Captain Coulston

Play recording: Captain Coulston

níl an taifead seo ar fáil faoi láthair

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  • Teideal (Title): Captain Coulston.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): none.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): 1695.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): none.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): English.
  • Catagóir (Category): song.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): Ewan Mac Coll.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 1963.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): London, England.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): private.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): Peggy Seeger.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

The Tennis Right

The Tennis Right was the name of the boat and Captain Coulston was the man who was running the boat, and they sailed from Derry Quay. I got this from an old man at home and unfortunately he didn’t remember all the words. He was so old that he’d forgotten most of the words, but this is- I got this much off him anyway.

Ye noble sons of Granuaile, attention one and old2
Come listen to my story while those lines I will unfold
It’s all about Captain Coulston that hero stout and bold
Who fought his way across the seas that never was controlled.

From Derry Quay we sailed away the weather it was fine
All bound for New York City, it was our whole design
The number of our passengers were a hundred and fifty-two
And they were all teetotallers excepting one or two.

For eighteen days we sailed the sea, right well the wind it blew
And early one morning a mermaid came in view.
The captain cried, ‘Make fast my boys, a storm will now attend
And if not the mercy of the Lord, we’ll never reach the land.’

For three long nights the storm raged, the sea ran mountains high
But every man played his part to save the Tennis Right
The captain and his lady, they came on deck each day
Viewing with satisfaction our trip to Americay.

On the thirteenth day away from land, our lookout gave a shout
It caused our hearts great terror when his words they rang about
‘A pirate ship is coming all from the eastern skies
Oh now my lads ye must prepare to defend the Tennis Right.’

When the pirate ship came up to us, we fought as ne’er before
Our lads they died right manfully, but the tyrants lay in their gore
The pirates they surrendered just at the [br]eak of day
And we landed them as prisoners all in Americay.


After singing the song, Joe continues to answer questions from Ewan Mac Coll about the provenance of the song. Unfortunately these remarks are not transcribed in the published article online, and transcription is made difficult because of Mac Coll’s habit of constantly turning the tape-recorder off and on – editing on the fly – which makes some of the remarks confusing and some of the context unclear. Here is an attempt, based on the recordings deposited in the Joe Heaney Collection which, for copyright reasons, we are not able to add to these archives:

JH: I know there’s [break] (Presumably referring to the man from whom he learned the song) Peadar Pheaits they called him in Gaelic. The same man who had… ‘Morrissey and the Russian Sailor.’

EM: Really?

PS: It’s the same tune, that.

JH: No, no it’s [break] a lot about that song. But, oh God, I’ve been looking for that, The Tennis Right.

EM: The Tennis Right?

JH: The Tennis Right was the name of the boat. [break] probably the way he heard it, you know. I’m… telling you what he said to me, you know. The actual words, you know.

EM: Yeah, but… names do get changed, you know.

JH: He probably, you see, caught it up in that way, that he said ‘the Tennis Right’ you know, because as you know he was a native Gaelic speaker, and wherever he got it, now – don’t ask me where he got it.

Reading between the lines, it appears that Mac Coll and Seeger were asking:

  1. Who was the old man Joe got the song from?
  2. Was the air the same as the one for Morrissey?
  3. How could ‘The Tennis Right’ possibly be the correct name for the boat?

Taking these in order:

  1. Peadar Pheaits was the name of Joe’s informant. He doesn’t mention the man’s surname.
  2. Peggy is correct in noting a resemblance to the air of Morrissey. The second strain of the air – used with the second and third lines of each stanza – to ‘Captain Coulston’ is indeed identical to that of Morrissey. But Joe is right to object (if that’s what he’s doing), because the other line – sung to the first and fourth lines of each stanza – begins quite unlike ‘Morrissey,’ with a downward leap of an octave. The fact that Joe learned both songs from the same singer could account for the similarity, as some singers are much more interested in the texts of songs and don’t mind singing a number of songs to the same air.
  3. Tom Munnelly points out that ‘The name of the ship is, of course ‘The Tenants’ Right’ which would place the action of this song in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the Plan of Campaign on behalf of Irish tenant farmers.’

This recording was issued on The Road from Conamara (Cló Iar-Chonnachta CICD 143 / Topic TSCD 518D).