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Irish Washerwoman, The


This well-known double jig also known by many other names including “Corporal Casey”, “Country Courtship”, “Dargason” and “Paddy McGinty’s Goat” has many claims as to where it originates, as is common with many of the folk songs of the British Isles.  It has been suggested that it is a derivative of the tune “Dargason” or “Sedany” which was an English dance published in the 17th century but possibly being known in the previous century as well.  This was questioned in 1966 where it was stated by someone called Fuld that “Dargason” was originally the “Scottish Bagpipe Melody” that had appeared in 1609 in the Thomas Ravenscroft publication Pammelia and “The Irish Washerwoman” was an independent piece of music that evolved from folk tunes in John Playford’s Dancing Master from the latter half of the 1600s.

The main tune that has been suggested as originally emanating from “The Country Courtship” which was first mentioned in 1688 and remained popular until the 1800s when Neil Gow would refer to it as “The Irish Washerwoman” in a 1792 publication.  The same melody was appearing in Irish publications by the 1780s as “The Wash Woman”, in Scottish publications as “The Irish Waterman” and in Wales as “The Melody of Cynwyd”.

It is commonly thought of and identified as an Irish tune though, and that the word “Irish” was attached to “The Wash Woman” to identify where it came from.  Definitely known to have been a familiar song in Ireland by the beginning of the 1800s it has been suggested that it was written by the Irish composer Walker “Piper” Jackson.

Several sections of the jig have been identified in many other folk songs including “Star at Liwis”, published around 1730 in the book Caledonian Country Dances, and “In Bartholomew Fair”.  The piece has survived through many name changes and versions over the years and in the play The Surrender of Calais by Samuel Arnold, originally debuting in London in 1791; the tune was used for the song “Corporal Casey”.  Later the tune would also be the setting for “Paddy McGinty’s Goat”.

The tune also appeared in the United States in the latter decade of the 1700s and is known to appear in dance publications that came out in Massachusetts and Connecticut in 1792 and 1793.  Still being popular in the 20th Century it became heard more in America than anywhere else, being used by the Ozark Mountain fiddlers in the 1940s and Mellie Dunham who was a renowned Maine fiddler.  It was also arranged and included by the acclaimed American composer Leroy Anderson in his Irish Suite.  It is one of the staple tunes on the numerous CDs and album releases of Irish music.

Leroy Anderson recordings
Boston Pops Orchestra
RCA 60746-2-RG (CD: Irish Night at the Pops)
Conductor – Arthur Fiedler

Eastman-Rochester Pops Orchestra
Mercury 434 376-2 (CD: Fennell Conducts the Music Of Leroy Anderson and Eric Coates)
Conductor  – Frederick Fennell

Richard Hayman and His Orchestra
Naxos 8.555016 (CD: Irish Rhapsody)

Naxos 8.990018 (CD: Irish Rhapsody)