Fair Town of Greenock, The
DESCRIPTION: John lives in Greenock and is called with the "Eighteenth Royal" to fight in India. Jane asks him not to leave. He is killed by a French sword. His last words are "Greenock and sweet Bannockburn," as are hers when she heard the news of his death.
EARLIEST DATE: 1986 (McBride-FlowerOfDunaffHillAndMoreTradSongsInnishowen)
KEYWORDS: courting army battle separation death lover soldier India
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (1 citation):
McBride-FlowerOfDunaffHillAndMoreTradSongsInnishowen 27, "The Fair Town of Greenock" (1 text, 1 tune)
cf. "The Lad in the Scotch Brigade (The Banks of the Clyde)" (theme)
cf. "The Paisley Officer (India's Burning Sands)" [Laws N2] (theme)
NOTES [713 words]: This song reminds McBride of "The Paisley Officer." It's a similar theme but "The Lad in the Scotch Brigade" is even closer: the war is different -- Egypt [in that song as opposed to] India [in this one] -- but it does share a line ("She threw her arms around him and cried, 'Do not leave me,'") and the girl's home "on the Banks of the Clyde." The British fought the French in India in the eighteenth century (source: "Rivalries in India: AD 1748-1760" in History of the British Empire, p. 4, at http://tinyurl.com/tbdx-IndiaRivalr). - BS
This song is rather a curiosity. Greenock of course is in Scotland, and the girl lives by the Clyde, and who but a Scot would toast Bannockburn?
And yet, it's found in Ireland. And then there is the reference to the Eighteenth Royal.
It happens that the Eighteenth Foot was the Royal Irish Regiment , according to Hallows, p. 319; it was disbanded in 1922 (when the Irish Free State was formed). (This unit should not be confused with the present Royal Irish Regiment, which is an Ulster unit. This is not to deny the distinction of the latter regiment; it's just not the same as the Eighteenth Foot.)
The site http://tinyurl.com/tbdx-Irish18 lists two occasions on which the Eighteenth served in India. The list of battle honours for the Eighteenth (which I found at www.regiments.org, but the link no longer works) does not appear to include any Indian campaigns, but it did fight in Afghanistan, which is surely close enough. This unit did not fight the French at this time, of course, but it did serve in Madras, which had been the site of Anglo-French quarrels a century earlier.
So how did a seemingly-Irish regiment end up in a seemingly-Scots song? Don't ask me....
I rather suspect the battle referred to is Wandiwash, in 1760. This was one of the few direct conflicts between the English and French in India. The battle took place on January 22, 1760, as Sir Eyre Coote beat the French under Count de Lally. This opened the door for Coote to capture Pondicherry (OxfordCompanion, p. 966).
Anderson, p. 418, says, "In saving his fleet, [Admiral Anne antoine comte] d'Ache doomed Lally and the French trading stations on the Coromandel Coast. The turning point actually came at the beginning of 1760 when the British military commander in the region, Lieutenant colonel Eyre Coote of the 84th Regiment, lured Lally out to do battle at Wandiwash, some forty miles northwest of Pondicherry. On January 22, Coote defeated his opponenet in an open-field engagement; thereafter, Lally broke down psychologically and proved incapable of defending the outposts that protected Pondicherry. By the middle of April only the city and its immediate surroundings remained in French control. Meanwhile, a powerful British naval squadron had beseiged it, allowing coote to besiege the city in August. On January 16, 1761, he would accept the sword of Pondicherry's neurasthenic commandant."
According to Spear, p. 79, "The third and final phase [of the conflict between Britain and France in India] was again an open struggle brought on by the Seven Years War. The English were first in the field but their force was diverted to Bengal. When the French forces arriced in 1758 they were crippled by jealousy and bad leadership. They failed to take Madras and were decisively defeated at Wandiwash.... Brave to the last the wayward Lally endured an agonizing siege in Pondicherry for eight months until its fall. This was the real end of the French bid for Indian power. Their reappearance in 1782 was a passing phase only made notable by the genius of their admiral de Suffren."
It was a nice follow-up to the so-called "Year of Victories" of 1759, in which the British won Canada (Haswell, p. 52), which perhaps explains why Coote and Wandiwash get relatively little attention in the histories -- there was so much else going on....
Keegan/Wheatcroft, p. 179, note that the French commander Thomas Arthur comte de Lally (1702-1766), who was of Irish ancestry, was charged for treason on his return to France, and eventually executed -- unfairly, they think; his record was one of bad luck, not treason. Anderson, p. 418, seems to agree, for he blames most of the French problems on their fleet's failure to reinforce and supply their army. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.5
- Anderson: Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, 2000 (I use the 2001 Vintage Books edition)
- Hallows: Ian S. Hallows, Regiments and Corps of the British Army, 1991 (I use the 1994 New Orchard edition)
- Haswell: Jock Haswell, The British Army: A Concise History, Thames and Hudson, 1975
- Keegan/Wheatcroft: John Keegan and Andrew Wheatcroft, Who's Who in Military History from 1453, 1976, 1987 (I use the 1991 LPR reprint)
- OxfordCompanion: John Cannon, editor, The Oxford Companion to British History, Oxford, 1997
- Spear: Percival Spear, A History of India 2, 1965, 1978 (I use the 1984 Penguin paperback)
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