Paul Brady’s version of Arthur McBride was seemingly the first recorded on the album Andy Irvine and Paul Brady (still considered one of the finest recordings of Irish traditional song to date.) Andy would later record it with Planxty, but I love the melody here as Paul sings it best. If you want to hear Andy’s newer “tarted up version” click here.
This song was collected around 1840 in Limerick by P.W. Joyce. He believed it to originally come from Donegal, based on the phraseology of the song. It’s an anti-recruiting song similar in theme to The Kerry Recruit, Mrs. McGrath and Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye.; and there are many more. Along with The Landlord and The Excise Man, the Recruiting Sergeant was a popular target for poetic ire, because he conscripted young Irishmen to fight on behalf of England.
In the mid-eighteenth century, if an English soldier took off his uniform, the minimum penalty was twenty-five lashes with a cat-o-nine-tails, and 1500 lashes the maximum. Average pay was eightpence a day.
Oh me and my cousin, one Arthur McBride
As we went a walkin’ down by the seaside
Now mark what followed and what did betide
It being on Christmas morning
Out for recreation we went on a tramp
And we met Sergeant Knacker and Corporal Cramp (or Vamp)
And a little wee drummer intending to camp
For the day being pleasant and charming