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Adapting an Irish Ballad for a New York Audience

Folk songs are often adapted to reflect the region in which they are being performed, writes Tuned Into Faith writer John Alexander. (File photo)

WINDSOR TERRACE — Many of the Irish ballads we are familiar with are derived from Irish and English ballads of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The lyrics are sometimes changed, while the melodies often remain the same. That’s why you will often hear folk singers adding new words to centuries-old songs.

A recent example of this is a revised lyric to the song “If We Only Had Old Ireland Over Here,” which was initially recorded by the Irish duo Foster and Allen. The traditional Irish ballad romanticizes the iconic Irish imagery of the Emerald Isle juxtaposed with the Australian landscape. The original lyric finds the singer longing for the beauty of Ireland while living in Australia.

[Related: Evergreen Irish Ballads for This St. Patrick’s Day]

Classic country artist Hank Locklin, who scored number one country hits with “Let Me Be the One” in 1953 and “Please Help Me I’m Fallin’” in 1960, included “If We Only Had Old Ireland” with its original lyric on his 1963 “Irish Songs, Country Style” album.

The late Irish balladeer Glen Curtin included a revised cover of the song on his 1998 album “Wild Colonial Boy,” which adapted the lyrics to reflect the Irish influence in New York.

The opening verse sets up the premise of the singer dreaming of the lovely sights he has seen in Ireland. That verse remains the same in both versions:

“I was dreaming of old Ireland and Killarney’s lakes and dells,

I was dreaming of the shamrock and the dear old Shannon bells;

When my memory suggested in a vision bright and clear,

All the strange things that would happen if we had old Ireland here.”

The original chorus reads:

“If the Blarney Stone stood out on Sydney harbor,

And Dublin town to Melbourne came to stay;

If the Shannon River joined the Brisbane waters,

And Killarney’s lakes flowed into Botany Bay.”

The revised lyric changes the locale:

“If the Blarney Stone stood out on Staten Island,

And Dublin town to Brooklyn came to stay;

If the Shannon water joined the Hudson River,

And Killarney’s lakes flowed into Rockaway.”

Folk songs are often adapted to reflect the region in which they are being performed. This particular song was originally written to emphasize the inextricable bond between Ireland and Australia. Their shared history has been linked for generations, since Colonial times, when Australia was a penal colony for political felons who were transported there by sea.

The journey was often long and challenging, as ships navigated the stormy seas around the Cape of Good Hope. Songs such as this one and “The Wild Colonial Boy,” memorably recorded by Mick Jagger on the soundtrack of the movie “Ned Kelly,” reaffirm the shared history of the two countries. So, if you are Irish or just looking for the perfect song to sing on St. Patrick’s Day, look no further than “If We Only Had Old Ireland Over Here.”

Both versions are available on iTunes, Amazon, and various streaming services, and it will certainly put a twinkle in your Irish eyes as you ponder how the Blarney Stone would actually look on Staten Island.