Saturday, May 4, 2013

Work: Botany Bay

The Wolfe Tones: Botany Bay


Imagine yourself as a bricklayer in 19th Century Ireland, fed up with work and ready to take a trip aboard an emigrant ship to the shores of Botany Bay (Australia). The song refers to “navvies” (laborers, especially those who worked on construction or excavation projects) and “gangers” (foremen). I love this chorus, as it surely captures the sentiments of the day:

Farewell to your bricks and mortar, farewell to your dirty lies,
Farewell to your gangers and gang planks,
And to hell with your overtime,
For the good ship Ragamuffin, she's lying at the quay,
For to take oul Pat with a shovel on his back,
To the shores of Botany Bay.

The poor sod merely wants his wages, to tell his boss to take the job and shove it, and then to get outta Dodge … in this case, probably Queenstown (Cobh) in County Cork which was the emigrants' embarkation point. The song was first collected about 1957, and some additional verses were added shortly thereafter. Oul Pat shows plenty of optimism in the last verse where he plans to find gold in Australia … or simply to go back to an eight-hour shift at his bricklaying trade.

Irish pub songs have plenty of anti-work sentiment, and another that’s just as much fun is called “Muirsheen Durkin.” In this case, however, the fame and fortune to be found are in California during the Gold Rush. Mr. Carney’s wants nothing more with potatoes (praties), and he’s ready to sail across the foam bound for Amerikay.

Goodbye Muirsheen Durkin, sure I'm sick and tired of workin',
No more I'll dig the praties, and no longer I'll be fooled,
For as sure as me name is Carney, I'll be off to California,
Where instead of diggin' praties, I'll be diggin' lumps of gold.

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