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24 September 2014
Wars and Conflict - Rebel Songs

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Anti-enlistment songs, and later on anti-conscription ones, relied heavily on sarcasm, a device used by ballad makers throughout history because it was considered the only weapon the oppressed had against the powerful. These ballads specialized in lampooning politicians and authority figures who encouraged Irishmen to fight in foreign wars. The figure of the ‘Recruiting Sergeant’ has traditionally been a target for verbal abuse and during the Great War he provided inspiration for many ballads as in this one from Tipperary,

The Recruiting Sergeant

As I was going along the road and feeling fine and larky O,
A recruiting sergeant trim and neat said you’d look fine in khaki O,
The King he is in need of men just read the proclamation O,
The life in Flanders would be fine, for you it would be vacation O.

That may be true I answered back but tell me Sergeant dearie O,
If I had a pack stuck on my back would I look fine and cheery O
The proclamations are alright I have read the last of French’s O,
Well it might be hot in Flanders but its draughty in the trenches O.

The recruiting sergeant in Dublin fared no better than his colleague in Tipperary. The Dublin ballad maker Peadar Kearney who wrote many popular songs during this turbulent period, including the Irish national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann, treated the recruiting sergeant in an equally sarcastic manner in his song ‘Sergeant William Bailey.’

Sergeant William Bailey

Sergeant William Bailey was a man of high renown,
Tooral looral looral looral loo,
In search of gallant young recruits he used to scour the town,
Tooral looral looral looral loo,
His face was full and swarthy, of medals he had forty,
And ribbons on his chest red white and blue,
It was he that looked the hero as he made the people stare O,
As he stood on Dunphy’s corner tooral loo.

But alas for human greatness every dog he has his day,
Tooral looral looral looral loo,
And Sergeant William Bailey he is getting old and grey,
Tooral looral looral looral loo,
No longer youths are willing to take his dirty shilling,
And things for him are looking mighty blue,
In spite of fife and drumming no more recruits are coming,
For Sergeant William Bailey tooral loo.
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