LORENA, A Song of the Civil War

This song was actually written in 1857 by H. D. Webster & J. P. Webster and, for obvious reasons, became popular with the men on both sides of the Civil War, after which it became a staple of the Old West. You can hear a traditional interpretation by John Hartford with excellent banjo accompaniment here. If the melody seems familiar, but the words don’t sound quite right, you’re not going crazy. In the 1960s, a more contemporary version made the rounds, and was recorded by such country luminaries as Johnny Cash and Bobby Bare. You can hear Bobby’s version of the song here.


The years creep slowly by, Lorena,
The snow is on the grass again.
The sun’s low down the sky, Lorena,
The frost gleams where the flow’rs have been.
But the heart throbs on as warmly now,
As when the summer days were nigh.
Oh, the sun can never dip so low
A-down affection’s cloudless sky.

A hundred months have passed, Lorena,
Since last I held that hand in mine,
And felt the pulse beat fast, Lorena,
Though mine beat faster far than thine.
A hundred months, ’twas flowery May,
When up the hilly slope we climbed,
To watch the dying of the day,
And hear the distant church bells chime.

We loved each other then, Lorena,
More than we ever dared to tell;
And what we might have been, Lorena,
Had but our lovings prospered well.
But then, ’tis past, the years are gone,
I’ll not call up their shadowy forms;
I’ll say to them, “Lost years, sleep on!
Sleep on! nor heed life’s pelting storms.”

The story of that past, Lorena,
Alas! I care not to repeat,
The hopes that could not last, Lorena,
They lived, but only lived to cheat.
I would not cause e’en one regret
To rankle in your bosom now;
For “if we try we may forget,”
Were words of thine long years ago.

Yes, these were words of thine, Lorena,
They burn within my memory yet;
They touched some tender chords, Lorena,
Which thrill and tremble with regret.
‘Twas not thy woman’s heart that spoke;
Thy heart was always true to me:
A duty, stern and pressing, broke
The tie which linked my soul with thee.

It matters little now, Lorena,
The past is in the eternal past;
Our heads will soon lie low, Lorena,
Life’s tide is ebbing out so fast.
There is a Future! O, thank God!
Of life this is so small a part!
‘Tis dust to dust beneath the sod;
But there, up there, ’tis heart to heart.


“A Nation of Immigrants” and Passive Racism

#Charlottesville #Racism #Resistance

The acts of the white supremacist terrorists in Charlottesville VA this weekend, the notifications posted of more “rallies” planned by these terrorists, and the White House response to it―laying the blame equally upon those who were beaten, mauled, and killed―had me shaking in my shoes.

When I finally calmed down, I started wondering what actions I can take to create a better world. Some people seem to have figured it out. They’ve made speeches of condemnation and of unity; posted stirring remarks that are worthy of quotation long after today; demanded that the Justice Department investigate; and criticized the White House response. They’ve put the blame squarely on the shoulders of those it belongs to.

Citizens marched in solidarity in Charlottesville, created a yuuuge peaceful protest around Trump Tower in NYC. Veterans are banding together to protect the counter-protestors, in much the same way as they protected Native Americans at Standing Rock. People are sharing stories of friends and family members who have fought and died to defeat the Nazis and other racist/genocidal ilk. And they’ve set up a GoFundMe page for Heather Heyer, the victim of vehicular homicide.

Some of these are big things, some of them are small. All of them will have an impact on where we go from here, and make me proud to be an American. So the question becomes: big or small, grand or minuscule―what can I do?

The first thing I can do: I can tweet and re-tweet, to let others know they are not alone in their outrage, in their sorrow. Let others know that their actions are abhorred by the majority. I can encourage the groups that are active, and the people who are just beginning to see how deep this problem goes in our society.

And there’s another thing I can do. Because through all of this, all the condemnation of terrorism, all the support of the victims, all the voices calling for a swift and uncompromising statement from the White House―through all of it, I’ve noticed a strand of passive racism:

We are a nation of immigrants.”

It sounds like such a little thing, and I know what the point is. I know it’s meant as a show of solidarity. It’s supposed to shame the white supremacist terrorists whose ancestors, like most of ours, had the same dreams and goals as those who come today. Who came willingly across the seas, searching for a better place, a better life, a better day.

