> Folk Music > Songs > Shule Agra / Johnny Is Gone for a Soldier

Shule Agra / Johnny Is Gone for a Soldier

[ Roud 911 ; Ballad Index R107 ; trad.]

Cecilia Costello sang Shule Agra (Súil a Grá) on November 30, 1951 to Marie Slocombe and Patrick Shuldham-Shaw. This recording was included in 1975 on eponymous Leader album Cecilia Costello and in 2014, together with another version recorded by Peter Kennedy on August 11, 1951, on her Musical Traditions anthology Old Fashioned Songs. Rod Stradling commented in the accompanying booklet:

Súil a Grá means ‘walk with me, my joy’. This song, travelling with Irish emigrants, has been heard all over these islands, and in North America, where it has been put to its most varied use. There, John and Alan Lomax tell us, “its truly exquisite Irish melody carried it into every quarter of America”, being refashioned by shantymen, lumberjacks, farmworkers, soldiers, Negro children and many other social groups. In the process its Gaelic refrain became splendidly mangled, as with this version found in Missouri by Belden:

Shale, shale, shale-a mac-a-me,
Shule-a mac-a-rac-stack Sally Bobby cue
Shule-a mac-a-rac-stack, Sally Bobby Lee
Come bibble un-a-boose, said Lora.

Mrs Costello’s refashioning of the chorus is less extravagant, with ‘mavourneen villa go slan’ being roughly cognate with ‘Is go dia tú mo mhúirnín slán’ (May God go with you, my beloved; farewell).

P. W. Joyce, following Gavan Duffy, on no clear evidence, claimed that Shule Agra stems from the time of the Wild Geese (1691-1745), when thousands of Irishmen escaped Williamite oppression by enlisting in the armies of continental Europe. This seems unlikely however, as the song dates back to at least the mid seventeenth century.

It has also been assumed that the act of dyeing the girl’s petticoats red was symbolic of her fidelity towards her lost lover. This seems just as fanciful as Joyce, and it is more likely that she either resigned herself to a life of begging and prostitution, or else pursued her love as a camp follower.

Elizabeth Cronin of Macroom, Co. Cork, sang Shule Aroon to Alan Lomax or Seamus Ennis in the 1950s. This recording was included on the anthology Songs of Courtship (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 1; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968).

The Black Country Three sang Buttermilk Hill in 1966 on their eponymous Transatlantic album The Black Country Three.

Isla Cameron sang Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier in 1966 on the Fontana album Songs from ABC Television's “Hallelujah”.

Vera Aspey sang Shule Agra in 1977 on her Topic album The Blackbird. Her liner notes commented:

A collation of A. P. Graves’s and Kidson’s versions of the song, as found in The Seeds of Love (Essex Music, 1967), where it is titled Johnny Has Gone.

Swan Arcade sang Shule Agra in 1990 on their CD Full Circle.

John Tams sang Johnny Is Gone for a Soldier in 1996 on the CD Over the Hills and Far Away: The Music of Sharpe.

Jim Causley sang Shulé Rune in 2007 on his WildGoose CD Lost Love Found. He commented in his sleeve notes:

Here's another American version of a British song. It is reported to be Irish in origin although the accent on the E of Shulé suggests a French flavor and the spelling of Rune also hints at a Nordic connection!

Megson sang Butternut Hill in 2005 on their first CD, On the Side.

Siobhan Miller and Jeana Leslie sang Buttermilk Hill in 2010 on their Greentrax CD Shadows Tall. They commented:

This song from the American Revolutionary War is descended from a traditional Irish song, Siúil a ruin.

More Maids sang Siúil a Ruin in 2011 on their CD III.

Pete Coe and Alice Jones sang Shule Agra in 2014 on their CD of songs from the Frank Kidson collection, The Search for Five Finger Frank.

Emily Portman sang lead vocals on Shule Agra on Furrow Collective's 2015 EP Blow Out the Moon. She commented in the album's notes:

I adapted Shule Agra from a recording of Cecilia Costello, featured on Old Fashioned Songs from Musical Traditions Records. I recently discovered that Shule Agra was also collected from basket weaving girls of Liverpool, where I now live, which prompted me to start singing it again. The extra verse is from a manuscript of Lady John Scott's dating to the 1840s, found by Jack Campin of Lothian.

Natalie Merchant sang Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier on Kronos Quartet's 2017 CD Folk Songs.

Lyrics

Cecilia Costello sings Shule Agra

Many a time I sat on my love's knee,
Oh, and many a tale he told to me,
He told me tales that never would be,
Oh, mavourneen villa go slan.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Shule, shule, shule a vil a ghra,
There's no one to ease me of my woe
Since the lad I love from me did go,
Oh, mavourneen villa go slan.

Oh, I'll dye my petticoat, I'll dye it red
And around the world I'll beg my bread.
Since the lad I love from me has fled,
Oh, mavourneen villa go slan.

Emily Portman sings Shule Agra

Many's the time I sat on my love's knee,
And many's the tale he told to me.
He told me tales that never can be,
Fare ye well, my love.

I'll dye my petticoat, I'll dye it red,
Around the world I'll bake my bread.
Since the lad I love from me has fled,
Fare ye well, my love.

Chorus:
Shule, shule, shule a vil a ghra,
Time can only ease my woe.
Since the lad I love from me did go,
Fare ye well, my love.

I tracked his footsteps over the moor,
I watched his shadow on the door.
I prayed as I shall pray no more
Fare ye well, my love.

I wish I was on yonders hill,
There I'd sit and weep my fill
Till every tear could turn a mill,
Fare ye well, my love.

(Chorus)

My wheel is stopped, I'll set it by,
The tears within my eyes are dry.
No longer will I weep and sigh,
Fare ye well, my love.

John Tams sings Johnny Is Gone for a Soldier

Here I sit on Butternut Hill,
Who could blame me cry my fill?
And ev'ry tear would turn a mill;
Johnny is gone for a soldier.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Shule, shule, shule agra,
His nets and creel are laid away
Till he comes back I'll rue the day
Johnny is gone for a soldier.

With fifes and drums he marched away;
The orders came, he couldn't stay.
Till he comes back I'll rue the day
Johnny is gone for a soldier.

I'd sell my ruck, I'd sell my reel,
I'll even sell my spinning wheel,
To buy my love a coat of steel;
Johnny is gone for a soldier.

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: Siul a Ruin.