Song Lyric Sunday (16 February 2020) – Making a Choice

Last week, Jim (NewEpicAuthor, A Unique Title For Me) set a theme of songs featuring personal pronouns (my choice). This week, he gives us the theme of making a choice.

A bit of history today. I like to keep these posts light-hearted, but as soon as Jim mentioned leaving and staying, I thought of an event that was so great, it helped shape the future of a whole country.

I’m referring to emigrations by Irish people across to the Americas. I know there are some US/Canadian readers read my posts, perhaps you yourself have Irish ancestry?

Until 1850, there was a small trickle of Irish emigration, which turned into a flood during the Great Famine of the late 1840s – crop failures over successive years. As you can imagine, emigration grew massively during the Famine, largely unskilled labour, and largely into the east coast ports of New York and Boston. Canada, which at that time was, like Ireland, a British colony, was also a favourite destination.

Immigration continued after the Famine, and the number of Irish-born people in the USA reached its peak by around 1890 (about 4 million). Even in 2016 there were still only 6Β½ million people in Ireland itself, and in last week’s Irish general election was decided by just over 2m votes! From that point on, there was less and less immigration, which took a further nosedive in the 1920s, when the US applied immigration constraints. Today, only around a hundred thousand Irish emigrate to the USA per year.

My choice of song today commemorates that mass migration. The song was written by Dublin singer-songwriter, guitarist and Pogue Phil Chevron (1957-2013, cancer) and is performed here by The Pogues. It was released on their album If I Should Fall from Grace with God (1987). Thousands Are Sailing.

The island it is silent now
But the ghosts still haunt the waves
And the torch lights up a famished man
Who fortune could not save

Did you work upon the railroad
Did you rid the streets of crime
Were your dollars from the white house
Were they from the five and dime

Did the old songs taunt or cheer you
And did they still make you cry
Did you count the months and years
Or did your teardrops quickly dry

Ah, No, says he ’twas not to be
On a coffin ship I came here
And I never even got so far
That they could change my name

Thousands are sailing
Across the Western Ocean
To a land of opportunity
That some of them will never see
Fortune prevailing
Across the Western Ocean
Their bellies full
And their spirits free
They’ll break the chains of poverty
And they’ll dance

In Manhattan’s desert twilight
In the death of afternoon
We stepped hand in hand on Broadway
Like the first man on the moon

And “The Blackbird” broke the silence
As you whistled it so sweet
And in Brendan Behan’s footsteps
I danced up and down the street

Then we said goodnight to Broadway
Giving it our best regards
Tipped our hats to Mister Cohan
Dear old Times Square’s favourite bard

Then we raised a glass to J.F.K.
And a dozen more besides
When I got back to my empty room
I suppose I must have cried



Phil Chevron


  1. Beginning in 1845 and lasting for six years, the potato famine killed over a million men, women and children in Ireland and caused another million to flee the country. My grandmother arrived in NYC as a girl in 1878 from Ireland. Nice song Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This reminds me of a video I just recently watched hosted by a native Irish woman about things tourists should never say in Ireland (especially, us Americans), and the #1 thing is: “I’m Irish.” She said it’s not because they won’t believe you, it’s because they already know you’re Irish. LOL

    I have ancestors on both sides, but the best discovery was two sisters who immigrated to Canada with their family and later moved to the U.S.; one was a widow, the other had never been married – they ended up marrying two brothers who’d immigrated directly to NY, one a widower, one who’d never been married. The sister who’d never been married ended up with the widower, and the sister who was a widow wed the brother who’d never been married. πŸ˜€ And they’d all immigrated before the Famine, which was also interesting. Great song and post, thanks for sharing! (sorry for the long comment)

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was lovely to read it, thanks for sharing. Yes, the one thing the Irish say is that everybody wants to be Irish πŸ™‚. I only know up to my grandparents (circa 1900), I knew them personally and never really had a great interest in researching further back, we were all from the same city in the UK. In fact, I was the first generation to move away from there.


  3. I love this song and heard it last year for the first time. I know that the Irish that emigrated to the US were maligned and treated like second class citizens for a long time. Even now the Irish are stereotyped as being alcoholics. My mother’s side came from Ireland and other places. I’m proud of my heritage and hope to visit my homeland one day. I feel the spirit of the green in my veins.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, they were maligned in the UK too. I remember when I was a boy there was this well-known mantra “No dogs, No blacks, No Irish”. Our society still likes to dislike foreigners but now it is directed more at eastern Europeans. That, apparently, was a big driver for Brexit (so they say).

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know I’ve heard the Irish, Scots, and Welsh put down in various British/English movies, and it hurts to hear it. So are you saying that fear and cultural bias ended up turning into Brexit?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yep. So it is said, in any case. The UK could control immigration from outside the EU, just as the US can. But the EU had rules about freeedom of movement, which meant that, in theory, somebody in one of the poorer countries, which happened to be in the EU, could perfectly legally migrate to one of the richer countries.
          I mean, there were lots of reasons not to like the EU (I didn’t like them because they weren’t democratic enough, a traditional left-wing argument) but as people found it difficult to e.g. get an appointment with their doctor, they started to blame it on immigration. And, hence, the EU.
          It’s not just the UK – the EU’s attitude to immigration is what has done for Merkel, although slightly different. Sorry, essay.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. My paternal grandfather was 1/2 Irish and much of my ancestry is Native American with some English, Dutch, German and who knows what else. I should take a DNA test to find out. The birth certificates to many of my family members burned in a courthouse in Oklahoma in the 1800’s. For those birth certificates that were registered, that is. I know I’m a 100% Texan. A real Heinz 57! πŸ™‚ Lovely song and I so want to visit Ireland. It is at the top of my International Traveling bucket list.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great song. I am one of those with a multitude of bloodlines. Happily Ancestry confirmed my Irish bts and pieces. I traveled extensively years ago. I can easily say Ireland was the friendliest place I ever visited. The sights and history were lovely. New Zealand only slightly surpassed Ireland for my favorits place to visit.

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