
And the thunder of five hundred cannon
Proclaimed that the battle was on
And the moon in the sky overshone all
Recording the eighteenth of June

All you young girls with sweethearts out yonder   
That go daily to buy the black gown
It's one thousand to one I will lay you
Your love fell on the eighteenth of June
Sixty thousand stout-hearted brave soldiers
Who died made an awful pall tune
And there's many's the one will remember
With sorrow the eighteenth of June

 Listen to Eighteenth of June from:

 Watch Eighteenth of June from:
     Martin Carthy, Eric Starr

Songs That Made History: This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, which as you all know occured on the 18th of June in 1815. The 7th Coalition was triumphant and Napoleon and his forces were defeated on the famous field which lies 15 km south of Brussels.

Eighteenth of June

It was perhaps the most significant event in 19th century political history. The aftermath, under Wellington's guidance, saw the map of Europe redrawn, the creation of new constitutional monarchies and the cessation of British hostilities in continental Europe for 40 years. With global French influence diminished it allowed the consolidation of Anglophone culture in North America.

Frank Harte: My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte

There was an Irish dimension to the conflict. Arthur Wesley (latterly Wellesley), the Duke of Wellington, was born in Trim, County Meath in 1769. His British army at Waterloo included 3 Irish regiments. Estimates based on regimental rolls, suggest as many as 30% of the British Army in this period were Irish. The Peninsular War and Napoleonic wars had seen around 90,000 Irishmen join the Crown forces. Army recruitment in Ireland was running at around 3000 men per year and some Scottish and Cornish regiments were 1/3 Irish during this period. There would have been more Irishmen at Waterloo were it not for the 1812-15 war in America, the British army at the time had a total of 14 Irish regiments, many of which were sent to the North American campaigns.

Did those men enlist out of patriotism or poverty? Statistical evidence has shown that at least 70% of the recruits probably joined for economic reasons, over half of those gave their civilian occupations as labourer. A significant number were hand loom weaves, whose trade was being undercut by modernization, industrialization and mechanization. Just a week after the battle, Home Secretary Sidmouth wrote to the Chief Secretary for Ireland Whitworth, ordering intensification of recruitment in the country. 'Troops from that source' he wrote, 'tilted the scales at Waterloo, and unless a fresh supply can be raised from the same source, Lord Wellington will not be able to lead such an army in the field again.'

Wellington's victory was marked by permanent memorials in Ireland. Dublin has the Phoenix Park monument, the famous obelisk. The quay beside O'Connell Bridge was also named after the Duke. In 1816 the Wellington Footbridge was opened to cross the Liffey. Built by ferry owner William Walsh, the toll was set at the price of his ferry crossing. Walsh was to enjoy the toll for 100 years with entry to the bridge controlled by turnstiles, the toll charge led to its vernacular name The Ha'Penny Bridge, the turnstiles were removed in 1919,

The song 18th of June was recorded by Frank Harte and Donal Lunny on their CD My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte. Frank had the song from the English accordion player Rod Stradling who had in turn learnt it from a transcript made in 1906 of the Sussex shoemaker Henry Burstow, who claimed he had it himself from a rifleman who had fought at Waterloo. One line was misheard in 1906 and has come down to us as a curiosity:

Sixty thousand stout-hearted brave soldiers
Who died made an awful pall tune

Was Burstow's rifleman Irish? The composer Ralph Vaughan Williams printed a note on its melody in November 1905, remarking its similarities to The Green Mossy Banks of the Lea.

The Green Mossy Banks of the Lea

 Her Mantle So Green 

As I went out walking one morning in June,
To view the fair fields and the valleys in bloom,
I spied a pretty fair maid she appeared like a queen
With her costly fine robes and her mantle so green.

Says I, "My pretty fair maid, won't you come with me
We'll both join in wedlock, and married we'll be,
I'll dress you in fine linnen, you'll appear like a queen,
With your costly fine robes and your mantle so green."

Says she now, "You Young man, you must be excused,
For I'll wed with no man, you must be refused;
To the green woods I will wander to shun all men's view,   
For the lad that I love fell in famed Waterloo."

