> Folk Music > Songs > McCaffery / MaCafferty

McCaffery / MaCafferty

[ Roud 1148 ; Ballad Index McCST086 ; GlosTrad Roud 1148 ; trad.]

Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger: Travellers' Songs from England and Scotland Peggy Seeger, Ewan MacColl: The Singing Island Karl Dallas: The Cruel Wars Roy Palmer: The Rambling Soldier

Peter Reilly sang McCaffery to Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle at Cullyhanna, County Armagh, on 15 July 1952. This recording was included on the anthology A Soldier's Life for Me (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 8; Caedmon, 1961; Topic, 1970).

Paddy Grant sang McCaffery to Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle at Kilkeel, County Down, on 30 July 1953. This recording was included in 2012 on the Topic anthology of ballads sung by British and Irish traditional singers, Good People, Take Warning (The Voice of the People Volume 23).

Jimmy McBeath sang McCafferty to Alan Lomax in his apartment in London on 14 November 1953. This recording was included on 2002 on his Rounder anthology in the Alan Lomax Collection series, Tramps and Hawkers, and in 2011 on the Drag City anthology of Scottish recordings by Alan Lomax 1951-57, Whaur the Pig Gaed on the Spree.

Ewan MacColl sang McKaffery on his 1960 Topic album Chorus from the Gallows. The album's sleeve notes commented:

The unfortunate hero of this ballad was executed at Liverpool in 1882 after being found guilty of murdering a superior officer. The air is a variant of The Croppy Boy and the versions was learned from Patrick Dodds of Liverpool in 1940.

Queen Caroline Hughes sang four verses of McCaffery in Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger in between 1963-66. This was printed in MacColl and Seeger's book Travellers' Songs from England and Scotland and was included in 2014 on her Musical Traditions anthology Sheep-Crook and Black Dog. Rod Stradling noted:

Many traditional singers were uneasy about this song—it carries its own stories and superstitions. There was a strongly held (but quite erroneous) belief that it was illegal to sing McCaffery in public. This may account for the fact that Roud has only 43 instances of a song which, in my experience. almost all singers used to know. It’s also surprising that there appears to have been only one broadside printing.

Packie Manus Byrne sang McCaffery in a recording made by Sean Davies in London in 1964. It was included in 2002 on his Veteran anthology Donegal & Back!. Mike Yates noted:

This song, still highly popular, concerns an event that occurred on Saturday 14 September 1861, at Fulwood Barracks near Preston in Lancashire, when Private Patrick McCaffery shot and killed the Depot Commandant, Colonel Hugh Denis Crofton, and the Depot Adjutant, Captain John Hanhan. McCaffery, an 18 year old who had been born in the vicinity of Kildare in Ireland, and who had lived for a short while in Belfast’s Shankill Road, was a member of the 32nd (Cornwall) Regiment of Foot (Light Infantry)—not the 42nd (Black Watch) Regiment, as the song says. On the previous day McCaffery had been on guard duty when Hanhan ordered him to take the names of three children who had been playing outside the Officers’ Mess. Windows had been broken there previously, but McCaffery only obtained one name. Hanhan, who appears to have held a grudge against McCaffery, charged McCaffery with neglect of duty and ordered that he spend the night under guard in the cells. On his release the following morning, McCaffery took a shot at Hanhan, but the bullet passed through Colonel Crofton before striking Hanhan. Both officers died later from the single shot. McCaffery’s trial took place on 15 December, and he was publicly hanged at Kirkwood, Liverpool, on 11 January 1862.

McCaffery’s case was not unique. In 1861 several sergeants and officers had been shot by men from the lower ranks. The Army was still smarting from the aftermath of the Crimea and the Indian Mutiny, and was not held in high regard by the general public. Also, thousands of Irish people had fled the famines in Ireland to settle in Lancashire—many, like McCaffery, joining the British Army—and so it was no surprise to see that McCaffery’s ballad soon found a ready and sympathetic audience. It is often said that the song was banned by the British Army, no soldier being allowed to sing it openly, but this was not so; and over the years, many a serviceman came to know of Patrick McCaffery and the events leading up to his untimely demise.

