Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

A Galway Girl – the lyrics of this trashy song deconstructed.

Posted in A Galway Girl, Galway by sheelanagigcomedienne on May 30, 2011

I wrote this blog about Steve Earle’s A Galway Girl a few years ago but now there is another one by Ed Sheeran which has also been over egged as has the video starring Saoirse Ronan which I am glad to say they have deconstructed also.

http://www.dailyedge.ie/galway-girl-video-implausible-3373033-May2017/

I come from Galway but I think the hype about it is silly and excessive and, frankly, two songs entitled Galway Girl is OTT and just a cheap way by two singers to cash in on the infatuation with Galway – the cute hoors.

I really will have to get on with writing ‘A Galway Woman‘  and stop prevaricating. Go on, go on and do it woman of Galway.

A Galway Girl by Steve Earle is a trite song and I have deconstructed it. It is in the tradition of Irish songs written by men objectifying and fetishising women.  I was in a bar in Vilamoura, Portugal when I first heard it. The singer immediately started to sing A Galway Girl when he asked if there were any women from Galway and I replied that I was. Then he sang this song about the black-haired, blue-eyed cailin from who gave him a hard on and caused him to sing day-I-ay-I-ay.

It pisses me off that this silly ditty has become the definitive Galway song. Singer/songwriter Steve Earle wrote this song when he lived in Galway. Real Galway girls are schoolgirls.

Now, the weekend of March 4th 2017 there was a hike in the number of hits on this blog because of the launch of Ed Sheeran’s album DIVIDE.It contains a song entitled Galway Girl too even though she is too is a woman who plays the fiddle in an Irish band and we don’t what colour her hair she has except that it is not red.

The track that stood out for Irish folk was Galway Girl, a trad-inspired song that tells the story of a mad night out in Dublin featuring céilís, Guinness, two Irish whiskeys – Jameson and Powers, Van the man,a rendition of Carrickfergus, Grafton Street – the usual kind of ingredients of an Irish song.  Of course, he is eligible for an Irish passport, ginger hair etc. And that makes him Irish. He even has a photo of him as a teenager busking in Galway next to the statue of Oscar Wilde.

They wanted to know who was the girl who inspired his song.  She was tracked down. The mystery woman who “played the fiddle in an Irish band” was inspired by real-life fiddle player, Niamh Dunne who’s a member of acclaimed Antrim-based folk group Beoga that collaborated with Sheeran on the track. She is not from Limerick, his love interest nor married to an Englishmen. Because it is a song you can’t call it fake news. It is just an opportunity to use a night on the piss to make a song whilst nicking the title from the other Galway Girl song by Steve Earle about a one with black hair and blue.

Niamh told RTE: “I’m so happy with Galway Girl , Ed Sheeran knows how to write a great pop song and it’s so catchy. ed-sheeran-in-galway

There you have it. I’ll say no more about Ed’s Galway Girl. The next bit is about the other Galway Girl who may or may not be a Galway Girl either but could have come from Castlebar in County Mayo.

According to Wikipedia Earle was a heroin addict and was jailed on drugs and firearm charges but kicked his addiction and came to Galway for rehab!  In an interview  he said ‘My great-grandmother’s name was Collins for fuck sake! I have all that American ‘Wanting to be Irish worse than anything else in the world’ thing.  In another interview he continued  ‘Galway is a college town, and has all that, a town that artists have been living in the margins of for many years. Every dog has a bandana  around its neck and a frisbee in its mouth,  the correct number of espresso machines per capita,  lot of girls,  it’s a great place’ . What a recommendation! I don’t think the Irish Tourist Board would be quick to use this especially the bit about the dogs with a bandana and frisbee and lots of girl.

steve-earle

“I think the Galway Girl is gonna be a song that’s going to be sung in Ireland for a long time’ he said.

If it is it will drive us all crackers. He recorded it with Sharon Shannon and wasn’t too happy when she allowed it to be used for a cider ad with him being a recovering alcoholic and all. He has literary aspirations too. His play about the first woman executed on death row since the civil war he submitted it  to ‘ Galway Arts and to The Abbey and so far nobody’s even made a noise about producing one of my plays in Ireland.” He admires our standards though “You’re dealing with a country where Seamus Heaney is in the f*cking in-flight magazine of the national airline!

