Break it Down: The Opinions of Paddy Magee

This song has a story behind it.  At Roaring Camp last month, someone dropped by my camp with a gift.  Sadly, I was out, and the benificent stranger didsn't stay around long enough to identify himself.  I still don't know who it was, but he gave me a copy of a wonderful album called The Irish Volunteer by David Kincaid.  There's some wonderful music on the disc, but this one in particular jumped out at me:

 I'm Paddy Magee, sir, from Ballinahee, sir,

In an illigant ship I come over the say;

Father Donahoe sent me, my passage he lent me--

Sure, only for that, I'd a walked all the way!

Ballinalee is a small town in County Longford, Ireland.  A lot of Irish immigrants booked passage to America on credit.

 He talked of America's freedom and glory;

"Begorra," says I, "that's the counthry for me!"

So, to ind a long story, I've now come before ye,

To give the opinions of Paddy Magee.

"Begorra" is an Irish slang term for "by God."  At the time, Ireland was still under the boot heel of England (thus the "United Kingdom"), so the democratic freedoms in America seemed awfully alluring to many Irish.

 Whin Ireland was needing, and famine was feeding,

And thousands were dying for something to ate,

This is, of course, the attempted genocide committed by the English against the Irish in the 1840's.

 'Twas America's daughters that sent over the waters

The ships that were loaded with corn and whate:

And Irishmen sure will forever remember,

The vessels that carried the flag of the free;

And the land that befriended, they'll die to defend it,

And that's the opinions of Paddy Magee.

America engaged in food aid to Ireland during the so-called "famine."  In fact, the city of Fredericksburg, Virginia had participated in the aid program.  In 1862, hundreds of Irish lost their lives in Fredericksburg, in a disasterous defeat for the Union during the American Civil War.  Some southern women commented on the sad irony in the movie Gods and Generals.

 John Bull, ye ould divil,

Ye'd betther keep civil!

Remimber the story of 'Seventy-six,

Whin Washington glorious he slathered the tories;

Away from Columbia you then cut your sticks.

"John Bull" is a slang term for England.  There was real fear that England would intervene in the American Civil War; in fact, England discussed a joint intervention with France and Russia.

 And if once again you're inclined to be meddling,

There's a city that's called New Orleans, d'ye see,

Where Hickory Jackson he drove off the Saxon--

Now that's the opinions of Paddy Magee.

This is a reference, of course, to the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812, in which which Major General Andrew Jackson defeated the British.  Jackson would go on to become president, and was referred to as "Old Hickory" because he was a tough son of a bitch, even putting down an earlier attempted rebellion by Southern states.  But the point here is that America had defeated England twice, and was ready to do so again, this time with the help of the Irish.

I'm sure none are bowlder the musket to showlder,

Enlisting to learn the sojering trade--

With Corcoran fighting, in Meagher delighting,

They swell up the ranks of the Irish Brigade.


With Columbia defying the bould British Lion,

The sons of ould Ireland forever shall be;

I'll have no intervention, if that's their intention--

And that's the opinions of Paddy Magee.

Corcoran and Meagher were two colonels of the 69th.  Corcoran later formed the Irish Legion, and Meagher briefly commanded the entire Irish Brigade.  Both had been exiled from England for their roles in the failed Irish rebellion of 1948.

Though now we're in trouble, it's only a bubble,

We'll soon make the foes of the Union retire;

Foreign knaves that would meddle had better skedaddle,

For them Uncle Sam has a taste of Greek fire!

They'll find if they try it, Columbia's a giant,

And victory perched on the flag of the free;

For the American nation can whale all creation--

And that's the opinions of Paddy Magee