The ‘Wild Colonial Boy': Rules To Sing By

There really are people out there who have NOT belted out The Wild Colonial Boy at a St. Patrick’s Day party. I suspect most of them are Irish people who actually live in Ireland.

Still, it might happen to you someday. Especially if it is known that you play the guitar. I would hate for you to be caught unprepared.

So, just under the wire for St. Patrick’s Day: some basic rules for singing The Wild Colonial Boy.

1. If you aren’t Irish, don’t. No need to suffer unnecessarily. However, if all else fails, claim a fictional great-grandmother from Kilkenny. (You can’t have mine.) This will be important later. You’ll see.

2. Brush up on your fast folkie strum. I don’t know the technical term, but it’s that thing where you do a real fast downward stroke followed by three or four up-down strokes (Down up-down-up-down-up … oh, just go listen to a Clancy Brothers/Tommy Makem album. That strum.) Remember to stamp your foot a lot.

3. Very important: Know all the verses. Tape them to the side of your guitar if you are shaky. This is no time to be proud. The Wild Colonial Boy has one thing in common with The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald: Once it starts, it cannot stop. Even if you’ve done three verses and there are seven more you don’t remember. Even if you’re passing out. The moments will spin on as you gape there ridiculously, your hand going down up-down-up-down-up …

[Oh, Lord, I'm feeling sick. Excuse me for a moment.]

4. Before you sing,  inform everyone (in a charmingly shy way) that you aren’t doing a definitive version of The Wild Colonial Boy. No! This is just the version you learned from your sainted great-granny from Kilkenny (the one from Step One, remember?). It’s the one she rocked you to sleep with after she told you the tales of Diarmuid and Grainne, and the Children of Lir. This step forestalls post-performance arguments about how badly you screwed up the lyrics. Who’s going to argue with your sainted great-granny?

5. Have a Guinness. If you don’t like Guinness, wine will do. If you don’t drink, try chocolate, or get a bystander to give you a massage. Basically, loosen up. Otherwise you might consider how you’re actually going to sound while singing The Wild Colonial Boy, which could be a dealbreaker.

6. Sing it as fast as you can. This will help if you get tripped up by Rule 3.

7. Remember to smile a lot while you’re singing it. Yes, it’s about a young Irish lad deported to Australia who gets gunned down by the government men after an aimless life of crime. But smile.

And don’t forget to stamp your foot.

Let me know how it goes.

Links, 3.14.11

St. Patrick’s Day rapidly approaches. I have not yet baked a scrap of soda bread, but there’s still time. I hate cultural pressure like this. Let’s just raise a glass to the links.

Church art, redux: Here’s an interesting local news story about repurposed artwork — such as stained glass windows — from closed churches. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark (NJ) is restoring and relocating such artifacts; a number of pieces from Sacred Heart-Vailsburg will become part of a new cemetery mausoleum. Stained-glass windows and altars can be of genealogical interest when they bear the names of the families who donated them. The article doesn’t mention whether this information has been recorded — although it’s nice to think some of this beautiful craftsmanship will have a new purpose.

Cheers!: Well, isn’t this nice — the Guinness company has a searchable database of its employees at its brewery in Dublin from 1759 to the present. They say it includes about 20,000 employee files. I pulled one up and saw it contained a birth date, position held, department, and dates for beginning and end of employment. h/t to Pat Connors, NY-IRISH list.

Movie history: A nice post at the Brooklynology blog highlights Brooklyn’s Vitaphone Studios, which specialized in short flicks featuring popular vaudeville and opera talent. An East Coast studio was helpful,  since quite a few stars at that point refused to travel to the West. Hard to imagine now!

Conference comparison: Ancestry Insider notes that attendance is down this year at certain genealogy fairs and expos, and further notes that not every event can be RootsTech, nor has to be. A nice comparative piece on the various genealogy events available, along with their target audiences.

Ringing a bell: A gentleman in Colchester (UK) is seeking tougher rules on gravesite decorations at local cemeteries. Specifically, a crackdown on chimes, which apparently are making quite a racket: “It’s not just chimes in trees,” says Mark Andrew, who is  among the gravesite owners pushing for restraint. “There are baubles, candles, whirly, metallic things and wooden chimes that make a racket … It’s got out of hand.”

