Shule Aroon

Irish men and women came to America early in colonial history, seeking adventure in the New World and asylum from the Old. The plantation of Ulster by England’s Queen Elizabeth in the 16th Century eventually drove half a million Irish Protestants across the sea, and these disenfranchised exiles faithfully kept the fires of resentment burning in their new home. Indentured servants and prosperous businessmen from Belfast to Cork later settled in American coastal cities in ever growing numbers; between 1714 and 1720, Boston registered fifty-three ships from different Irish ports, primarily passenger vessels. When independence was declared, Irish-Americans turned out in force. As many as one-third to one-half of American Revolutionary War troops were Irish, among them 1500 officers and twenty-six generals. The Declaration of Independence was written in the hand of Charles Thomson, first read by John Nixon, first printed by John Dunlap, and signed by James Smith, George Taylor, Matthew Thornton, Thomas McKean, George Read, Robert Treat Paine, Thomas Lynch, Jr., and Charles Carroll–all Irishmen by birth or descent. Besides an unquenchable thirst for freedom and the will to fight for it, these early immigrants also brought their music. “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier,” one of many popular Revolutionary War songs descended from Irish airs, was originally “Shule Agra” (“Siubhail A Gradh” translates as “Step Out, My Love”) and is also known as “Shule Aroon.” In America it became “Buttermilk Hill.” Written to mourn the Flight of the Wild Geese after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, a time when many Irish soldiers chose to flee to foreign lands rather than bow to the victorious King William of Orange, “Shule Aroon” has many variations, among them “Oft I roam my garden bow’rs” and “I wish I was by that dim lake” by Thomas Moore. On the high seas it was also sung jauntily as a chantey entitled “Let the Bullgine Run.” The original chorus translates, “Come, my love, quickly and softly we’ll slip away,” a consummation devoutly to be wished by soldiers and loved ones alike.

Both the original and the American version emphasize the grief and dismay of those left behind, many of whom were reduced to fates worse than death in their lovers’ absence. Poverty was one evil awaiting them; donning a red dress to support themselves and consequently suffering their parents’ wish that they were dead was another. Grim realities lurk behind the mournful yearning. Like its Civil War companion “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” the song keens the loss of a loved one who might very well return and “have to be put with a bowl to beg.” Surely it ranks as one of the most moving musical gifts to cross the sea from Ireland.

Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier

Oh I wish I were on yon green hill,
There I’d sit and cry my fill,
And every tear would turn a mill,
For my Johnny has gone for a soldier.

Suibhail, suibhail, suibhail a gradh,
Suibhail go succir, agus suibhail go cwin,
Suibhail go den durrus agus eligh glum,
Is go de tun mo murnin slan.

I’ll sell my clock, I’ll sell my reel,
I’ll sell my only spinning wheel,
To buy my love a sword of steel,
My Johnny has gone for a soldier. [CHORUS]

I’ll dye my petticoat, I’ll dye it red,
And round the world I will bake my bread,
Till I find my love alive or dead,
My Johnny has gone for a soldier. [CHORUS]

* * * * *

Shule Agra

I would I were on yonder hill,
`Tis there I’d sit and cry my fill
`Til every tear would turn a mill,
Is go de tu, mo murnin slan.

Siubhail, siubhail, siubhail a gradh,
Ni leigheas le faghail acht leigheas an bhais,
O d’fhag tu mise, is bocht mo chas,
Is go dteidhidh tu a mhuirnin slan.

I’ll sell my rock, I’ll sell my reel
And then I’ll sell my spinning wheel
For to buy my love a sword of steel,
Is go de tu, mo murnin slan. [CHORUS]

I’ll dye my petticoat I’ll dye it red
And round the world I’ll beg my bread
Until my parents shall wish me dead,
Is go de tu, mo murnin slan. [CHORUS]

I wish, I wish and I wish in vain.
I wish I had my heart again
And vainly think I’d not complain,
Is go de tu, mo murnin slan. [CHORUS]

But now my love has gone to France
To try his fortune to advance.
If he ever comes back `tis but a chance,
Is go de tu, mo murnin slan. [CHORUS]