"O, then, if you won't marry, tell me your love's name,
For I being in battle, I might know the same."
"Draw near to my garment and there will be seen,
His name is embroidered on my mantle so green."

In raising her mantle there I did behold
His name and his surname in letters of gold;
Young William O'Reilly appeared in my view
He was my chief comrade back in famed Waterloo.

"But when he was dying I heard his last cry
'If you were here, Lovely Nancy, contented I'd die;'
Now Peace is proclaimed, and the truth I declare
Here is your love token, the gold ring I wear."

"O, Nancy, dear Nancy, 'tis I won your heart
In your father's garden that day we did part.
Now the wars are all over, no trouble is seen
And I'll wed with my true love in her mantle so green."

 Listen to Her Mantle So Green from:
    Matt & Shannon Heaton, Sinéad O'Connor

 Watch Her Mantle So Green from:
     Mothers of Intention, Sinead O'Connor

Her Mantle So Green

The Napoleonic War and the Battle of Waterloo gave rise to numerous ballads, many of which were sold by the garland and broadsheet. It is a different song to The Jacket Green which is set during the time of the Williamite wars a full century before Waterloo.

Our song was published in PW Joyce's Old Irish Folk Music and Songs: A Collection of 842 Irish Airs and Songs Hitherto Unpublished (1909). He had this from a broadside which appears as a cut out in his scrap book collection. Brereton of Dublin one of the leading ballad printers and an extensive collection of his output is now housed at Boston College in the USA.

Margaret Barry & Michael Gorman: Her Mantle So Green

Seamus MacManus noted in his memoir The Rocky Road to Dublin (1938): "Ballads were easier to get than books, a great deal. They were the everyday reading of Donegal. No man ever thought of leaving a fair without a new ballad in his pocket. He wasn't fit for a fair, if he thought otherwise. And it only cost a ha'penny from the ballad-singer. The old stand-byes you bought in a broad-sheet of twelve for a penny, at the Stannins [small shops set up under canvas tents] - and plenty of stirring, real Irish, ones were mixed in them. The street-ballads were the boy's first literature, and his first love - and they never lost their place in his heart."

This song was sung by both Margaret Barry and Robert Cinnamond, in the 1950s. Smithsonian Folkways released a wonderfully clear version of Margaret singing the song with accompaniment by fiddler Michael Gorman in 1975. The recording was a decade old on its publication. If you search their rendition is available to listen for free.

The song has been recorded more recently by Cherish The Ladies, Sinead O'Connor and in 2001 by the late Frank Harte on his album My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte on the Hummingbird label. The song itself makes only passing reference to the Battle of Waterloo, and it is in essence an example of a broken token ballad.

The song was also collected in Southern Michigan and also in Missouri with subsequent publication in print in 1939 and 1940. Randolph writing in Folk Songs from the Ozarks says "This piece was printed by Such in England, is common in English broadsides, and is known in Scotland (Ord, Bothy Songs and Ballads, 1930, pp. 155-156), Newfoundland (Greenleaf, Ballads and Sea Songs from Newfoundland, 1933, pp. 175-177) and Nova Scotia (MacKenzie, Ballads and Sea Songs from Nova Scotia, 1928, pp. 182-184). MacKenzie thinks that The Mantle So Green is a modified version of the late eighteenth-century English ballad George Reilly. Although that song is about a naval battle between the British and the French, while The Mantle So Green refers to the Battle of Waterloo.

Frank Harte

Frank Harte @ FW:
Artist Video FW#7, #30,
#31, #34, #40

Margaret Barry

Margaret Barry @ FW:
Artist Video FW#38, #40, #45

Her Mantle So Green

 The Bonny Light Horseman 
Broken Hearted I Will wander (Roud 1185)

Ye maids, wives and widows, I pray give attention,
Unto these few lines, tho' dismal to mention
I'm a maiden distracted, in the desert I'll rove,
To the gods I'll complain for the loss of my love.

Broken hearted I'll wander, 
Broken hearted I'll remain
Since my bonny light horseman
In the wars he was slain.

Well now Bonaparte he has commanded his troops for to stand   
And he levelled up his cannon all over the land;
Yes he levelled his cannon, the whole victory to gain,
And he slew my light horseman returning from Spain.

