Singing The Sash as Gaeilge – on the banks of The Boyne

Not one to shirk my duty in promoting cross-community relations, I am delighted to share my new video with the Slugger faithful this Twelfth Day of July. And here it is. The Sash. At The Boyne. In Irish!

I’d been meaning to translate this Orange favourite into Irish for ages, but never quite got around to it until now. And I can’t think of anywhere better to sing it than “on the banks of that beautiful river”.

I briefly toyed with the idea of singing it in an Orange Hall but, not being sure of how one’s warbling as Gaeilge might be received in such environs, concluded that The Boyne would be the perfect location. And it was.

I even took the opportunity to retrace King William’s footsteps (I know, he was on a horse…), crossing The Boyne from County Louth into County Meath on the Obelisk Bridge before unsheathing my weapon of choice for the occasion – soprano ukulele!

Before the Sluggeratti hit the comments section to complain about “yer man’s oul sectarian song” and why there should be no place for it on here, I’d like to tell you a bit about The Sash My Father Wore.

It’s acquired a reputation for being contentious or even a musical exercise in coat-trailing, but that’s far from the truth. In reality, it’s a simple little ballad about a senior gentleman who travels across the water to do a bit of singing and dancing, tell the folk about King William, and then invite them back to Ireland where there’ll be a warm musical welcome.

Beautiful Boyneside: as well as its amazing history, The Boyne Valley is worth visiting. This is The Boyne Canal

There’s nothing nasty in it whatsoever. In the original we don’t even know where exactly he went, although later versions decided that it was Glasgow. And that’s the thing – perceptions of the song may have been flavoured by some of the additions.

In the original, again, there’s no mention of The Sash “being a terror to them Papish boys”. Like many songs in the Orange and Green repertoire, it has been amended and augmented by additional verses that distort the original.

My translation sticks to the original version, so I don’t think anyone will find anything to offend. Besides, Brian Mullan, the great Derry/Londonderry singer, describes The Sash as “part of the atmosphere, the ether of Ireland…”

Indeed, there’s many a ceilidh where the tune is part of the night’s entertainment.

Many years ago Brian said: “Probably the best-known of Orange songs is ‘The Sash My Father Wore’, sung widely on the Twelfth and throughout the year by both Taigs and Prods – at least the chorus is and it would seem that not many (irrespective of what foot they kick with) know more than the famous chorus.”

He’s right. I’ve sung it in English in an Orange Hall or two over the years and can aver that the chorus is all that most folk know.

Just for the record, the tune also appears in an old ballad called My Irish Molly-O, a tale of lost love, featuring the lines: “She’s the lily of old Ireland, and the primrose of Tyrone.”

Anyway, here’s my version of The Sash, sung on a brilliantly sunny day on the banks of The Boyne, between the famous Obelisk Bridge and the elegant M1 bridge renamed in honour of Mary McAleese (much to the chagrin of a local lady who told me there was nothing wrong with The Boyne Bridge as a name and didn’t see why they had to change it).

I don’t claim to be a great singer, but I hope you enjoy watching the video as much as I enjoyed making it. Bígí maith agus bígí deas le chéile!

YouTube video