Today’s was William Bloat.
That has divided those who venture these ways into an immediate switch off (the usual “dwell time” on a blog page is reckoned in micro-seconds) or a more positive, Oh, yes! I know that one!
Well, here’s the best-known rendition (from the Clancy’s reunion concert):
Once the final verse gets into one’s neurones, it’s ever-lurking, ready to pop out:
But the strangest turn of the whole concern
Is only just beginnin':
He went to Hell, but his wife got well,
And she’s still alive and sinnin’
For the razor blade was British-made
But the rope was Belfast linen!
There is considerable debate about that “British-made”. That’s the version Tommy Makem gave us, and he was the first (as far as Malcolm knows) to marry the verse to The Dawning of the Day. Well, even that’s arguable. There’s a delicious, earlier, Makem concert (also on YouTube) when the blade is “Japanese-made”. That’s worth a visit if only to see Tommy trying to break through the rigidity and hyper-politeness of the RTÉ audience (don’t miss the lady with the hat).
We have, then, another opportunity to deploy the pencilled variae lectiones. But this is folk-music, for heaven’s sake! The whole point is modification, adaptation, re-working, interpretation. It’s what kept Cecil Sharp (and others) in tea and biscuits.
What we may grasp at is that the verse was by Raymond Calvert of East Belfast. And that’s Orange country. It seems the original blade was “German-made”.
Confuse a Mudcat
In any case of doubt or difficulty over folkery matters, a ready resort is the Mudcat Café. Sure enough, there’s a couple of threads on William Bloat. What is evident there is the lack of understanding of what goes on in Ulster (even in Irish) humour. Above all, it is wry. It is self-referential. And it crosses all the divides of religion and culture. The same jokes crop up each side of the Great Divide: all that happens is the protagonist is ‘ours’ and the stooge or ‘antagonist’ is one of them uns.
So, depending on where one is — north or south — the razor-blade may be be Free State-made or English-made. Belfast linen, though, is a matter of pride both ways. It’s the same as the Titanic gybe: it took 10,000 Ulstermen/Belfast men/ Irishmen (that bit depends on locality and allegiance) to build it, but only one Englishman to sink it (that bit is common to all parties).
While we in these parts …
The other — perhaps far greater — song that is set to The Dawning of the Day is Paddy Kavanagh’s love-lorn appeal to Hilda Moriarty:
There’s a useful RTÉ archive on the song, including Benedict Kiely asserting that Kavanagh had the tune in mind, and intended it to be a song rather than just a verse. There also is Hilda Moriarty briefly commenting on the inspiration.
For a couple of years in the early ’60s, undergraduate Malcolm used to stagger home, alone, bereft and unloved, to his cold-water basement flat in Elgin Road, Ballsbridge, after a night at O’Neill’s in Suffolk Street. If it wasn’t Wellington Road, it would be Raglan Road he passed down. He never met or was inspired by a Hilda.
Dublin is a small place, and Hilda — having discreetly repulsed the inept gropes of Kavanagh — went on to marry Donogh O’Malley, the later Minister of Education. Which, finally, brings us to another personage worthy of respect and admiration.