Genre: Irish folk, ballad
A widely-sung Irish folk ballad found on the Smithsonian Folkways CD, “Irish Music in London Pubs” .
What does “The Rocks of Bawn” mean? There’s disagreement, and therefore much speculation, some of which you’ll find here. Here’s a take on the song that feels right: “In 1652, Oliver Cromwell ‘subdued’ Ireland, a process that often recurred in history before and since. Many Catholic landholders were dispossessed and forced to take their families and belongings beyond the Shannon, to the hard country of Connaught. While English and Scottish Protestant newcomers settled on the lusher vacated farms, the dispossessed Irish hacked out a thin living among the ‘rocks, bogs, salt water and seaweed’ of the barren west coast. In the ensuing centuries, to many a farm-hand even the British Army offerred better prospects than the stony plough-defying soil of Mayo, Galway and Clare. The lament of the Connaught ploughman has become one of the most popular of all Irish folk songs, seemingly within the last few years.” So, basically, whether or not there are actually Rocks of Bawn somewhere, “to plow the Rocks of Bawn” means to struggle tirelessly and thanklessly.
Lyrics of All Around This World version:
Come all you loyal heroes where ever that you be
Don’t work for any master ’til you know what your work will be
For you must rise up early from the clear daylight ’til dawn
And I’m afraid you’ll never be able to plow the rocks of Bawn.
And my shoes they are well worn now; my stockings they are thin
My heart is always trembling, afraid I might give in
My heart is always trembling from the clear daylight till the dawn
And I’m afraid I’ll never be able to plow the rocks of Bawn.
And I wish the Queen of England would send for me in time
And place me in some regiment, all in my youth and prime
I would fight for Ireland’s glory from the clear daylight till the dawn
And I never would return again to plow the rocks of Bawn.