I was surprised to find Stewart Lee singing The Galway Girl and then saying he was pissed off at it being used by Manger’s Cider in an ad.Stewart LeeGalway Girl – YouTube

This is the weirdest version by a class of Thai schoolchildren.

thai-children-sing-galway-girl

Video for Thai times video sing Galway girl▶
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPflqlhLRcA

Irish women are portrayed in song as passive, freshed face colleens. Most of these songs, of course, are written by men. They are usually  described  by name from where they live, the colour of their hair and remarks about their appearance. This song is in this pathetic tradition.  Irish men, like Muslim men, are fetishised about  women’s hair.  It seems that Muslim men find the sight of a woman’s hair so erotic that they get a hard on and this is why there is the pressure on Muslim women to cover their hair.  However, watch out all woman because Muslim men need to be protected from their own sexual inclinations which can be aroused by catching a glimpse of female hair in public. I surmise this is because it reminds them of pubic hair.  In the Ireland of my youth we were made to cover our heads when we went into the bloody church – hats, scarves and black mantillas.  The misogynistic  clergy decreed  what was acceptable dress for women. Interestingly, men would take of their hats in church. How weird is that. Why did the priests like to see bare-headed men?

These Irish songs about women who are usually called Mary have to mention her hair. ‘Her hair it hung over her shoulder tied up with a black velvet band’. They also favour hair that is ‘ nutbrown’, golden ringlets’. These songwriters had a further fetish they also favoured women who wore bonnets and shawls dressed like babies, Sick. In the Galway Shawl  ‘she wore a bonnet, with a ribbon on  it’ and this particular guy praised her for not wearing  ‘jewels  and costly diamonds nor paint nor powder none at all’. And another thing about the depiction of Irish Women in song is that they did a lot of TRIPPING. They did it ‘right gaily’, ‘over the heather’  and  ‘with a basket on each arm’.

Let us now deconstruct this latest offering which interests me because I was once a Galway girl. This song  has been covered many times usually with an  American accent  except for  a very incongruous rendition by comedian Stewart  Lee!  I think his excuse was that his wife’s family hail from these parts.

Well, I took a stroll on the old long walk
Of a day -I-ay-I-ay
I met a little girl and we stopped to talk
Of a fine soft day -I-ay-I-ay
And I ask you, friend, what’s a fella to do
‘Cause her hair was black and her eyes were blue
And I knew right then I’d be takin’ a whirl
‘Round the Salthill Prom with a Galway girl

We were halfway there when the rain came down
Of a day -I-ay-I-ay
And she asked me up to her flat downtown
Of a fine soft day -I-ay-I-ay
And I ask you, friend, what’s a fella to do
‘Cause her hair was black and her eyes were blue
So I took her hand and I gave her a twirl
And I lost my heart to a Galway girl

When I woke up I was all alone
With a broken heart and a ticket home
And I ask you now, tell me what would you do
If her hair was black and her eyes were blue
I’ve traveled around I’ve been all over this world
Boys I ain’t never seen nothin’ like a Galway girl.

Well, I took a stroll on the old long walk

The first line mentions  Long Walk – a picturesque place. It is very common to name check places in Irish songs – the older and the more recent C&W ones  – it helps sales. Long walk is not very long at all it just seems long.

longwalk

 

The refrain — Of a day -I-ay-I-ay is the bit that even the drunks remember and this use of rhyming repetition is a typical feature in folk songs. This is why Irish music is sometimes referred to, in a derogatory way, as diddly, diddly music.

I met a little girl and we stopped to talk

Paedo alert paedo alert paedo alert paedo alert paedo alert paedo alert paedo alert

This is from the pen of a man born in 1955 and who has been married  seven times – twice to the same woman and fathered his third  son in 2010. Of course, she is not  ‘a little girl’.   He was actually referring to an independent young  woman so why the feck use this demeaning diminutive term.

And I ask you, friend, what’s a fella to do
‘Cause her hair was black and her eyes were blue

He pleads   ‘what’s a fella to do’ as he draws in other men, judges, politicians etc. This implies that men are hapless victims controlled by their dicks when they are in the presence of women who possess hair and eyes  which in this instance happens to be black and blue respectively.  I have no doubt that any combination of colours would have sufficed so long as they possessed a vagina and womb. He evidently considers this to be a normal part of male sexuality which would be shared by other men and boys. This inability to control his erotic urges puts him in their with other men who are testosterone driven and impelled by their penis – from Clinton, Schwarzenegger, Prescott,  Strauss-Kahn, etc .

It is interesting to note that her hair is black not fair, red, auburn or nutbrown  which is much more common in Galway girls. Could she be of Spanish origin? The entrance to  Long Walk is the Spanish Arch which refers to Galway’s Spanish trading connection.

