DESCRIPTION: "Well, if you've got a wing-o, Take me up to ring-o, Where the waxies sing-o, all the day." Various people in Dublin set out to accomplish some end or other, fail, and console themselves by asking, "Take me up to Monto."
AUTHOR: George Hodnett
EARLIEST DATE: 1982 (Soodlum's Irish Ballad Book); reportedly written 1958
KEYWORDS: whore Ireland political
REFERENCES (2 citations):
ADDITIONAL: Frank Harte _Songs of Dublin_, second edition, Ossian, 1993, pp. 60-61, "Monto" (1 text, 1 tune)
Take Me Up to Monto
NOTES [794 words]: I have never seen definitely-traditional version of this song. But Irish bands seem to sing it without any knowledge of its origin, and the three versions I've seen (Harte's, that in Soodlum's Irish Ballad Book and that in Robert Gogan, 130 Great Irish Ballads (third edition, Music Ireland, 2004), 42) are somewhat different, with the differences being almost always clear errors of hearing, so it possibly belongs here.
The song is intensely political, but you have to know the code to realize what is going on. And I've never seen any analysis that covers everything. Here is what I have come up with, including some of my own conjectures.
"Waxies" are candlemakers.
"Monto" is Montgomery street, Dublin's red light district. Soodlum's says that 1600 prostitutes once worked there, before it was closed down in 1925; Gogan, which is prone to folkloric exaggeration, gives the number of prostitutes as 1800.
"Buckshot" Forster ("Butcher Foster" in Soodlum's and Gogan) is W. E. Forster, known as "Buckshot," a one-time British Chief Secretary for Ireland. According to Kee, p. 86, Forster was given his name because, during his tenure, the police were sometimes given buckshot for ammunition, rather than the more dangerous ball cartridges. This was not his decision, however, and he came to have a bad reputation for violence. Forster resigned his post in the 1880s when Prime Minister Gladstone released Charles Steward Parnell from arrest (for this, see e.g. "The Blackbird of Avondale (The Arrest of Parnell)"; also "Home Rule for Ireland" and the songs cited under those two; also Moody/Martin/Keogh/Kiely, p. 252).
It tells you something about the troubles of Ireland that Forster "had accepted the first secretaryship in a spirit of goodwill and conciliation toward Ireland" (Moody/Martin/Keogh/Kiely, p 250).
"Carey" and "Skin-the-Goat" were two of those involved in the deadly Phoenix Park murders of 1882 (for which see especially "The Phoenix Park Tragedy"; also "Murder of the Double-Dyed Informer James Carey" and "Skin the Goat's Curse on Carey").
These two mentions would seem to set the song in the mid-1880s. This fits with the mentions of Queen Victoria, who ruled 1837-1901 and who repeatedly visited Ireland (though I doubt she ever weighed eighteen stone even in her later years when she did become stout; she just wasn't tall enough).
A similar date also seems to be implied by the mention of "the Czar of Russia and the King of Prussia." My guess is that this is a reference to Victoria's Golden Jubilee of 1887. Wilhelm II, King of Prussia and Kaiser of Germany, was Victoria's grandson by her daughter Victoria; Nicolas II of Russia was married to Alexandra, the daughter of Victoria's second daughter Alice. Neither had ascended yet (Wilhelm I of Prussia died 1888, and his grandson came to the throne three months later; Nicholas II ascended in 1894) -- and there was a plot to assassinate Victoria, blamed on Irish anarchists, which might explain the mention in this song.
Arguing for a slightly later date is the mention of sending the Dublin Fusiliers overseas, which sounds like a reference to the Boer War which began in 1899; more than 20,000 troops were eventually sent to South Africa. But maybe it's a reference to some other small colonial conflict. There were certainly plenty to choose from.
The mention of the "Duke of Gloucester, the dirty old imposter" is frankly befuddling if we are to date this in the reign of Queen Victoria. At the time of Victoria's birth, the Duke of Gloucester (and of Edinburgh) was William, the nephew of George III (being the son of George's brother William) , who died in 1834 (Sinclair-Stevenson, genealogy inside front cover). Due to the incestuous politics of the House of Hannover, he married late (to his cousin Mary, daughter of George III) and had no legitimate children. He was known as "Silly Billy" (Sinclair-Stevenson, p. 124), and even "The Cheese" (Sinclair-Stevenson, p. 129), so I can imagine broadside writers having a lot of fun with him -- but he was dead before Victoria took the throne. And, strangely enough, none of Victoria's children was given the Dukedom of Gloucester; it eventually went to one of the sons of Victoria's grandson George V. So no matter when this song was set in Victoria's reign, there was no Duke of Gloucester.
I'm guessing this is an error of some sort, and that the actual reference is to Spencer Cavendish, the eighth Duke of Devonshire, who was one of the chief leaders of the Unionist party -- that is, the party that broke away from the Liberals over the issue of Home Rule (Massie,, pp. 235-238).
Of course, the song is said to have been written in the 1950s. I'm not sure what that proves, except that old grudges die hard. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.8
- Kee: Robert Kee, The Bold Fenian Men, being volume II of The Green Flag (covering the period from around 1848 to the Easter Rising), Penguin, 1972
- Massie: Robert K. Massie, Dreadnought, Random House, 1991
- Moody/Martin/Keogh/Kiely: T. W. Moody, F. X. Martin, and Dermot Keough, with Patrick Kiely, The Course of Irish History, fifth edition, 2011 (page references are to the 2012 paperback edition)
- Sinclair-Stevenson: Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson, Blood Royal: The Illustrious House of Hannover, Doubleday, 1979, 1980
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