Scan fan: Loved the report on the FlipScan portable scanner at Eastman’s Genealogy Newsletter. What a handy thing to have at family reunions.

In-ex-CUSable!: James Tanner at Genealogy’s Star does a masterly takedown of sloppy family history notations — a case study of a vaguely worded (and incorrect) entry that he set to rights using readily available online sources. You’ll never feel the same way about the words “abt.” and “Massachusetts” again.

Wishing you a safe week and a happy St. Patrick’s Day!

OT: Jane and Rochester, Fun Couple

I truly do have a nice big list of genealogy posts to work on, but a loss in my extended family — and, more happily, a family wedding next month — have reawakened an urgency to work on, well, genealogy. That’s what happens when you put off writing that family history you’ve been promising everyone.

I admit I’ve been feeling blue and out of sorts. Bizarrely, I have found comfort in viewing every possible filmed version of Jane Eyre that I can. Gloomy moors and bloodcurdling offstage screams seem about right these days.

But Jane, on page or screen, always cheers me up when I’m blue. She’s so plucky and persnickety and earnestly righteous and badass in a restrained, Victorian way. Rochester needs a good swift kick every now and then, and Jane delivers.

And delivers and delivers!

So far I’ve looked at Janes from 1934, 1944, 1970, 1973, 1983 and 2006, not to mention SCTV’s surreal parody, Jane Eyrehead. And I still haven’t gotten to those 1950s teleplays, nor that 1990s Jane Eyre, nor yet Jana Eyrova, the groovy 1970s Czech version. (I recommend The Enthusiast’s Guide to Jane Eyre Adaptations, if you want to follow me down the dark and twisting path of Eyre-mania.)

And just think! In a few short days, a new film version will be unveiled, so that our very own decade will have fresh Eyre. (I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Stop throwing that stuff!)

The 1944 film with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine (a big favorite of my mom’s) still holds up well. Many adore the 2006 BBC version, but it’s somewhat overwrought for my taste. Jane doesn’t have to bellow to make her points, in my book. For me it’s a tossup between 1973 and 1983. The BBC’s ’83 edition has a slight edge in the person of Timothy Dalton’s Rochester –that’s textbook dark brooding, that is.

However, for sheer wrongheaded goofiness which truly raised my spirits, the prize goes to the 1934 Monogram studios  adaptation. Jane (Virginia Bruce) is blond and sunny. Everyone is sort of blond and sunny, really. And American-accented.

Best dialogue, at 2:46:

[Jane and Rochester in blissful clinch, interrupted by blood-curdling, operatic scream.]

JANE: What was that, Edward? I’ve heard it a number of times — it frightens me!

ROCHESTER: Nothing to be alarmed about.

Oh, Jane, Jane. How many times have we heard that one?

Links, 3.7.11

Grave topic: Selma Blackmon at’s Atlanta site reports that a National Archives volunteer at the Atlanta facility  found text records for relocated burials from 31 Kentucky cemeteries. Apparently these cemeteries were relocated as part of the Grayson Reservoir Project in Carter County, Kentucky. The file includes 600 names of those interred, plus correspondence involving notification of next of kin. One caution:  This page bristles with pop-up windows. But the information is interesting and might be of use to researchers examining this Kentucky county.

Going West: Western Canada: Nova Scotia-based columnist Diane Lynn Tibert reminds us that images of the 1916 census of the western Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta have been online for a few months now. As she points out, this was a period in which immigrants flocked to western Canada from Europe and the U.S. Heads-up: The images are not indexed by name. The database is here.

Who’s That Again?: The Medill School of Journalism website offers Who Does She Think She Is?, a nice Q and A with Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak. It’s a freewheeling piece, touching upon topics like the difficulties of celebrity genealogy (“Celebrities have layers and layers of protectors”) and the dangers of jumping to conclusions (“In two hours you proved every one of those parent-to-child links. You’re absolutely sure about that?”). Fun read!

Please Query: Everyone has to write a query sooner or later, even if it’s just for an online roll call. It’s one of those things you might think you’re doing effectively, but one never knows, does one? Here’s a good how-to guide.

