Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye

Today’s song is an Irish ditty that was borrowed by America during the Civil War. I’m posting both versions here, starting with the American one. The Johnny referred to was Johnny Reb.

The original Irish version follows. It’s traditionally sung with a pause before the last line of both the verses and refrain. It is, for me at least, a much more realistic look at the fortunes of war.

When Johnny Comes Marching Home

When Johnny comes marching home again, Hurrah! Hurrah!
We’ll give him a hearty welcome then, Hurrah! Hurrah!
The men will cheer and the boys will shout,
The ladies they will all turn out,
And we’ll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home.

The old church bell will peal with joy Hurrah! Hurrah!
To welcome home our darling boy, Hurrah! Hurrah!
The village lads and lassies say
With roses they will strew the way,
And we’ll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home.

Get ready for the Jubilee, Hurrah! Hurrah!
We’ll give the hero three times three, Hurrah! Hurrah!
The laurel wreath is ready now
To place upon his loyal brow,
And we’ll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home.

Let love and friendship on that day, Hurrah, hurrah!
Their choicest pleasures then display, Hurrah, hurrah!
And let each one perform some part,
To fill with joy the warrior’s heart,
And we’ll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home!

Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye

When goin’ the road to sweet Athy, haroo, haroo
When goin’ the road to sweet Athy, haroo, haroo
When goin’ the road to sweet Athy,
A stick in me hand and a drop in me eye,
A doleful damsel I heard cry, “Johnny I hardly knew ye!

 Refrain:
“With their guns and drums and drums and guns, haroo, haroo
With their guns and drums and drums and guns, haroo, haroo
With their guns and drums and drums and guns,
The enemy nearly slew ye!
Darlin’ dear, ye look so queer, Johnny I hardly knew ye.

“Where are those eyes with which ye smiled, haroo, haroo
Where are those eyes with which ye smiled, haroo, haroo
Where are those eyes with which ye smiled
When my poor heart ye first beguiled?
Why did ye go leave me and the child? Johnny I hardly knew ye!

 (Refrain)

“Where are those legs with which ye run, haroo, haroo
Where are those legs with which ye run, haroo, haroo
Where are those legs with which ye run
When first ye went to carry a gun?
Indeed yer dancing days are gone, Johnny I hardly knew ye!

   (Refrain)

“Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, haroo, haroo
Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, haroo, haroo
Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg,
Ye’re an eyeless, noseless, chickenless egg
Ye’ll have to be put with a bowl to beg, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!

(Refrain)

“I’m happy for to see ye home, haroo, haroo
I’m happy for to see ye home, haroo, haroo
I’m happy for to see ye home,
Back from the isle of Salam,
So low in flesh, so high in bone, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!

(Refrain)

Note: the reference to the isle of Salam probably means the battle of Salamanca in 1812, during the Peninsular War, itself a subset of the Napoleonic Wars.

2 thoughts on “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye

  1. An interesting comparison, Gifford. I think you are right when you say that the Irish one is a more realistic look at the fortunes of war. Badly disabled/disfigured was how many men came back from war, and begging was the only option left to them. It’s hard to think how little concern was shown to men who had given so much for their country. The first version avoids all mention of the ugly side of war. But, you know these songs better than I do after a quick read, so feel free to put me right if I’ve misinterpreted.

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  2. You’re exactly right, Millie. I often think that if the decision-makers would look at the outcome in personal terms before committing to war, many of the conflicts we get involved in would be avoided.

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