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Paddy Works on the Railway

[ Roud 208 ; Ballad Index LxU076 ; Wiltshire 425 ; trad.]

Songs of American Sailormen The Singing Island

Ewan MacColl sang Poor Paddy Works on the Railway in 1951 on a Topic shellac record (TRC50). This track was included in 1954 on his, Isla Cameron's and the Topic Singers untitled album (TRL1). He also song it on his and Peggy Seeger's 1957 Topic album of industrial folk ballads, Shuttle and Cage, most of which was included in 1964 on Steam Whistle Ballads. The liner notes commented:

This song, long popular in the United States, was the product of Irish immigrant labourers, who moved west with the great railway expansions in the middle of the 19th century. A questionnaire (1952) circulated in a number of loco sheds in Northern England, produced five versions of this song. In the past few years, British folksingers have tended to fuse two versions into a single song. Ewan MacColl sings a collation of a slow version from Liverpool and a fast version from Hellefield in Yorkshire.

Louis Killen sang Paddy Works on the Railway in 1980 on his Collector album of songs of the British industrial revolution, Gallant Lads Are We. He noted:

Different from the perhaps better known U.S. ballad [Roud 13611], it tells how the Irish labourers built the railways and transformed British economic and social history with muscle and shovel.

The Pogues sang Poor Paddy on their 1984 album Red Roses for Me.

Keith Kendrick sang Paddy Works on the Railway in 2012 on the WildGoose anthology of sea songs from the repertoire of John Sharp (1839-1933) of Watchet, Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 3.

One of the two shanties (the other being He Back, She Back) which seem to relate to the American shore song Pat Do This. There is obviously a complex of songs, including Pat Do This, Paddy Works on the Erie, Mick Upon on the Railroad, Song of the Pinewoods and The American Railway. The earliest record of Paddy Works on the Railway seems to be from 1864 in a manuscript from the clipper Young Australia. See the notes to He Back, She Back for more detail of the complex of related texts, locations, tunes and floating verses which it is impossible to tease out and give sequence too. To complicate things further, Colcord, Terry and Hugill also relate this shanty to When I Was Just a Shaver—but they have contrary opinions as to which was the antecedent of the other!

Most collectors give a version of this shanty and, as Colcord suggests, “Most versions begin Paddy’s career in 1841” although some start in 1861. Other than that, the shanty versions vary little and avoid the confusion of floating verses found in shore versions and variants.

All the verses here are from Short. His last verse, which breaks the sequence of years, also appears in the broadside song The Press Gang and recurs in variant form, along with the occupations of other family members, in many other songs right down to modern-day rugby songs.

Lyrics

Louis Killen sings Paddy Works on the Railway

In eighteen hundred and forty-one,
My corduroy britches I put on,
My corduroy britches I put on
To work upon the railway, the railway,
I’m weary of the railway—poor Paddy works on the railway.

In eighteen hundred and forty-two
From Hartlepool I moved to Crewe
And found m’self a job to do
Working on the railway.

Chorus on 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th verses:
I was wearing corduroy britches, digging ditches.
Pulling switches, dodging the hitches,
I was working on the railway.

In eighteen hundred and forty-three
I broke my shovel across my knee
And went to work for the company
Of the Leeds and Selby Railway.

In eighteen hundred and forty-four
I landed on the Liverpool shore;
My belly was empty, my hands were sore
From working on the railway, the railway,
I’m weary of the railway—poor Paddy works on the railway.

In eighteen hundred and forty-five
When Dan O’Connell, he was alive;
Dan O’Connell he was alive
And working on the railway.
(Chorus: He was wearing, etc.)

In eighteen hundred and forty-six
I changed my trade from carrying bricks,
I changed my trade from carrying bricks
To working on the railway.

In eighteen hundred and forty-seven
Poor Paddy was thinking of going to heaven.
Poor Paddy was thinking of going to heaven
To work upon the railway, the railway,
I’m weary of the railway—poor Paddy works on the railway.