“Arthur McBride” is an Irish folk song. It was first collected around 1840 in Limerick,
Ireland by Joyce; also in Donegal by Petrie. Several .The song can be narrowl
categorized as an “anti-recruiting” song and more broadly as a protest song.
In the song, the narrator and his cousin, Arthur McBride, both Irish, were taking a walk
when they were approached by Three British military recruiters, a recruiting sergeant, a
Corporal and a drummer. The recruiters attempt to induce the narrator and Arthur
McBride into military service, extolling the virtues of serving the King of England,
having money to spend, and wearing nice clothes. Arthur McBride tells the recruiter, if
they joined, the clothes would merely be loaned to them and that they would be made to
go to war in France where they would be killed. The recruiter, taking offense to Arthur’s
disrespect of the King, becomes angry at Arthur and the narrator, and threatens to use his
sword on them. Then, Arthur and the narrator use their shillelaghs to hit the recruiters and
the drummer over their heads, and after doing so, takes their pouch of money, and throws
their swords and the drummer’s drum into the ocean. A similar song, set during World
War I and without a violent conclusion, is called “The Recruiting Sergeant“. “Arthur
MacBride” has been sung by numerous performers, including Bob Dylan, Planxty and
I had a first cousin called Arthur McBride,
He and I took a stroll down by the seaside;
Seeking good fortune and what might betide,
It was just as the day was a’dawnin’.
After restin’ we both took a tramp,
We met Sergeant Harper and Corporal Cramp,
Besides the wee drummer, who beat up the camp,
With his row-dee-dow-dow in the morning.
He says “my young fellows if you will enlist,
A guinea you quickly will have in your fist.
Besides a crown for to kick up the dust,
And drink the King’s health in the morning.
For a soldier he leads a very fine life,
He always is blessed with a charming young wife,
And he pays all his debts without sorrow or strife,
And always lives happy and charming.
And a soldier he always is decent and clean,
In the finest of garments he’s constantly seen,
While other poor fellows go dirty and mean,
And sup on thin gruel in the morning.”
Says Arthur, “I wouldn’t be proud of your clothes,
For you’ve only the lend of them, as I suppose,
And you dare not change them one night or you know
If you do you’ll be flogged in the morning.
And although we are single and free,
We take great delight in our own company,
And we have no desire strange countries to see,
Although that your offer is charming.
And we have no desire to take your advance,
All hazards and danger, we barter on chance,
and you’d have no scruples to send us to France,
Where we would be shot without warning.”
And now says the sergeant, “If I hear but one word,
I instantly now will out with my sword,
And into your bodies as strength will afford,
So now my gay devils take warning.”
But Arthur and I we took the odds,
We gave them no chance to launch out their swords,
Whacking shillelaghs came over their heads,
And paid them right smart in the morning.
As for the wee drummer, we rifled his pow,
And made a football of his row-dee-dow-dow,
Into the ocean to rock and to roll,
And bade it a tedious returnin’.
As for the old rapier that hung by his side,
We flung it as far as we could in the tide,
“To the Devil I pitch you”, says Arthur McBride,
“To temper your steel in the morning.”