Volunteers' March, The
DESCRIPTION: "Was she not a fool, When she took off our wool, To leave us so much of the Leather, the leather? It ne'er entered her pate, That a sheepskin well beat, Would draw a whole nation Together, together."
EARLIEST DATE: 1780s (Zimmermann)
KEYWORDS: nonballad patriotic clothes
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Zimmermann 2, "The Volunteers' March" (1 fragment, 1 tune)
NOTES: The current description is all of the Zimmermann fragment.
Zimmermann p. 117: "'The Volunteers' March' ... represents the first group of really nationalist Irish songs written in English, though most of the words are lost."
Moylan notes the tune Zimmermann uses for this entry and thinks it unlikely. "In fact the verse would fit a slide or jig tune, but not one in 2/4 time. In fact the verse would fit perfectly to the tune 'Larry Grogan' to which song [Zimmermann] 40 below is set, and was in all probability made with that tune in mind." (Moylan 2, "Favourite March of the Old Irish Volunteers") Consider this comment when using the tunes assigned by both Moylan and Zimmermann. - BS
Though it rarely is mentioned in song, one of the worst ways Britain oppressed Ireland was by controlling her trade. One instance of this was that they restricted Irish clothing from entering England. On several occasions England seemed to encourage one or another industry (e.g. linen) only to chop it down.
Kee, p. 21, writes, "The later English parliament took advantage of this constitutional subservience to see that local economic interests in the Kingdom of Ireland should present no threat to those in the Kingdom of England. Irish trading and manufacturing opportunities were severely restricted to protect England's own trades and manufactures. For instance, in 1699 the export of woolen goods from Ireland... was totally forbidden to everywhere but England where English import duties were themselves prohibitive." (Compare Cronin, pp. 86-87: "The 1699 legislation destroyed the Irish woolen industry at a stroke.")
Similarly, Ellis, p. 48, reports, "In 1666 Parliament forbade irish cattle being imported into England thus bringing about the ruin of the cattle industry."
I don't know if this song reflects that, but it might. - RBW
The Belfast Volunteers were formed in 1778 because of the threat of war between France and Britain. Similar groups formed, became politicized, and supported "those in favour of legislative independence from the British parliament and the removal of impediments to Irish commerce." (Source: Moylan, p. 1)
"In 1778, the Prime Minister, Lord North, proposed to relieve the commercial restraints of Ireland by allowing a free and general exportation of all kinds of goods, except the woollen manufacture, 'that article being reckoned too sacred to be yet meddled with.' But so great was the commotion excited in the manufacturing towns of England that Lord North had to reconsider his proposal. 'A general alarm,' says MacPherson, 'spread through most of the trading and manufacturing parts of the kingdom.' They considered the 'admittance of Ireland to any participation in trade as not only destructive, in the most ruinous degree, of their property, but as being subversive of their rights.' .... The British Parliament yielded to the pressure from without, and only some slight modifications of the commercial code were effected....
"[T]he Volunteers were demanding free trade with arms in their hands. In February, 1779, 'The Sheriffs of Dublin represented to the Lord Lieutenant that 19,000 persons connected with the weaving trade in that city, besides many other poor, were on the brink of starvation, and that nothing but an extension of trade and free export of manufactures could save them.' .... Meanwhile, the Volunteers seconded their demand for free trade by giving the best practical encouragement to the industries of the nation. They clothed their regiments and troops in Irish manufacture .... Associations for the use of Irish manufactures sprung up in every part of the country, to the serious alarm of the English clothiers .... Trade revived....
"The Volunteer guns were made to express the national sentiment and advocate the causes of Irish wool.... With more point, perhaps, than poetry, words had been fitted to a stirring march-tune adopted by the regimental bands, and the moment the roll of the drums was heard the popular memory sufggested the verses: -- 'Was she not a fool ....'" (from IrishWool).
I have seen the song quoted many places but there is never more to it than is quoted in the description. The song is attributed to "Tom Molloy" by Charles Lever (Lever, p. 214).
You can find more information about the movement to grant "to the Irish nation the liberty of exporting their produce" [p. 67] in the source for Zimmermann's fragment: Thomas Mac Nevin, The History of the Volunteers of 1782 (Dublin, 1845 (fourth edition ("Digitized by Google"))). The fragment is in a footnote on p. 119, "Was she not a fool." - BS
Last updated in version 2.5
- Cronin: Mike Cronin, A History of Ireland, Palgrave, 2001
- Ellis: P. Berresford Ellis, A History of the Irish Working Class, 1972 (I use the 1973 Braziller edition)
- IrishWool: "Irish Wool and Woolens," Part IV, in The Irish Monthly, (Dublin, 1882 ("Digitized by Google")), Vol. X, pp. 493-496, by "a discursive contributor")
- Kee: Robert Kee, The Most Distressful Country, being volume I of The Green Flag (covering the period prior to 1848), Penguin, 1972
- Lever: [Julia Kate Neville, editor,] The Novels of Charles Lever: Sir Jasper Carew (London, 1897 ("Digitized by Google"))
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