Will You Come to the Bower

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

This patriotic song dates to the early 19th Century and thus is one of the earliest of the genre in English. On the surface it appears to be a love song. A bower is a seat found in leafy surrounds often used for romantic trysts or meetings- although this arrangement was usually found among the wealthy!

However, in the song, the bower is a symbol for Ireland herself, and the call in the song is for the Irish who have scattered to Europe and America as a result of British retribution during the rebellions in 1798 of the United Irishmen and the Emmet rebellion of 1803 to return to aid Ireland in her need- will you come to the bower.

This aid, according to some, would encompass armed insurrection as well as political agitation, which obviously had to be couched in code to escape the attention of the authorities. (Although, really, were the authorities so thick that they could not spot sedition in the lyrics!)

The song reached America by the 1830s because the tune was played as the Texan army, under General Sam Houston, marched against the Mexican forces led by Santa Anna, at the battle of San Jacinto on April 21st, 1836 which established the independence of Texas.  Remember the Alamo! the charging Texans yelled.

Over the years the song may have gained some overlays of reference as successive waves of Nationalists had to escape over the next fifty years. Nevertheless, it remains an early example in both its diction and melody of the patriotic impulse of the Irish and their love of Erin the Green.

The song references great Celtic heroes such as Brian Boru, who successfully repelled the Vikings; powerful clans, such as the O’Neills and O’Donnells as well as political figures such as Daniel O’Connell. It name- checks settlements throughout Ireland such as Dublin, Wexford and New Ross as well as bodies of water such as the lakes of Killarney and Lough Neagh; the rivers also get a mention, the Bann, the Boyne, the Liffey and the broad, majestic Shannon. And what broad-brush Irish song would fail to mention Ireland’s patron, St Patrick. (I am indebted to the website irishmusicdaily.com for some of the info above.)

The group Banter has yet to perform the song in public although it has had an outing in a couple of practices. When the virus thing is a pestilence past, we may well perform it, as it has great words and a rousing melody. I first heard this song from an early Dubliners LP in the late 1960s featuring the incomparable Luke Kelly on vocals. So, again, I here present a lockdown version featuring Band-in-a-Box etc.- which is great to have, but I would prefer having living, breathing musos behind me rather than the digital devices.

Will You Come To The Bower

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