Oh if I were a blackbird and had wings for to fly
I would fly to the spot where my true love does lie
It is with my little fluttering wings his wounds I would heal
And 'tis all for teh night long on his breast I would lie.

Two years and two months since he left this bright shore,
My bonny light horseman that I did adore,
O why was I born this sad day to see,
When the drum beat to arms and did force him from me.

You should see my light horseman on a cold winter's day,
With his red and rosy cheeks and his curly black hair.
He's mounted on horseback, the whole victory to gain,
And he's over the battlefield for honour and fame.

Not a lord, duke or earl could my love exceed,
Not a more finer youth for his king e'er did bleed;
When mounted on a horse he so gay did appear,
And by all his regiment respected he were.

Oh Boney, oh Boney, I have done you no harm,
Tell me why then, tell me why do you cause me such alarm?
We were happy together, my true love and me,
But now you have stretched him in death o'er the sea.

Like the dove that does mourn when it loseth its mate,
Will I for my love 'til I die for his sake;
No man on this earth my affection shall gain,
And a maid live and die for my love that was slain.

 Listen to The Bonny Light Horseman from:
    Margaret Bennett, Mark Evans, Craig Herbertson, 
    Lynch The Box, Socks in the Frying Pan, Dáithí Sproule,
    The Voice Squad, Ewan Wilkinson

 Watch The Bonny Light Horseman from:
    Maranna McCloskey, John Faulkner and Dolores Keane, 
    Socks in The Frying Pan, The Voice Squad

The Bonny Light Horseman

Light horse regiments were first formed in the British army to fight the second Jacobite rebellion against the Scots in 1745.[539 Hessian troops from Germany were a feature of the British army from the 1760's onwards and were present both in Ireland and the American colonies. They formed the prototype 18th and 19th century Hussar companies of lightly armed and armoured horsemen acting as scouts and skirmishers, but rarely employed as attack troops.

Curiously the song's use of the term Light Horseman was already archaic when it was first published. Perhaps in the contemporary imagination horsemen had more status than Hussars, the latter regiments were paid less and the re-designation of cavalry as Hussars was blatant cost cutting.

William Holmes Sullivan: Battle of Waterloo, 18th June 1815, 1898

The song is first known in print from the publisher Pit who was active in London between 1802 and 1815, contemporary with the Napoleonic campaigns and the Peninsular war. The ballad was widespread on broadsheets in England, sung to an ancient Irish melody (see George Petrie's Complete Ancient Music of Ireland, No. 779). It survived in oral tradition in County Louth and was collected from Mary Ann Carolan in the early 1970's. She was recorded singing a slower version in 1978, released as part of the album Mary Ann Carolan Songs From The Irish Tradition: Topic 12TS362 (1982).

Joanne Hughes, who supplied some of our verses, tells us "the Drogheda connection continues to the present day" remembering "it was always one of the staple ballads sung in the Wednesday night singing sessions in Carberry's pub on the north road in Drogheda."

A Private of the 18th Light Dragoons (Hussars), 1812

The British army in Spain numbered at least 35,000 and there were some 9,000 mounted troops at Waterloo on the British side (including a large contingent of Germans). However, there were only two Irish horse regiments, one of which, was the Inniskilling Dragoons. They were a heavy-armour cavalry and formed part of the famous Union charge. Our Bonny Light horseman might have been a member of the 18th (King's Irish) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons, named for George III. By 1807 there were officially the 18th (King's Irish) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars). Informally dubbed the Drogheda Light Horse and colloquially called the Drogheda Cossacks.

The 18th Hussars wore black tunics and black busby's with a red crest and they were obliged to sport moustaches. They were disbanded in Ireland in 1821. They accompanied Wexford born Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) and had seen service in both the Peninsula war and at Waterloo, so the reference to Spain and Napoleon in the song would bear some credence with contemporary singers and their audiences.

Could we put a name to the fallen hero? We know very little of the other ranks who died during the Spanish Campaign (1808-1814), we do know that the Drogheda Cossacks suffered losses of 2 officers and 83 men killed/missing at Waterloo. Little is known of those men, as Captain Gronow wrote in his reminiscence of June 18th, 1815 (the day of the Battle of Waterloo): "I must observe that, according to the custom of commanding officers, whose business it is after a great battle to report to the Commander-in-Chief, the muster-roll of fame always closes before the rank of captain."

