Saturday Night Irish Music Byte

St. Patrick’s Day, as you might imagine, is the most celebrated holiday in Boston for obvious reasons. In fact, all schools and public offices are closed for the day. As a nod to the notion of “separation of Church and state” however, the holiday is officially known as Evacuation Day and is alleged to commemorate the evacuation of British forces following the Siege of Boston early in the American Revolutionary War. But we know better. Lynnrockets’ Blast-Off will kick off it’s own St. Patrick’s Week celebration with tonight’s music byte.

The Irish Rovers are an Canadian Irish folk group created in 1963 and named after the traditional song “The Irish Rover”. The primary voices heard in the group’s songs were Will Millar (tenor) and Jimmy Ferguson (baritone).

Will Millar had been singing in Ireland with his sister since he was 10. After he arrived in Calgary, Canada he met Les Weinstein, who arranged for him to appear on television show, and would later manage the group throughout the group’s career. Will’s younger brother George Millar and his friend Jimmy Ferguson came out from Toronto for a two-week holiday with Will. They had been singing as a weekend hobby with Will’s father and sister, and so Will invited the two young travellers to sing on his TV show. When the holiday was over, George and Jimmy asked if they could stay on, and so Will enrolled George in a local high school and got Jimmy a job.

Will then invited his cousin Joe to join the group. Later, the boys became part of a popular folk club of the time called the Depression, a club that also kick-started the career of Joni Mitchell.

Will had the idea for the Irish Rovers to relocate to California in the USA, which at the time was the focus of many folk singers. On the journey there their car broke down in Northern California, which is when they met some Irish pub owners and an agent who helped them secure a gig at the popular Purple Onion in San Francisco. The group subsequently began performing in folk clubs all over California. Wilcil McDowell joined the band in 1966, around the time the group was signed by Decca Records, when “The Unicorn” became a global success.

The group is best known for their recording of Shel Silverstein’s “The Unicorn” (1967) and Irish ditties “The Orange and the Green” / “Whiskey on a Sunday” (1968). They also hosted several variety TV programs in the 1970s on Canadian television. Although they recorded many albums after that, they weren’t as successful commercially as “The Unicorn” until 1980, when the band had a crossover hit with a cover of Tom Paxton’s “Wasn’t That a Party.” The success of this, which was performed in a country-rock style rather than the band’s familiar folk style, led to the band rebranding itself as The Rovers and changing styles for the remainder of the 1980s, scoring follow-up hits with songs such as “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy,” “No More Bread and Butter,” and the Christmas hit “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” By the 1990s, however, the band was once again known as the Irish Rovers.

Will Millar left the group in 1995; he subsequently recorded solo works and also wrote a book entitled Messing Around in Boats. He later did some acting, including playing postal carrier and boat owner Jimmy McVeigh on the Canadian comedy program The Red Green Show, and Jimmy, the crusty handyman in the 2005 Canadian slasher film Sleepover Nightmare. Millar, a neighbour and good friend of writer-director Boon Collins, was also the production designer of the film, along with his wife, Catherine Millar. The bulk of the film was shot on Millar’s property and in his home.

Founding member Jimmy Ferguson died in 1997. The remaining members of the group, augmented by new musicians, continue to tour as the Irish Rovers.

Please enjoy this video clip of The Irish Rovers performing “The Orange And The Green” in 1995. The song is about a young boy who is the child of a Catholic mother and a Protestant father and all the trouble that results therefrom. It is very funny. We have printed the lyrics to the song below as they are quite funny and the Irish brogue might be difficult for some to understand.

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green.

My father was an Ulster man, proud Protestant was he.
My mother was a Catholic girl. From county Cork was she.
They were married in two churches, lived happily enough,
Until the day that I was born. Then, things got rather tough.

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green.

Baptized by Father Reilly, I was rushed away by car,
To be made a little Orangeman, my father’s shining star.
I was christened “David Anthony,” but still, inspite of that,
To my father, I was William, while my mother called me Pat.

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green.

With Mother every Sunday, to Mass I’d proudly stroll.
Then after that, the Orange lodge would try to save my soul.
For both sides tried to claim me, but i was smart because
I’d play the flute or play the harp, depending where I was.

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green.

One day my Ma’s relations came round to visit me.
Just as my father’s kinfolk were all sitting down to
tea We tried to smooth things over, but they all began to fight.
And me, being strictly neutral, I bashed everyone in sight.

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green.

My parents never could agree about my type of school.
My learning was all done at home, that’s why I’m such a fool.
They’ve both passed on, God rest ’em, but left me caught between
That awful color problem of the Orange and the Green.

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green


Posted on March 14, 2010, in Songs, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Those lyrics are funny. Who would have thought;
    “And me, being strictly neutral, I bashed everyone in sight.”

  2. Oh, I loved the Irish Rovers! Still do. I have them on vinyl and also on my iPod and I sometimes listen at 35,000 feet. “The Unicorn” epitomized my American high school innocence, and I probably still know the lyrics of all their early songs. Years later, I found myself drunk off my ass (not that I could have found my ass with both hands) in a tiny Canadian bar in a tiny Canadian town in the north end of Vancouver Island singing “Wasn’t That a Party” with my American friend and a bunch of Canadian loggers. Ah, good times. I’m lucky to be alive.

  3. I have known this band for almost 8years!!I really like every song that they sung.Especially7 the orange and the green!!.Very jolly,!!My Dad also loves Irish rovers..!

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