May Bradley sang McCaffery in Ludlow, Shrophire, to Fred Hamer on 26 July 1965. This recording was included in 1989 on the VWML cassette of Fred Homer's field recordings, The Leaves of Life. This track was also included with the title Calvery in 1989 on the Topic anthology of local events and national issues, A Story I'm Just About to Tell (The Voice of the People Volume 8). It was also included in 2010 on her Musical Traditions anthology Sweet Swansea.

The Halliard sang Patrick McCaffery in a 1968 recording session as a demo for their Saga label. It was finally released in 2006 on their CD The Last Goodnight!. They noted:

On Saturday 14 September 1861 at Fulwood Barracks, just outside Preston in Lancashire, Private Patrick McCaffery shot and killed the Depot Commandant, Colonel Hugh Denis Crofton, and the Depot Adjutant, Captain John Hanhan. McCaffery was 18 years old and from Kildare. He was hanged outside Liverpool's Kirkwood Gaol on 11 January 1862.

To the same tune as Lord Franklin and also the Croppy Boy. Dave [Moran] thought he learned this from Dominic Behan.

Roy Harris sang McCafferty on his 1972 Topic album The Bitter and the Sweet and on his 1979 Fellside album of “life in the lower ranks 1750-1900 through soldiers' songs, The Rambling Soldier, which accompanied Roy Palmer's book of the same name, The Rambling Soldier. A.L. Lloyd noted on the first album:

Of all traditional army ballads, this one leads the most energetic life and is taken most seriously by its listeners. Who was McCafferty? Even his name is vague; some say McCaffery. others McCassery. There’s general agreement that he served in the 42nd Regiment (i.e., the Black Watch). Most versions name his depot as Fulwood Barracks, near Preston. But as to the name of the captain whom the soldier meant to kill, there’s no concurrence at all—Hammond, Hamilton, Hanson, Neal, Nill, Nolan are but a few offered by singers. Much is unexplained: the Black Watch has never been stationed in Lancashire. And why should the trial, as generally agreed, take place at Liverpool Assizes instead of by court martial? Most likely the ballad is a dream conceived by a disaffected soldier, perhaps Irish, some time in the latter half of the 19th century, with the old 1798 Croppy Boy ballad at the back of his mind. Anyway, if it’s short on historical fact, it’s evidently strong on psychological truth for no other barrack room ballad so grips the imagination. Roy Harris learnt it in the Royal Artillery in 1951.

Mrs Hawkins of Woodbury, Salterton, Devon, sang McCathery to Sam Richard and Tish Stubbs in between 1974-80. This recording was included in 1981 on the Folkways album An English Folk Music Anthology. Sam Richard noted:

In a three part study in Lore and Language, A.E. Green shows that there is little conclusive evidence as to the historical truth of McCafferty. Never the less, most singers regard it as a true story, factually as well as ethically, and a considerable web of folk belief surrounds both the hero and the events portrayed.

We have twice encountered the idea that the words were ‘found’ written on the wall of a condemned cell, in one case in India. McCafferty is also said to haunt his cell in Fulwood Barracks, Preston, Lancashire, despite the fact that it no longer exists, the architecture being completely altered. Finally, there is the widespread belief that the song was banned in the army, and we have been told of people being threatened with being put on a charge for singing it.

Mrs Hawkins learnt the song from soldiers stationed in Exeter, where she used to live, and says that it was sung in unison by herself and workmates, all women, as they laboured in a big laundry.

David Jones sang McCaffery on the 1976 Living Folk album Here's a Health to the Man and the Maid.

Bob Davenport sang McCafferry on his 1977 Topic album Postcards Home.