It was left to the ballad singer to remember them.

The Bonny Light Horseman

 Arthur McBride and the Sergeant 

Oh, me and my cousin, one Arthur McBride
As we went a-walking down by the seaside
Now, mark what followed and what did betide
For it being on Christmas morning…
Out for recreation, we went on a tramp
And we met Sergeant Napper and Corporal Vamp
And a little wee drummer, intending to camp
For the day being pleasant and charming.

“Good morning ! Good morning!” the sergeant did cry
“And the same to you gentlemen!” we did reply ,
Intending no harm but meant to pass by
For it being on Christmas morning.
But says he, “My fine fellows if you will enlist,
It’s ten guineas in gold I will slip in your fist
And a crown in the bargain for to kick up the dust
And drink the King’s health in the morning.

For a soldier he leads a very fine life
And he always is blessed with a charming young wife
And he pays all his debts without sorrow or strife
And always lives pleasant and charming…
And a soldier he always is decent and clean
In the finest of clothing he’s constantly seen
While other poor fellows go dirty and mean
And sup on thin gruel in the morning.“

“But“, says Arthur, “I wouldn’t be proud of your clothes
For you’ve only the lend of them as I suppose
And you dare not change them one night, for you know
If you do you’ll be flogged in the morning.
And although that we are single and free
we take great delight in our own company
And we have no desire strange faces to see
Although that your offers are charming
And we have no desire to take your advance
All hazards and dangers we barter on chance
For you would have no scruples for to send us to France
Where we would get shot without warning“

“Oh now!“, says the sergeant “I’ll have no such chat
And I neither will take it from spalpeen or brat
For if you insult me with one other word
I’ll cut off your heads in the morning“
And then Arthur and I we soon drew our hods
And we scarce gave them time for to draw their own blades   
When a trusty shillelagh came over their heads
And bade them take that as fair warning

And their old rusty rapiers that hung by their side
We flung them as far as we could in the tide
“Now take them out, Divils!“, cried Arthur McBride
“And temper their edge in the morning“.
And the little wee drummer we flattened his pow
And we made a football of his rowdeydowdow
Threw it in the tide for to rock and to row
And bade it a tedious returning

And we having no money, paid them off in cracks
And we paid no respect to their two bloody backs
For we lathered them there like a pair of wet sacks
And left them for dead in the morning.
And so to conclude and to finish disputes
We obligingly asked if they wanted recruits
For we were the lads who would give them hard clouts
And bid them look sharp in the morning.

Oh me and my cousin, one Arthur McBride
As we went a walkin’ down by the seaside,
Now mark what followed and what did betide
For it being on Christmas morning.

 Listen to Arthur McBride from:
    Martin Carthy, Lehto & Wright, Planxty, 
    Skyhook, Ralf Weihrauch

 Watch Arthur McBride from:
    Tiernan McBride's film of Paul Brady's 'Arthur McBride, 
    Paul Brady, Planxty, Andy Irvine, Bruce Guthro, 
    Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, Skyhook

Arthur McBride & The Sergeant

If you were to run a book on the most requested song whenever Paul Brady performs, Arthur McBride and the Sergeant is sure to be a short-odds favourite. The song exists in Irish, Scottish and English variants, the language and dialect is often changed to fit the singer but essentially the story remains the same. in the folk process the name of the Corporal has become Hand, Hamp, McDann or Vamp, accuracy is not an issue, the need to make a coherent and intelligible rhyme lies at the heart of the folk transmission.

Elizabeth Southerden Thompson (Lady Butler): Listed for the Connaught Rangers, Recruiting in Ireland, 1878

In the liner notes to the Mulligan CD Andy Irvine & Paul Brady (LUN CD008), Frank Harte wrote, "After the Landlord's Agent, probably the most hated person in Ireland was the recruiting sergeant. The Irish peasant, destitute of worldly possessions and ground down by poverty, was forced of neccessity to fight for a power, which he despised. The sarcasm of the song cannot hide the terrible conditions under which soldiers were forced to serve after they had accepted the kings shilling". Paul Brady's famous version was inspired by a song printed in collection by Carrie Grover in Massachussetts in the late 1920's. Her family were Irish and its likely that the song had come over with them to the New World. Joyce collected a similar in 1840 and argued that the phraseology indicated a Donegal provenance.