 

THE SPANISH ARCHgalwayspanisharch

And I knew right then I’d be takin’ a whirl
‘Round the Salthill Prom with a Galway girl

The ‘whirl’ is the first of the words he chooses to rhyme with girl. To whirl is to spin around. He must have got her to change direction as they were going to head towards the promenade in Salthill which is where the seafront is situated.  This is a well trodden landmark beloved of Galwegians and visitors alike and is the longest in Ireland. Many a courting couple would have strolled along it as I did myself. The poem by Seamus Heaney Girls Bathing 1965 is inscribed on a plaque on the prom. It is worth noting that there had been a decree from the pulpit by the Bishop of Galway that women in Salthill should not be wearing two piece swimming costumes. He promptly got a letter from some women of Galway asking his Lordship which bit of their bikini he would like them to remove.  I am sure Heaney was aware of this as he came to view the girls and WOMEN bathing in the Ladies beach. He relished their brown-legged, smooth-shouldered and bare-backed bodies as they emerged from the sea with their skips and shouts unlike Botticelli’s pale, demure Venus.

GIRLS BATHING, GALWAY 1965 by Seamus Heaney

The swell foams where they float and crawl,
A catherine-wheel of arm and hand.
Each head bobs curtly as a football.
The yelps are faint here on the strand.

No milk-limbed Venus ever rose
Miraculous on this western shore;
A pirate queen in battle clothes
Is our sterner myth. The breakers pour

Themselves into themselves, the years
Shuttle through space invisibly.
Where crests unfurl like creamy beer
The queen’s clothes melt into the sea

And generations sighing in
The salt suds where the wave has crashed
Labour in fear of flesh and sin
For the time has been accomplished

As through the shallows in swimsuits,
Brown-legged, smooth-shouldered and bare-backed
They wade ashore with skips and shouts.
So Venus comes, matter-of-fact.

THE PROM.

I used to walk along it in the streaming winter rains and winds as well as in the long hazy summer days.

‘We were halfway there when the rain came down’  Poets and authors like to mention the rain in Ireland especially in the west. For instance, a wonderful local author Walter Macken entitled one of his novels ‘Rain on the Wind’ about the fishermen from the area near long walk called the Claddagh.

salthill-8-752x501

I have tried to work out where ‘halfway’ to the promenade would be. They would have crossed Wolfe Tone Bridge, turned left along the Claddagh, passing the swans, left down Nimmo’s pier where you might catch sight of a Galway Hooker as it says on the Salthill Promenade website. A Galway Hooker is an elegant sailing boat! Turn right past South Park and Mutton Island and along Grattan Road prom before reaching the Salthill Prom I reckon they had turned into the coastal path when the rain came.

And she asked me up to her flat downtown  It is an Americanism to refer to downtown. Galwegians would never say ‘downtown’ unless it now gets adopted as a piss take. He was at sea level in Long Walk not up Taylors Hill or Bohermore.

So I took her hand and I gave her a twirl
And I lost my heart to a Galway girl

Twirl is the second of his words to rhyme with girl but I cannot see the difference between it and whirl unless he is suggesting that his excitement at the invitation to her flat caused him to do a little Irish jig and he caused her to spin with glee. With anticipation of sexual intercourse he became infatuated by this Galwegian woman who had her own flat in town.

When I woke up I was all alone
With a broken heart and a ticket home It maybe that the young woman had to leave her flat to go to work  or did he realise that she had rejected him because she didn’t fancy him at all, he was old, ugly, not very hygienic, didn’t pleasure her etc.  There is no explanation whatsoever as to why he now had a broken heart. You don’t get a broken heart from a one night stand. And what the hell is ‘ a ticket home’ . Why would she have left him with a ticket home to Barna or wherever he resided. Had he implied that he had no money for the bus?  Poetic licence is inexcusable for such nonsense. I like a proper narrative.

And I ask you now, tell me what would you do
If her hair was black and her eyes were blue

Again, I do not understand his plaintive appeal to his male audience as to what he should do next simply because he had met a woman with black hair and blue eyes. Get a grip man.

I’ve traveled around I’ve been all over this world
Boys I ain’t never seen nothin’ like a Galway girl

He now boasts that he is widely travelled and that he has never seen a beauty like the one that he has encountered. He seemed to assume that she had scarpered and just couldn’t face him in the morning. Had she rejected him because she realised that she didn’t fancy him or he was too old or didn’t please her sexually etc.?  Or had she simply had to go to work in a hurry and left him to let himself out which would have been rather trusting of her.

When he says  Boys I ain’t never seen nothin’ like a Galway girl it isn’t clear whether he is still referring to your one with the blue and black colouring or to Galway girls in general.  Does his triple negative negate?

The end result is that this American blow-in has produced this inane song which seems, unfortunately, to have become a bit of a Galway anthem. I might be dismissed by some for being a curmudgeon, begrudger and grumpy old Galway woman. In my defence I would say that I would even prefer the song Galway Bay to this drivel. At least in that song the women were workers. The women were in the meadows making hay AND in the uplands digging potatoes and chatting among themselves as gaeilge. The men didn’t feature in it only the lads – the gossuns playing about.  I do quite like the Tuam boys N17 . However, the Fairytale of New York is my preferred emigrant song despite  the  ubiquity of hearing it being  blared out by shops at yuletide.

galway-women-k

Galway women

The website The Galway Girl Story   says:  All you have to do is travel to that county on the far shores of Europe and see for yourself what the girls of Galway are really like. Passionate and proud, beautiful and daring, independent and light-hearted, they might just steal your heart away.

