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The Irish Washerwoman (A Traditional Irish Jig)

By Thomas Keyes
Apr. 22, 2005

“The Irish Washerwoman” is a very delightful little Irish jig that probably most people have heard, even if they don’t recognize it by name. Unfortunately, in my opinion, neither the title nor the lyrics are worthy of the melody, which is a real charm. The melody was already in existence in 1791, when it was adapted by playwright, George Colman the Elder (1732-1794), who set words to it as a part of his theatrical production, “The Surrender of Calais”.

The song has many melodic variants, as well as other lyrics and other titles, including “Corporal Casey”, “Dargason”, “Sedany” and “Country Courtship”. A good orchestral version was composed by Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) and played by the Boston Pops Orchestra, under Arthur Fiedler.

Here are a couple of URL’s where the melody can be heard. At the first URL, which has the better rendition, click on the right side, fourth from the bottom:

http://home.wanadoo.nl/bruch/

http://www.ireland-information.com/downloads/midi/theirishwasherwoman.mid

The usual lyrics are next below. Additional lyrics were written by A. A. Milne (1882-1956), famous as the author of “Winnie the Pooh”. His version is called the “Now We Are Six”, and I have given the first two stanzas further below.

THE IRISH WASHERWOMAN (Lyrics)

When I was at home, I was merry and frisky.
My dad kept a pig, but my mother sold whiskey.
My uncle was rich, but ne’er could be aisey (=easy)
Till I was enlisted by Corporal Casey.
Och, rub-a-dub, row-de-dow, Corporal Casey,
My dear little Shelah I thought would run crazy
When I trudged away with tough Corporal Casey.
Och, rub-a-dub row-de-row, Shelah my love.

I marched from Kilkenny, but as I was thinking
On Shelah, my heart in my bosom was sinking.
But soon I was forced to look fresh as a daisy
For fear of a drubbin’ from Corporal Casey.
Och, rub-a-dub, row-de-dow, Corporal Casey,
The devil go with him. I ne’er could be lazy
He struck my shirts so, old Corporal Casey.
Och, rub-a-dub row-de-row, Shelah my dear.

We went into battle. I took the blows fairly
That fell on my pate but they bothered me rarely.
And who should the first be that dropped? Why, and please you,
It was my good friend, honest Corporal Casey.
Och, rub-a-dub, row-de-dow, Corporal Casey,
Thinks I, “You are quiet and I shall be aisey.”
So eight years I fought without Corporal Casey.
Och, rub-a-dub row-de-row, Shelah my gal.

NOW WE ARE SIX (Lyrics)

There was once an old sailor that my grandfather knew
Who had so many things that he wanted to do
That, whenever he thought it was time to begin,
He couldn’t because of the state he was in.

He was shipwrecked and lived on an island for weeks,
And he wanted a hat, and he wanted some breeks;
And he wanted some nets or a line and some hooks
For the turtles and things which you read of in books.

The rest of Milne’s lyrics, along with much other information about this jig, can be found at this URL:

http://www.bluegrassmessengers.com/master/irishwasherwoman8.html

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About the author Thomas Keyes: I have written two books: A SOJOURN IN ASIA (non-fiction) and A TALE OF UNG (fiction), neither published so far.

I have studied languages for years and traveled extensively on five continents.

Email: udikeyes@yahoo.com


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