Coming Up: Irish Records, Northern Sources

Well, this  looks interesting:

DIPPAM, which is short for Documenting Ireland: Parliament, People and Migration. This website’s official launch is scheduled for March 21.

It’s billed as “an online virtual archive of documents and sources relating to the history of Ireland, and its migration experience from the 18th to the late 20th centuries.” The site pulls together documentation from a number of repositories and sources in Northern Ireland.

The three major areas outlined at the link include:

Enhanced British Parliamentary Papers on Ireland, a database of 15,000 official publications from a collection of parliamentary papers from the era of the Union, including bills, reports and commissions of inquiry.

Voices of Migration and Return, which includes more than 90 narratives from interviews with “returned and non-returned migrants from Ulster (9-counties) gathered during the course of two studies on contemporary migration (2004-2008).”

• The Irish Emigration Database, “a virtual library of emigration-related primary sources, principally letters to and from emigrants, compiled by the Centre for Migration Studies, Omagh”; a collection of 33,000 records culled from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland and private sources, apparently to be expanded as new records become available.

The site’s development team includes experts from Queen’s University, Belfast, the University of Ulster, the Centre for Migration Studies and Libraries Northern Ireland.

At the URL you can read more details about the collections. There are also two PowerPoint presentations (scroll down to the bottom of the page) available for download about Belfast migration. It’ll be fascinating to see what things look like after the launch. If you’re in Northern Ireland, check out the home page for a series of workshops being held about this project.

(h/t to C. Tuohy on the Co.-Tipperary mailing list.)

Gone and (Almost) Forgotten

Many family histories, if not most, are frustratingly incomplete. People vanish, leaving behind only cryptic sentences in letters or documents – moved West; left no forwarding address. Sometimes we find them; sometimes we don’t. We can’t always know everything, much as we’d like to.

But in the case of my distant cousin Catherine Haigney, I sure wish I could.

She died in 1946, in some violent way. The death certificate was quite clear (if shocking) on that point.  The death was referred to the medical examiner for further investigation.

So off I went to apply for the coroner’s report, thinking that even if I didn’t like what was in it, at least it would explain Catherine’s death to my satisfaction.

Well, yes and no.

Catherine entered her final hours on September 16, 1946 lying unconscious on the floor of her Brooklyn apartment.  Her landlady found her and called an ambulance. At Kings County Hospital, they found a wound on her head had resulted in a brain hemorrhage. She died two days later, without regaining consciousness.

So where did the head wound come from?

According to the hospital:

“Patient unconscious when admitted. Impression: Subdural hematoma, multiple abrasions. Said to have been beaten up one week ago, was a patient in this hospital and released.”

According to the medical examiner:

“This is a re-currence of injuries received on Sept. 9-1946. Their [sic] is no report of a case on Sept. 9-th, 1946 in the 68th Pct.”

And also from the medical examiner:

“Deceased was brought to the Kings County Hospital on the 16th day of September, in an unconscious state, from her home, she having allegedly received head injury in some unknown manner, about one week prior to admission. Police, however, have no record of any alleged assault and report nothing suspicious.”

There is a lot more in the way of facts and figures. As a set of documents, this coroner’s report is really interesting, and I’ll write about that in another post.

But none of it says anything more about the violent act that ultimately killed Catherine. The medical examiner’s report mentions that a detective from the 68th Precinct was assigned to investigate Catherine’s death. And that’s where the story leaves off.

What happened? One big problem: The incident that fractured Catherine’s skull wasn’t reported to the authorities at the time. (Or, possibly, it was reported, but was not considered worth looking into.) So forget about it turning up as a newspaper police blotter item somewhere around Sept. 9. It seems that  the next step would be finding out what, if anything, was reported by the detective who investigated after her death.

I’ve taken my time about writing this one up, because frankly, it’s just really sad and frustrating. Especially the idea that somebody could be beaten that seriously and nothing would come of it, at least judging from the papers I have so far. Could this have been considered a   “domestic incident” too mundane to make a big deal of? (Tough to reflect upon, but definitely not unheard-of.) Was there something about her lifestyle that put her in the category of people too marginal to worry about? Or was it just something that couldn’t be solved?

Guesses, that’s all I have at the moment. Also, a lot of sadness.


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