The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death you'll find him;
His father's sword he has girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him.
"Land of song!" said the warrior bard,
"Tho' all the world betrays thee;
One sword at least thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee."
The minstrel fell but the foeman's chain
Could not bring that proud soul under;
The harp he lov'd ne'er spoke again,
For he tore its chords asunder.
And said, "No chain shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and bravery;
Thy songs were made for the pure and free,
They shall never sound in slavery."
####.... Thomas Moore [1779-1852], national poet of Ireland ....####
The above lyrics were found, along with a 1932 calendar, by Maurice Charette of Ontario, in his uncle's notebook which was given to him by his brothers after his father passed away. Maurice noted that the song may have been written down by his grandmother or by his uncle who was 12 in 1932. The notebook is a Gold Medal Flour notebook, about 2-1/2" (6.35cm) by 4-1/2" (11.43cm). His uncle's name is written on the inside as well as his address which was on Patrick Street in St. John's, NL. Maurice's mother was born there and met his father during the Second World War when he was serving in Newfoundland. Maurice told GEST his mother probably got the notebook when his grandmother died in 1966.
Published in 1821 by Thomas Moore, Esq., on p.115 of Irish Melodies, printed by William Clowes, Northumberland-Court for J. Power, 34 Strand, and Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, Paternoster-Row, London. It is believed that Thomas Moore wrote The Minstrel Boy in memory of two of his friends from Dublin's Trinity College who participated in the rebellion of the United Irishmen in 1798. One was killed and one was later tried and hung. This was such a popular song among many Irishmen who fought mainly on the Union side during the American Civil War that a third verse was added anonymously:
The minstrel boy will return we pray,
When we hear the news we all will cheer it;
The minstrel boy will return one day,
Torn, perhaps, in body but not in spirit.
Then may he play on his harp in peace,
In a world such as Heaven intended;
For all the bitterness of men must cease,
And ev'ry battle must be ended.
The YouTube video above features a 12-string guitar performance (including the third verse) by Tony Archibald from Port St. Mary on the Isle of Man.
A variant was recorded by Ryan's Fancy (Currahs, Minstrels, Rocks & Whiskey, trk#10, 1971, Gunn Records).