Remembering The Old Songs:


by Bob Waltz
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, June 2006)

I've been doing sort of quasi-topical songs lately, so here is one more. I write this as the Senate hotly debates immigration. A familiar story. This song was written a century and a quarter ago, but if you substituted "Mexicans" for "Italians," people could probably sing it today. And the Irish who are complaining here were the immigrants of the 1840s and 1850s -- and who in turn took the worst jobs in their time. As best I can tell, the only thing that a hundred years of immigration changes have accomplished is to prove that any simple "solution" to the problem won't work.

The words to this were written by Jim O'Neill and published in 1880 as When McGuinness Gets a Job, with music by Jack Conroy. It appears this tune (collected from George Edwards) is not the original. It's great, though.

This is not an old-time song, but there are three traditional collections: Edwards (New York), Smith (Prince Edward Island), -- and Dean (Minnesota). Given that it has been recorded by at least two modern Minnesota performers (John Berquist and Walking on Air), I thought that excuse enough to include it.


Complete Lyrics:
Last winter was a hard one, Missus Reilly, did you hear?
'Tis well yourself that knows it, and it's been for many a day.
Your husband wasn't the only one that sat beside the wall;
My old man McGuinness couldn't get a job at all.

So rise up, Missus Reilly, don't give away to blues.
You and I will cut a shine, new bonnets and new shoes.
Hear the young ones cry, neither sigh nor sob.
And we'll wait till times get better and McGuinness gets a job.

The politicians promised them work on the boulevard.
To work with pick and shovel and load dirt on the cart.
Six months ago they promised them this work they'd surely get --
But ah, my good woman, they are promising it yet!

Bad luck to those Ey-talians, I wish they'd stayed at home.
We've plenty of our own trash to eat up all our own.
They come like bees in the summertime, swarming here to stay.
Contractors, they hire them for forty cents a day.

They work upon the railroad, they shovel snow and slush;
One thing in their favor, Ey-talians never get lushed.
They bring their money home at night and take no dinner wine.
That's one thing I wish I could say for your old man and mine!

But springtime it is coming, and work we'll surely get.
McGuinness'll get his job again; he makes a handsome clerk.
See him climb the ladder as nimble as a fox;
Says he's the man to handle the old three-corner box.

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