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The Wounded Hussar

[ Roud 2699 ; Ballad Index CrMa159 ; Mudcat 24918 ; Thomas Campbell (1799)]

Niamh Parsons sang The Wounded Huzzar in 1999 on her Green Linnet album Blackbirds & Thrushes and at the 2009 Irish Folk Festival: Between Now and Then tour in Germany. She noted on her album:

Fintan Vallely tells me that The Wounded Huzzar is a classic melodramatic parlour ballad and was written by Thomas Campbell, a Scottish poet, in 1799; he also wrote Lord Ullen’s Daughter. The tune was possibly written by O’Carolan. I got the words from Fran McPhail and I invited my friend Josephine Marsh to play with me.

Frank Harte sang The Wounded Hussar on his 2001 album with Dónal Lunny, My Name Is Napoleon Bonaparte. He noted:

It was 1969 and I was attending at the Tionól of Na Piobairí Uilleann at Bettystown, when I first heard Séamus Ennis playing a haunting slow air; The Wounded Hussar, or as Seamus was wont to call it The Wounded Hussar on the Banks of the Danube. I was very much taken by the air itself and it was not until we met at another Tionól at ‘An Grianán’ in 1972 that I heard him playing it again. I was then able to ask him about the air, and where he first heard it. He told me that he first heard the tune and got the words of the song in a place called Glounthaune in County Kerry, the townland where Pádraig O’Keefe the fiddle player lived. He said he got the tune from Pádraig and that between them they got the words from neighbours. He said he had written the words down on the sheets of an old school jotter, (he recalled the rusty staples holding it together), and said that he thought he still had the jotter somewhere. He then gave me the first verse haltingly from memory:

Far far away on the banks of the Danube,
Fair Adelaide roamed when the battle was o’er,
Oh whither she cried dost thou wander my true love,
Or where lie you bleeding or dead on the shore.

A very fine interpretation of this slow air can also be heard on the record produced by Gael Linn of the accordion playing of Tony MacMahon from Clare. Tony has credited Seamus as being one of the great influences on him in the playing of the slow airs. Seamus himself, in writing the sleeve notes for the record praised not only Tony’s playing of the air, but also his intuition and understanding of what lies behind the music.

Thomas Campbell, a Scotsman, wrote the song. He was also the author of the song The Exile of Erin, which was extremely popular throughout the nineteenth century, if one is to judge by the number of times it was included in musical anthologies. There is an anecdote told about Campbell, when one time he stopped to listen to a London street singer surrounded by an eager crowd: “I think I know that song,” said Campbell. “Of course you do,” said a friend. “It is your own Exile of Erin.” “Ah!” rejoined the author of The Pleasures of Hope, “I have not heard it these twenty years; this is popularity indeed.” It was also popular as a recitation and I remember my own father reciting the first verse on many an occasion. It has much of the same phraseology of the ‘Wounded Hussar:

There came to the beach a poor exile of Erin,
The dew on his thin robe was heavy and chill:
For his country he sigh’d, when at twilight repairing,
To wander alone by the wind-beaten hill:
But the day-star attracted his eye’s sad devotion,
For it rose o’er his own native isle of the ocean,
Where once, in the fire of his youthful emotion,
He sang the bold anthem of Erin go bragh.

It is difficult to locate the actual event in history, but it was obviously an event in Napoleon’s campaign in Northern Italy 1796-1797. The song was published in the first edition of The Pleasures of Hope in 1799, and was reputedly sung widely in the streets of Glasgow. J. Cuthbert Hadden in his writing on Thomas Campbell had this to say regarding The Wounded Hussar:

In the meantime he … wrote a few verses. Among the latter was The Wounded Hussar, a lyric suggested by an incident in one of the recent battles on the Danube. This ballad, now entirely forgotten, attained an extraordinary popularity. It had been published only a few weeks when all of Glasgow was ringing with it. Subsequently it found its way to London where it was sung on the streets and encored in the theatres. It seemed as if the fame for which the author hungered was to be his at last, but curiously enough, in this case he would have none of it. “That accursed song”, he would say and forbid friends to mention The Wounded Hussar again in his presence.

Later the song was often presented with Captain O’Kane, an air of Turlough O’Carolan’s. The words and air were printed together in Edinburgh, 1825 in Smith’s Irish Minstrel, which also informs us that The Wounded Hussar was Captain Henry O’Kain who “died of his wounds on the banks of the dark rolling Danube”. However the air had been published as Captain O’Cain, twenty-five years before in O’Farrell’s Collection of National Music for the Union Pipes. Also, according to Hardiman, Turlough O’Carolan (d.1738) composed the tune in honour of “Captain O’Kane, or O’Cahan, of the distinguished Antrim family, (a sporting Irishman, well known in his day by the name of Slasher O’Kane)”. It seems more likely that Campbell wrote this song, as he did others, about contemporary events in Europe, and that mere conjecture transferred the name of the air to the hero of the song.

The Askew Sisters played the tune of The Wounded Hussar on their 2019 album Enclosure. They noted:

Emily [Askew] discovered this tune in the notebooks of John Clare (1793-1864) and we were immediately captivated by it. Clare is most famously remembered as a poet, but he was also a village fiddler who collected tunes and songs played by the community in his home village of Helpston, Northamptonshire. In 1809, parliament passed an ‘Act for the Enclosure of Helpston and Neighbouring Parishes’ which profoundly affected him, as he watched the common land he grew up roaming being divided into rectangular sections for private use. The trauma of this is often cited as one of the reasons for his deteriorating mental health, and he ended up spending the last 23 years of his life in an asylum.

Landless sang The Wounded Hussar on their 2024 album Lúireach.


Niamh Parsons sings The Wounded Huzzar

Alone to the banks of the dark rolling Danube,
Fair Adelaide roamed when the battle was o’er.
O where then, she cried, have you wandered my true love?
Or where do you wither or bleed on the shore?
She travelled a while, the tears her eyes flooding,
Through the dead and the dying, she walked near and far,
Till she found by a river all bleeding and tying,
By the light of the moon, her poor wounded huzzar.

From his bosom that heaved the last torrent was streaming,
And pale was his visage deep marked with a scar,
And pale were his eyes once expressively beaming,
That had melted in love and had kindled in war.
How sad was poor Adelaide’s heart at the sight,
How bitter she wept o’er the victim of war
Have you come then, he cried, this last sorrowful night,
For to cheer the lone heart of your wounded huzzar?

Tou will live then, she cried, Heaven’s mercy relieving,
Each anguishing wound shall forbid me to mourn.
Ah no, the last fancy in my bosom is heaving
No light of the moon shall to Henry return.
You charmer of life ever tender and true,
Take my love to my babes that await me afar.
His faltering tongue scarce could murmur adieu,
When he died in her arms, her poor wounded huzzar.