As a traditional tune with lyrics that have often varied, it has been thought that the song goes back to the Elizabethan times of the 1500s when it would be played as troops left a town or a port, and another thought has been that it originated in 1758 when the French fleet was being watched by Admiral Rodney and Admiral Hawke. Theodore Ralph suggests that it was known in America around 1650 after having travelled over from England as the fife tune “Brighton Camp”, and that in 1791 it was published in Dublin with the familiar Irish names “The Spailpin Fanach” and “The Rambling Labourer”.
The song has been used in the films Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and in the 1915 silent film that used the song name as the title and concentrated on General Custer. Written in over a period of 11 days at 12 Chatham Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, around 1947, this is the 6th Movement of Leroy Anderson’s Irish Suite, which is a compilation and arrangement of Irish folk tunes. It has been described as “a haunting song” that ends with “an ingenious contrapuntal effect”.
Boston Pops Orchestra recordings
RCA 60746-2-RG (CD: Irish Night at the Pops)
Conductor – Arthur Fiedler
The Denver Brass and Saint Andrews Pipes and Drums recordings
Klavier K-11107 (CD: Bagpipes and Brass)
Organ – John Kuzma
Eastman-Rochester Pops Orchestra recordings
Mercury 434 376-2 (CD: Fennell Conducts the Music Of Leroy Anderson and Eric Coates)
Conductor – Frederick Fennell
Richard Hayman and His Orchestra recordings
Naxos 8.555016 (CD: Irish Rhapsody)
Naxos 8.990018 (CD: Irish Rhapsody)