But it does so at the cost of those whose ancestors did not.

The “New World” was populated before the advent of Columbus. There were peoples here who were self-sufficient, who had complex religions, governments and languages, whose myths and histories were handed down through countless generations. Who had a connection to the land and a reverence for it that most of us are lacking today. The European invasion decimated these populations, forced new religions and languages on the conquered, dismissed their care of this precious earth. Those who did not conform were exterminated. There is a long and bloody history of abuse of these peoples.

They were not, and their descendants are not, in any sense of the word, “immigrants”.

There is another history, just as long and just as bloody, that the adage ignores: slavery. Men, women and children crowded into the holds of ships, treated like cattle, fed just enough to stay alive, and thrown overboard if they died of abuse, starvation or disease. Those who survived were sold to the highest bidder. And whether you call them slaves or “indentured servants”, these individuals did not come here willingly.

To call them immigrants denies their history in this country.

I objected to one Tweet and was told “nobody means any harm by it.” I choose to believe that, to believe that most people do not mean to harm. But it does harm.

If the objective is solidarity, this phrase accomplishes exactly the opposite. It makes outsiders of those who did not choose to come to this continent, and outsiders of those who fought and died to preserve their right to live freely, and who are now confined to the worst pieces of land our government could find. Land that’s been whittled down to practically nothing.

Yes, it sounds good in a tweet. Yes, it’s accepted by the mainstream. But systemic racism exists, and “nation of immigrants” is a passive yet destructive force within it.

So this is my first tiny step toward eradicating passive racism: trying to convince others of the harm inherent in this popular adage. There are quotes that sound just as good in a Tweet: “America is a melting pot.” “Lady Liberty welcomes all.” “America thrives on diversity.” Find one, or make up your own.

But please. No more “nation of immigrants.”

Not only does it hurt, it isn’t even true. And if we can’t stop telling our own lies, can’t recognize and fix our own passive prejudices―how can we criticize those who live by lies and prejudice?



#Music #Cowboysongs #amwriting #HistoricalFiction
A popular ditty with cowboys, this old tune has borrowed from both Irish and American traditions. If some of it sounds familiar, the line “Her parents don’t like me, they say I’m too poor” was borrowed by Peter, Paul & Mary for “Pretty Mary”; the lines “I’ll eats when I’m hungry” and “them that don’t like me” and the theme in general, all can be found in The Moonshiner by the Irish Rovers. For an American version of this song, you can’t do better than the Willis Brothers here.



Jack o’ diamonds, Jack o’ diamonds, I know you of old,
You’ve robbed my poor pockets of silver and gold.
Oh, whiskey, you villain, you’ve been my downfall,
You’ve kicked me, you’ve cuffed me, but I love you for all.

Oh Mollie, oh Mollie, it’s for your sake alone
That I leave my old parents, my house and my home,
That I leave my old parents, you caused me to roam,
I’m an old rebel soldier and Dixie’s my home.

My foot’s in my stirrup, my bridle’s in my hand,
I’m gonna leave Mollie, the fairest in the land.
Her parents don’t like me, they say I’m too poor,
They say I’m unworthy to enter her door.

They say I drink whiskey, my money is my own,
And them that don’t like me can leave me alone.
I’ll eat when I’m hungry, I’ll drink when I’m dry,
And when I get thirsty I’ll lay down and cry.

I’ll build me a castle on yonder mountain high,
Where my true love can see me when she comes riding by.
Where my true love can see me and help me to mourn.
I’m an old rebel soldier and Dixie’s my home.

I’ll get up in my saddle, my quirt in my hand.
I’ll think of you, Mollie, when in some far distant land.
I’ll think of you, Mollie, you caused me to roam,
I’m an old rebel soldier and Dixie’s my home.

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck,
I’d dive to the bottom to get one sweet sup.
But the ocean ain’t whiskey, and I ain’t a duck!
So I’ll play Jack o’ diamonds and try to change my luck.