Sue Harris sang McCaffery in 1978 on her Free Reed album Hammers & Tongues. This track was also included in 2002 on the Free Reed anthology This Label Is Not Removable on which Nigel Schofield noted:

Part broadsheet gallows confession, part antiestablishment protest, the song relates clear events without actually convincing us of McCaffery's alleged blamelessness.

This version was collected from May Bradley of Ludlow, who recalled a time in the 1920's when she was banned from singing it by her local pub. The tune is a variant of the one normally associated with the ballad Lord Franklin.

Patrick McCaffrey joined the Cornwall Light Infantry, based at Fulwood Barracks, Preston in 1860: the incident described in the song took place on 13 September 1861 and is discussed in detail in Roy Palmer’s book The Rambling Soldier.

Other notable recordings of the song have been released by The Dubliners, Roy Harris and Bob Davenport who has a version which says McCafferty served in the 47th Loyal Lancashire Regiment.

Tommy Connelly sang McCafferty to Keith Summers in the Ulster Bar, Belturbet, County Cavan on 3 August 1980. This track was included in 2014 on the Musical Traditions anthology of traditional songs from around Lough Erne's shore in the Keith Summers collection, I Pray You Pay Attention.

Bill Smith of Bridgnorth, Shropshire, sang McCaffery in a 1980 recording made by his son Andrew Smith. It was included in 2011 on his Musical Traditions anthology A Country Life.

Danny Brazil sang McCaffery in his caravan at Staverton, Gloucestershire, in March 1987 to Gwilym Davies. This recording was included in 2007 on the Brazil Family's Musical Tradition anthology Down By the Old Riverside.

David Stacey sang McCaffery on his 2015 Musical Traditions anthology Good Luck to the Journeyman.


Caroline Hughes sings McCaffery

I was scarcely year, eighteen years of age,
Oh, to join the army I was a-full in advance;
Oh, to join the army I was a-full in defence,
For to join the Forty for some regiment.

Now, as I was put there all on guard one day
Three soldiers’ children came out to play;
They gave me orders for to take their names
Well, I took one’s name there out of the three.

I done the deeds, I shot his blood,
In old Liverpool his body lays.
Oh Captain me water I was content to kill
For I shot my Colonel all against my will.

Well, I’ve got no mother to take my part,
I’ve got no father to break my heart.
I had one friend and a woman was she,
She would lay her life down for me again.

May Bradley sings McCaffery

As I was scarcely sweet eighteen
Into the army I did engaged,
I've left me parents, gone on the spree
And joined the Royal Artillery.

As I was stationed one day on guard
Three officers' children came there to play.
It's from me quarters my captain came,
He ordered me for to take the names.

I took the one, oh but not the three,
The one I took, dear it has grieved me
My sergeant's had me for dislect[?] of two
My sergeant's got a dislike for me.

My loaded rifle I then prepared,
To shoot my officer on the barrack square
It was me officer I meant to kill,
I shot my captain against my will.

I've done the deed and I shed his blood
At Liverpool assizes my trial stood
Those judges and juries both said to me
“Prepare, young fellow, for the gallows' swing.”

Down to Fulham Barracks I then did go,
Just to serve my time in old depot.
Now those judges and juries both said to me
“Prepare, young fellow, for the gallows' swing.”

I have no father to take my part
No loving mother what'll break my heart.
I've only a girl and a friend is she
She'll pawn her sweet life for young Calvary.

Mrs Hawkins sings McCathery

When I was nearly eighteen years of age
Into the army I did engage;
'Twas there with which such good intent
I joined the Devonshire Regiment.

To the Higher Barracks I had to go
To do my training at the depot.
But from the start 'twas plain to see
That Captain Hamilton too a dislike to me.

Whilst standing out on guard one day
Some soldiers' children came out to play.
From the officers quarters my captain came
And ordered me to take their parents' name.

My captain's orders I had to fulfil
But this I did against my will.
One name I took instead of three;
With neglect of duty he did charge me.

To the orderly room I had to go
To tell my tale to the NCO.
My sentence there was quickly signed,
Ten days to barracks I was confined.