It also points out that a simple girl from No 4, Bowling Green, Galway city caught the eye of the greatest novelist of the twentieth century – James Joyce. He saw Nora Barnacle walking along a street and he fell in love with her on the spot. Joyce, who had surely seen the loveliest girls in the city of Dublin, was smitten by this Galway girl and she became his muse and his lifelong companion, wife and mother to his children. The day chosen by Joyce to be his Bloomsday in Ulysses is June 16th 1904, the day on which Joyce had his first romantic encounter with Nora.

I do hope some feisty female from Galway pens a song entitled A Galway Woman as I don’t think I will get around to doing it myself.

Gaillimh Abu.

One comment I received from TRAVIS thinks I am slightly moronic and that he, as a person with strong Irish heritage, is APPALLED.

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8 Responses

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  1. Bedlinen said, on September 11, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    I’ve been searching in google for some items and fortuitously found your sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com website. I have to say that it’s a swell blog! I admire how particular each of the entries are. They are well balanced – entertaining and informational – and the pictures are cool too.

  2. Travis said, on September 25, 2011 at 2:59 am

    You are slightly moronic. First of all, most singer/songwriters dont write about personal experiences, but draw on stories spoken by others. Second, grammar is way off in many places, especially regarding there/their. Thirdly, songs and words have many meanings and can be interpreted many ways, you act like yours is the direct truth of what happened. Also a triple negative, just like in math, keeps it negative(common sense).

    I find it funny you are so hostile about a great advertisement for the city of Galway. What he is saying is quite poetic and well thought it. You’re just being a dick because an American(who happened to enjoy the town) wrote a better song about the city than some local. So what you are quite obviously implying: We don’t like visitors in Galway, especially Americans. However, if you do visit, never give a good reccomendation.

    Once again, you just made Irish folk look snobby. And as a person that has strong Irish heritage, I am APALLED by you.

  3. David said, on February 4, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    So I heard this song, and it made me think of a friend I hadn’t talked to in awhile. You guessed it; “Her hair was black and here eyes were blue.” It’s a slow day at work, so Google and I decided to do a little research and ended up here.

    I actually like Steve Earle. He’s written some really thought provoking songs. OK, this isn’t one of them, but it’s catchy, and after drinking a couple pints of Guinness, I think I could probably dance to it.

    There’s no shortage of songs that objectify women. I suppose I might be offended if I were a woman and one of these songs written about my home town became so popular that people actually began to identify my town with the song.

    But thanks for making me think of Lisa. We chatted for about an hour. She is not doing so well health-wise, and I’m glad we were able to catch up.

  4. Frank McDonnell said, on March 8, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    Oh the Irish!. Romantic and profane, all in the same breath!! That’s why I love ’em so much. Frank Mc, West, by God, Virginia

  5. Luke O'Malley said, on May 22, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    I am impatiently waiting for an Irish song about someone leaving Ireland and saying goodbye to everyone in Ireland – one at a time.

    Luke O’Malley

  6. man said, on December 22, 2015 at 1:12 am

    “Comedienne” living in shite flat in Shantalla seeks male. Arty. Runs to jacks in Neachtains crying frequently. Male in question must not act like male, but must hold my hand tightly crossing O’Brien’s Bridge as I ponder ending contact with this world, my cat, my resigned mother in Ballina, that lad in macnas in 87..

  7. Paul said, on February 24, 2017 at 5:18 am

    I just came across this blog. Late to the party, as usual. I enjoyed your well written takedown of this song, a song which I like. You’re right that it’s simple, and simple minded. It doesn’t flesh out the details of his supposed encounter. that’s consistent with the folk music form on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s also true that these songs are often chauvinistic. I’ll hand it to Steve Earle that he turned the tale around and implied that it was the Galway girl who had her way with him and left him crying. That’s a role reversal and not overtly masculine. It’s also worth noting that old folk songs from this side of the pond often end up with the poor girl being stabbed and buried or thrown in the river. Thank goodness Mr. Earle had the decency to leave that type of misogyny back in the States when he gave her a twirl! In the end, it’s not Steve Earle’s best work but it’s catchy, listenable, and has a decent hook to engage the audience.

    Best to you, Paul from Utah, USA

  8. Andrew Riley said, on March 1, 2017 at 3:19 am

    Oh jeez. It’s just a fun cute rollicking little song. Why not try “Woman Is The Nigger of the World”, next.


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