Oh baby, oh baby, I’ve told you before,
Do make me a pallet, I’ll lie on the floor.
I’ve rambled and gambled this wide world around,
But it’s with the rebel army, dear Mollie, I’m bound.

It’s with the rebel army, dear Mollie, I roam,
I am a rebel soldier and Dixie’s my home.
I have rambled and gambled all my money away,
But it’s with the rebel army, oh Mollie, I must stay.

Jack o’ diamonds, Jack o’ diamonds, I know you of old,
You’ve robbed my poor pockets of silver and gold.

The Valley of Knockanure

#irishmusic #irishhistory #amwriting

Stemming from an incident in Gortagleanna during the War of Indepence (1921), there are several versions of this song extant. These lyrics are based on a poem by Bryan MacMahon, which in turn is based on oral histories and older poems, some of which are lost today. A haunting version of this song is presented by Mary O’Dowd here.


You may sing and speak about Easter Week
And the heroes of Ninety Eight,
Or bold Fenian Men who roamed the glen
In victory or defeat.
Their names on history’s pages told,
Their memories will endure,
Not a song is sung of our darling sons,
In the Valley of Knockanure.

There was Walsh and Lyons and the Dalton boy,
They were young and in their prime.
They rambled to a lonely spot
Where the Black and Tans did hide.
The Republic bold they did uphold,
Tho’ outlawed on the moor,
And side by side they fought and died
In the Valley of Knockanure.

It was on a neighbouring hillside,
We listened in hushed dismay.
In every house, in every town,
A young girl knelt to pray.
They’re closing in around them now,
With rifle fire so sure,
And Lyons is dead and young Dalton’s down
In the Valley of Knockanure.

But ere the guns could seal his fate,
Young Walsh had spoken thro’.
With a prayer to God he spurned the sod,
As against the hill he flew.
The bullets tore his flesh in two,
Yet he cried with voice so sure,
“Revenge I’ll get for my comrade’s death,
In the Valley of Knockanure.”

The summer sun is sinking low
Behind the field and lea.
The pale moonlight is shining bright
Far off beyond Tralee.
The dismus star and clouds afar
Are darkening o’er the moor,
And the banshee cried when young Dalton died,
In the Valley of Knockanure.

May God guard and keep the place they sleep
In the Valley of Knockanure.

Hotdogs, Ice Cream, Fireworks … & Russia?

I may be the only person alive who objects to the Russian National Anthem being played to celebrate America’s Independence Day.

Our July 4th celebrations here in my new home town were cancelled this year due to heavy rains.  I found out today that there will be fireworks locally to celebrate Labor Day this weekend.  Which put me in mind of the Fourth just passed.

Regardless of the rain, I wouldn’t have been able to attend the local fireworks on the 4th, as I was spending the weekend in New Jersey with friends and family.  In much of NJ these days, fireworks come at a premium; the cost of admission is anywhere up to $25 per person, and we’re a really big family.  So, at the end of a lovely day, we gathered in my mother’s living room to watch the Macy’s fireworks on TV.

4th of July Fireworks

4th of July Fireworks

Not quite as good as live, but they do a wonderful job.  It just never fails to amaze me that we so often hear the national anthem of Russia as the musical accompaniment to our Independence Day celebrations.

Yeah, I’m talking about The 1812 Overture.

Now I love Tchaikovsky — his Concerto in B-flat minor is my favorite piece of classical music.  And where would we be without The Nutcracker at Christmas?  Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty — the man was a genius!  But The 1812 Overture was written to commemorate his country’s victory over Napoleon.  And that passage with the cannons roaring in the background?  Behind the flourishes, the score includes excerpts from Russia’s National Anthem.

And we Americans play it every Fourth of July.

Try mentioning that to anyone and you will get “the face”.  The “you’re-crazy-you’re-weird-you-don’t-know-nuthin’-and-who-cares-anyway” face.

But it is crazy, at least to me.  Why, when we have scads and scads of scores written by Americans about America, do we insist on playing a Russian song on Independence Day?

Ever heard Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean?  Wonderful song.  It could use a little cannon fire at the end.  Or what about our own March King, John Philip Sousa?  There are several fabulous choices from his works, including The Liberty Bell March and Hail to the Spirit of Liberty.