Although the song probably dates to the time of the Peninsula War, this method of recruiting red coats continued well into the 19th century. Elizabeth Thompson (Lady Butler) graphically illustrated such an event in her 1878 painting Listed for the Connaught Rangers. In her memoirs, she described the models for the taller of the two enlisted peasants as follows, "the elder of the two had a fine physique, and it was explained to me this was owing to his having been reared on herrings as well as potatoes."

The action in the song occurs on a sea strand; perhaps the provocative rebellious protein of kippers also powered Arthur McBride?

Andy Irvine

Artist Video Andy Irvine @ FolkWorld:
FW#5, #11, #23, #27, #30, #35,
#36, #44, #48, #53, #55, #55

Paul Brady

Artist Video Paul Brady @ FolkWorld:
FW#41, #48, #57

Arthur McBride

 Battle of Waterloo 

Spring comes to Kirrie, all the world¹s in bloom,
Winter is forgiven now, fooled by April¹s broom,
Kirrie, oh Kirrie, you were aye my hame
Till Napoleon¹s bloody cannon hit their aim,
Jeanie oh Jeanie, I am surely done,
Stricken down in battle, at the mooth o Boney¹s guns,
Jeannie oh Jeannie, aye sae dear tae me,
Let me hold you in my mind afore I dee

   For the cold returns in autumn
   when the wind rakes the trees,
   And the summer lies forgotten
   In a cold bed of leaves,
   As winter begins aye mind Boney,
   It wasn¹t only you,
   Who was broken on the field of Waterloo.

Surgeon oh surgeon, leave me wi my pain,
Save your knife for others, who will surely rise again,
Surgeon oh surgeon, leave my blood to pour,
Let it drain into the bitter clay once more,

Daughter oh daughter, listen dear tae me,
Never wed a sodger, or a widow you will be
Daughter oh daughter, curse your lad to die,
Ere he catches the recruiting sergeant¹s eye,

Boney oh Boney, war was aye your game,
Bloody field your table, cannon yours to aim,
Boney oh Boney, we aye lived the same,
Drilling laddies not to fear the muskets¹ flame,

 Listen to Battle of Waterloo from:
    Jim Malcolm, Old Blind Dogs

 Watch Battle of Waterloo from:
    Jesse Ferguson 

Postscript: Battle of Waterloo

Tune traditional; words and arrangement Jim Malcolm.

This song, based on a traditional tune of the same name, tells the story of a man from Kirriemuir who is dying on the battlefield of Waterloo. In his final moments he thinks of the family he has left behind in Angus, rails against the dangers of soldiering, and tells Napoleon: “It wasn’t only you who was broken on the fields of Waterloo”.

Old Blind Dogs

Artist Video Old Blind Dogs @ FolkWorld:
FW#1, #3, #8, #12,
#19, #28, #31, #36, #43

Jim Malcolm

Artist Video Jim Malcolm @ FolkWorld:
FW#5, #5 #15, #25, #28, #32,
#39, #42, #45, #53, #56

Irish Music Magazine

First published @ Irish Music Magazine (

Photo Credits: (1)+(4) Frank Harte, (2) "The Green Mossy Banks of the Lea", (3)+(5) Margaret Barry, (6) "Her Mantle So Green", (7) William Holmes Sullivan "Battle of Waterloo, 18th June 1815" 1898, (8) A Private of the 18th Light Dragoons (Hussars) 1812, (9) "The Bonny Light Horseman" (10) Elizabeth Southerden Thompson (Lady Butler) "Listed for the Connaught Rangers - Recruiting in Ireland 1878", (12) Paul Brady, (13) "Arthur McBride and the Sergeant", (15) Jim Malcolm (unknown/website); (11) Andy Irvine, (14) Old Blind Dogs (by Walkin' Tom).

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