A deeper look into Galway Bay, the song
By Jack Grenard & Eoin O’Riain
It is not a folk song, having been written in 1943 by an Irish doctor living in England. He does not explain a number of statements he makes, but some come clear to Jack. One is why he’s in England, though he professes to love Ireland. In 1943 Ireland still suffered from the predations of the English. The doctor could not make a living in the land he loves. Read on. Jack’s comments appear in roman text. Those in italic come from a real Irishman, Eoin O’Riain, who happens to live on the shores of Galway Bay.
If you ever go across the sea to Ireland,
then maybe at the closing of your day,
you can sit and watch the moon rise over Claddagh,
and see the sun go down on Galway Bay.
Just to hear again the ripple of the trout stream,
the women in the meadow making hay,
just to sit beside the turf fire in a cabin,
and watch the barefoot gossoons as they play.
Turf is what we call peat, a fuel still used widely in Ireland, especially the west. It is a brown material consisting of partly decomposed vegetable matter forming a deposit on acidic, boggy ground, which is dried and burnt as fuel. It is also used in gardening.
Gooses, from the Irish Gársún = little boy (Norman French Garcon).
For the breezes blowing o’er the seas from Ireland
are perfumed by the heather as they blow,
and the women in the uplands digging praties,
speak a language that the strangers do not know.
Praties = Potatoes, from the Irish Prátaí (strongly enough this is a word from the South of Ireland Irish. The word used in Galway would be “Fataí.”)
The language is Irish (“Gaeilge” in Irish hence the English word “Gaelic”) This is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family. There are two others, Gàidhlig in Scotland and Gaelgagh (Manx) on the Isle of Man. The old name for France, Gaul, and the provinces in Spain and Turkey called Galatia, stem from this word Gaeilge/Goidelic.
The women doing all the work? That is because the men were gone, conscripted into English armies, sent to fight foreign wars. “The strangers”? Those are the English who grabbed the best lands in Ireland for their own. Some built large homes. Some are still there.
This is from a contemporary account of the Irish just after the English-Norman King Henry ll invaded in 1169. “Dedicated only to leisure and laziness, this is a truly barbarous people. They depend on animals for their livelihood and they live like animals.” The writer Giraldus Cambrensis sought to justify the invasion. Later the English forbade the use of Irish as a language, the Irish Legal system, etc. and the old Irish Aristocracy was all but completely destroyed by 1607 under James l. (This did not happen in Scotland where the legal system is different and the Aristocracy remained.) This persecution was worsened of course by the split between Henry VIII and Rome and he was the first King of England to declare himself King of Ireland. Religious persecution followed and the result of these disasters can still be seen in the conflict in the North.
Emigration from Ireland was mostly from the north of Ireland which had “non-conformist” religions, Presbyterian, etc., and they were important in the founding of the USA. They also had dangerous political views like democracy and human rights and led to the embryonic republican movement which led to several uprisings notable in 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867 and finally to 1916 and the war of independence. The Famine of1845-7 saw the mass emigration to the USA, England, and to a lesser extent other places. The population of the country dropped from 8 million in 1841 to 6 million in 1851. This emigration has continued with a short break in the 1990s and now again this year we are hearing of people returning after the depression of 2008-16.
After Independence, which was only partially granted in 1922 (we became a dominion like Canada), the Irish Government used the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 which had to be ratified by all the parliaments in the Dominions to further break with England and we did not ratify it. We adopted a Constitution the following year and elected a President — formerly we had a Governor General. We were also involved in an economic war with England which made trade difficult and during the War we declared ourselves neutral so we did not participate.
Yet the strangers came and tried to teach us their ways,
and they scorned us just for being what we are,
but they might as well go chasing after moon beams,
or light a penny candle from a star.
And if there’s going to be be a life here after,
and faith somehow I’m sure there’s going to be,
I will ask my God to let me make my Heaven
in that dear land across the Irish sea.
Thank you to our talented guest bloggers, Jack Grenard & Eoin O’Riai, for their wonderful insight into this beautiful song! My husband’s ancestors are from Galway and my ancestors were from Cork, so I have a special place in my heart for all things Irish.