John Philip Sousa

John Philip Sousa

Or what about our national march?  Almost everyone is familiar with Sousa’s Stars & Stripes Forever.  And let’s not forget about our own National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.  It’s already got “rockets red glare” and “bombs bursting in air”.  An enterprising music arranger could certainly accentuate it with some cannons roaring for effect.

Now at this point, you may be thinking I’m just a Russophobe.  But I’d have the same reaction to any other country’s anthem.  Seriously, wouldn’t you object to celebrating the Fourth with La Marseillaise (France) or A Soldier’s Song (Ireland)?

But those other anthems aren’t included in a song with CANNONS.  So I guess they don’t have a chance to start with.

It may just be one of those things that comes under the heading of “Well, we’ve done it this way for so long …”  Or maybe nobody has actually been paying attention.  But let’s stop and reflect.

Isn’t there a better choice?

Tuesday Trivia #24: Population Decimation

In 1492, when Columbus “discovered” America, the estimated number of Native Americans in what would become the United States was between 5 and 18 million.

Historians estimate that up to 80% of population loss was due to diseases like smallpox and influenza, to which the aboriginals had no immunity.  A 20% survival rate of the lower estimate of 5 million would be 1 million; of the higher estimate, 3.6 million.

In 1900, the US Census showed a total Native American population of 350 thousand.

Which means that 65% to 90% of the populace is “unaccounted for”.  Why do you think that is?

Tuesday Trivia #19: The Transatlantic Crossing

In the mid-19th Century, most transatlantic crossings were still done by sailing ship, although steamship passage was available for those who could afford it, primarily through the Cunard Line of Britain and the Inman line of the US.  A steamship would routinely make the voyage in 11 to 13 days, but until 1860, most steamships had no accommodations for steerage (or 3rd class) passengers.

In the 1850s, American sailing ships routinely made the voyage from Cork, Wexford or Liverpool to the East Coast of the US and Canada in about 35 days, while a British sailing ship would take up to 10 weeks for the identical crossing; British captains had a (probably superstitious) habit of not sailing at night.

Quote of the Week

There’s so much more work to be done to extend the full promise of America to every American. But today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we’ve made our union a little more perfect.

Barack Obama, Author & 44th President of the United States (1961- )
on the Supreme Court Ruling ending marriage discrimination, 6/25/15

Tuesday Trivia #18: The History of Potato Crop Failures

I realized this morning that I used “Tuesday Trivia #12” twice — kind of confusing! Rather than renumber the whole kit’n’caboodle and maybe create more confusion, I simply relabled the second #12 as #12a. And so on we go …

Many people consider the Great Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1852 to be an unprecendented occurrence, and believe it caught the country’s government by surprise. However, the failure of the potato crop that began in 1945 was no stranger to Ireland’s inhabitants.

Crop failures had plagued Ireland in both the 18th and 19th centuries prior to An Gorta Mor, or The Great Hunger. In the winter of 1739-1740, the potato crop was ruined by frost: close to half a million Irish died from starvation and related diseases (a number that is statistically higher per capita than The Great Famine).

Another crop failure took place in 1782 and 1783, but at that time laws were enacted to keep Irish food in Ireland to feed its populace, so the death rate was not nearly so high.

In 1816, a widespread general crop failure occurred in most of Europe, due to unusual weather conditions (secondary, we now know, to a volcanic eruption in the Indian Ocean). The English Parliament under Sir Robert Peel created a contingency plan to prevent widespread disaster in the case of another potato crop failure.

In 1822 and in the early 1830s, regional crop failures occurred, but were considered unimportant and unrelated. By the mid-century, the British government had essentially adopted a laissez-faire attitude toward Ireland; when the crop failed again in 1845, only small parts of Peel’s contingency plan were put into effect. The Corn Laws, laws that kept the price of English corn artificially high, were repealed; however, the populace had no money with which to buy the corn even at reduced prices.

Ironically, American ships loaded with donated corn arrived in Ireland – after much ado about who had the authority to accept the corn, the American grain was distributed for free, while English corn rotted away in warehouses, waiting for someone with enough money to buy it.