Back to my quarters I did return;
Revenge within my heart did burn,
And I resolved that fatal day
My captain's life I would take away.

With a loaded rifle I took that aim
And later on confessed my crime.
My captain did I intend to kill
But I shot my colonel against my will.

To the Liverpool Assizes I had to go
To tell my tale that the world might know.
The jury said, “McCathery,
Prepare thyself for the hangman's tree.”

I have no father to take my part,
I pride no mother to break her heart.
I have a friend, a girl is she
Who prays each night that I'll be reprieved.

Tommy Connelly sings McCafferty

When I was scarcely eighteen years of age
Into the army I did engage.
I left my home with a good intent
For to join the 42nd Regiment.

I was placed on duty on the barrack square
Where some soldiers’ children came out to play.
From the captain’s quarters my officer came,
And he ordered me for to take their names.

I took one name now instead of three;
For neglect of duty they then charged me.
I was placed behind bars with loss of pay
For doing my duty the opposite way.

A loaded rifle I did prepare
For to shoot my captain on the barrack square.
It was my captain I meant to kill
But I shot the colonel against my will.

At Liverpool Assizes my trial I stood,
I held my courage the best I could.
And the old judge said, “Now, McCafferty,
Go prepare your soul for Eternity.”

I have no father to take my part,
No loving mother to break her heart.
I have one friend, and a girl is she,
Who’d lay down her life for McCafferty.

So come all you officers take advice from me,
Go treat your men with some decency.
For 'tis is only life and tyranny
That has made a martyr of McCafferty.

Danny Brazil sings McCaffery

When I was scarcely eighteen years of age
Away to the army I did engage.
To join the force was my intent
To serve seven years in my regiment.

'Til I was put upon guard one night
Three mothers' children they come playing by.
My officer he told me to take their names
And I took one's name instead of three.
My officer took a dislike to me;
From trials and troubles I was never free.

With a loaded rifle I then repaired
To meet my captain on the barrack square;
With a loaded rifle I made a deadly aim
I shot my colonel, was against my will.

I done the deed and I shed his blood;
At Liverpool 'sizes there my trial I stood.
My own first cousin he led me by trade
And for one bare guinea he swore my life away.

I had no father to take my part,
Not a mother for to break her heart.
I had a friend and a girl was she;
She'd lay her life down for young Cafmarie.

David Stacey sings McCaffery

Kind friends take warning now by my sad tale
As I lie here in Strangeways Jail,
My thoughts, my feelings no tongue can tell
As I lie listening to the prison bell.

Now when I was seventeen years of age
Into the army I did engage,
I did enlist with good intent
To join the forty-second regiment.

Now to Fulwood Barracks then I did go
To serve some time there at that depot,
But from trouble there I was never free
Because my own captain he took a dislike to me.

Now when I was stationed on guard one day
Some soldiers’ children they came round me to play
My captain from his quarters came
And he ordered me to take their parents’ name.

Now my officer’s orders, oh, now I must fulfil
But I took their names against my will,
I took one name instead of three,
‘Neglect of duty’ was the charge against me.

In the orderly room next morning, oh, I did appear
My commanding officer refused my plea to hear.
Oh, and quickly he did sign my crime
And to Fulwood Barracks I was close confined.

Now with loaded rifle I did prepare
To shoot my captain on the barrack square,
It was Captain Neal that I meant to kill
But I shot my own colonel against my will.

Oh I done the deed, oh yes I shed the blood,
At Liverpool Assizes my trial I stood.
Now the judge he said, “John McCaffery,
Prepare yourself for the gallows tree.”

Now I have no father to take my part
I have no mother to break her heart.
I have one friend, oh a good woman is she,
Would lay down her life for John McCaffery.

Now at Liverpool Assizes this young man stood trial
In Strangeways, Manchester, his body now lies.
So come all you young soldiers as pass by his grave
Pray Lord have mercy on John McCaffery.