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Mrs McGrath / My Son John / My Son Tim

[ Roud 678 ; Henry H131 ; Ballad Index MA126 ; trad.]

Timothy Walsh of Devonport, Devon sang My Son Tim in a BBC recording made by Cyril Tawney on the anthology A Soldier’s Life for Me (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 8; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970). The album's notes commented:

This powerful anti-war piece exists in many variants—all of them striking and memorable. It dates from the Napoleonic wars when thousands of young Irishmen became cannon fodder in the long struggle between the English and the French. It is best known as Mrs McGrath. Around the time of World War I, it was the most popular marching song of the Irish Volunteers.

Tim Hart and Maddy Prior recorded this song as My Son John in 1969 for their second duo album Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 2. The record's sleeve notes comment:

Fred Hamer collected this song in Bedfordshire from the singing of David Parrott. A father and his disabled son are before a naval surgeon who is trying to cheat him of his disablement pension by claiming that he was careless to stand in the way of the cannon ball which shot his legs off.

Martin Carthy sang My Son John in 2010 on The Imagined Village's second CD, Empire and Love. Thús video shows them at Bridport Arts Centre, Bridport UK:

Jon Boden sang My Son Jon as the January 27, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted in the blog:

I seem to recall that my folk-hating school friends became rather attached to this particular song. I’m not entirely sure why but there’s something slightly Monty Python about the wording and perhaps that’s the appeal. It’s a strange combination of jollity and social comment.

Andy Turner learned My Son Jon from Fred Hamer's book Garners Gay and sang it as the November 18, 2012 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.


Timothy Walsh sings My Son Tim

Oh, my son Tim was a bosun's mate
He could whistle but he never ran a rate,
When the thoughts of his mother came into his head,
You couldn't understand one word he said, —
    With your too-ri-ra, whack fol-the-da,
    Whack fol-the-doodle, fol-the-di-do

“Ah, were you lame or were you blind
When you left your two fine legs behind?
An', oh, Mahone, you were a silly youth
That you didn't run away from the Frenchman's shoot.”

“I was not drunk or neither blind
When I left my two fine pins behind,
When up came a bloody great cannon-ball,
Shot away me sea-boots, oilskins and all.”

“And now I'll cross the raging main
To the King of France and the Queen of Spain,
And I'll make them rue the time
That they shot away the legs of a child of mine.”

Tim Hart and Maddy Prior sing My Son John

My son John was tall and slim
And he had a leg for every limb.
But now he's got no legs at all,
For he run a race with a cannonball.
    With my rue dum dah, fol de riddle dah
   Whack fol de riddle with my rue dum dah

“Oh were you deaf, were you blind
When you left your two fine legs behind?
Or was it sailing on the sea
With your two fine legs right down to the knee?”

“I was not deaf, I was not blind
When I left my two fine legs behind,
Nor was it sailing on the sea
With my two fine legs right down to the knee.

“For I was tall, I was slim,
I had a leg for every limb,
But now I've got no legs at all,
They were both shot away by a cannonball.”