The Girl I Left Behind Me

Many versions of this standard exist, dating from the late eighteenth century. The melody is an authentic Irish folk tune from as early as 1660; Bunting included it in The Ancient Music of Ireland (1840) under the title, “An spailpin fanach.” As a song its earliest appearance was in 1758, when England was threatened by an invasion from France and an unknown Irish conscript is thought to have penned the lyrics. Since then amateur and professional lyricists alike have tried their hand. Samuel Lover, Irish novelist and songwriter (1798-1868) best known for “Rory O’Moore” (1836), “Handy Andy” (1842), and the collection Legends and Stories of Ireland (1831), included a version in Songs and Ballads (1839). Thomas Moore in Irish Melodies (1807-34) moderated the tempo to produce “As Slow Our Ship Her Foamy Track,” a tearful salute from the living to “those we’ve left behind us.” The song has also been pressed into service as a square dance and stage song, but it is as a fife tune and a traditional song of leave-taking that “The Girl I Left Behind Me” has been longest and most heartily enjoyed.

Of the several legends surrounding the song and its origins, certainly the most vivid concerns an Irish bandmaster in Her Majesty’s Service who was reportedly so enamored of and beloved by the local ladies that his regimental band out of habit struck up the tune each time they broke camp. The British (the English version is called “Brighton Camp”) officially introduced the song to America during the Revolutionary War. Later, soldiers of the Mexican War joked grimly about “The Leg I Left Behind Me,” and Civil War parodists in the same spirit of fun sang “I Goes To Fight Mit Sigel,” a dialect song which played on the stereotype of the Dutchman who, along with the Negro and the Irishman, enjoyed center stage at that time. Ever watchful for a hit, the irrepressible Harry Macarthy exploited the tune for “The Volunteer; or, It Is My Country’s Call” to stir up Southern patriotic sentiment. The song’s long history and numerous versions attest both to the sturdiness of its tune and to the universality of its sentiment.

“Brighton Camp”

I’m lonesome since I crossed the hill
And o’er the moor and valley,
Such heavy thoughts my heart did fill
Since parting with my Sally.
I seek no more the fine and gay
For each does but remind me
How swift the hours did pass away
With the girl I left behind me.
Oh, ne’er shall I forget the night
The stars were bright above me
And gently lent their silv’ry light
When first she vowed she loved me.
But now I’m bound for Brighton Camp
Kind Heaven may favor find me
And send me safely back again
To the girl I left behind me.

My mind her form shall still retain
In sleeping and in waking
Until I see my love again
For whom my heart is breaking.
If ever I shall see the day
When Mars shall have resigned me
Forever more I’ll gladly stay
With the girl I left behind me.