The Mary Ann McHugh

by Percy French



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Well come all ye lads who plough the seas and likewise seize the plough
The cruise of a canal boat I'll be singing to ye now
It was the Mary Ann McHugh that ploughed the wintry surf
As we bore away from Georges Quay with a terrible load of turf

Well the captain's name was Duff and his manners they were rough
But every Cape & Headland on that treacherous coast he knew
And he issued this command "keep her well in sight of land
Till we make the port of Dublin in the Mary Ann McHugh"

Now this vessel was of one horse power propelled by a blackthorn stick
With a bag o' corn and the wind astern the horse went a terrible lick
We came around by Hillardown and then Kilkirk we passed
And when we'd seen Johnny Quinn's Shibeen we yelled out "Land at Last"

But the captain James E Duff said Luff yee lubbers Luff
Now don't put in to Johnny Quinns whatever else ye do
Cos' last time we passed his door we forgot to pay the score
And he has the p-o-li-ce watchin' for the Mary Ann McHugh

Then up spoke a sailor bold who had sailed on the Irish Sea
He said put in to Johnny Quinns or the crew will mutiny
For to go to sea with a boy and me is a cruel thing I think
When its water water everywhere and divil a drop to drink

Then the captain James E Duff said enough me lads enough
No man before the mast will ever teach me what to do
So put on all sail at once for it is our only chance
To keep from debt and danger on the Mary Ann McHugh

So with anxious hearts this vessel starts all on her watery course
The wind it lashed the rigging and the pilot lashed the horse
But all in vain beneath the strain the rope began to part
And we ran aground on a lump of coal that wasn't marked on the chart

And the captain James E Duff well he hit me such a cuff
He said go heave the lead while the flag at half mast flew
But meeself I'd had enough of that tyrant James E Duff
So I heaved the lead at his head and fled from the Mary Ann McHugh


lower the funnel

Recorded by Seamus Ennis, it can be found on the lp 'A Pinch of Salt - British Sea Songs Old and New, Various Artists, HMV CLP 1362 (LP, UK, 1960). The sleeve notes by Peter Kennedy state : This song, like Phil the Fluter's Ball, was composed by the late Percy French written within the pattern of traditional music. Based on the 'Cruise of the Calibar' and set to the tune of 'Limerick the beautiful', it is typical of British canal barge songs. Although Percy French's original words have been published, this song was learned orally and has undergone the unconscious changes of the folk evolution. In this version, the route taken by the barge may seem a bit back-end-up, but this is no ordinary barge. Learned orally and sung in traditional style by Irish folk music collector Seamus Ennis."

The full recording by Seamus Ennis is available by selecting [Play] on this web-page. I would question what is meant by a 'typical British canal barge song' as there are so few, but perhaps Peter Kennedy was refering to the assimilation of contemporary music hall songs into the boating community.

William Percy French (1 May 1854 - 24 January 1920) composed such songs as 'The Mountains of Mourne', 'Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff' as well as 'Phil the Fluther's Ball'.

The song can also be found on the compilation CD 'Lower the Funnel - Music Of The Canals and Waterways', Folktrax 418. This collection of songs was produced especially for the opening of the National Waterways Museum in Gloucester Docks on 1st April 1988. It is described in the Folktrax catalogue as 'Songs and Tunes of the Inland Canals & Coastal Waterways' but there are only three tracks relating to canals.