“By the Hush”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1957 (recording, O. J. Abbott); there is a nineteenth century broadside
Keywords: poverty emigration soldier injury war Civilwar disability
Found in: Canada(Ont,Que)


The singer calls on his listeners not to go to America; "there is nothing here but war." Unable to make a living in Ireland, he emigrates, is shoved straight into the army, joins the Irish Brigade, loses a leg, and is left without his promised pension


There is much historical truth in this song. The Irish Brigade, commanded by Thomas Francis Meagher (pronounced "Marr") had a horrendous loss rate even by Civil War standards.

In the first two years of the war, the brigade (63 NY, 69 NY, 88 NY; 28 Mass and 116 PA added later) had the highest casualty rate of any comparable unit in the Army of the Potomac. By Gettysburg, the brigade had only 600 men (out of over 4000 originally enrolled), and the three New York regiments had fewer than a hundred men a piece -- a casualty rate in excess of 90%.

It should be noted that some sources have written very inaccurately about Meagher and the Irish Brigade -- particularly about the 69 NY. Meagher himself (1823-1876) was quite a character; an Irish patriot, he was transported to Tasmania in 1849, and escaped to the U. S. in 1852.

When the Civil War began, he reasoned that British sympathy would be with the Confederacy, and so joined the Union army. (In this he was not entirely correct; while many in the British aristocracy sympathized with the Confederate planters, the people were anti-slavery, and so anti-south, and the government wasn't going to commit to either side.) Meagher quickly raised a company for the three-month unit known as the 69th New York Militia. With this militia unit -- which he did *not* command -- he fought at First Bull Run.

After Bull Run, the militia unit was disbanded. Meagher then set out to raise an Irish *brigade*. He succeeded in raising those three New York regiments, and was given the command of the unit. And the unit included the "real" 69 NY (which was not the same as the militia unit, despite Meagher's association with both). However, Meagher was never the colonel of the 69 NY (which had only one colonel, Robert Nugent, in its entire existence).

Some sources say the Irish Brigade was shattered at Gettysburg. As the statistics above show, it was shattered well before Gettysburg. Meagher resigned his commission after Chancellorsville (fought two months earlier) on the grounds that the brigade was too much weakened to be effective; his resignation would be rescinded later, but he would not serve with the Irish Brigade at or after Gettysburg; the unit was led by Col. Patrick Kelly of the 88 NY (one of only two colonels left with the brigade, and commissioned only in October 1862, which again shows the high rate of casualties in the unit); the 69 NY was led by Captain Richard Maroney.

For Meagher's career before and after the Civil War, see the notes to "The Escape of Meagher."

The notes to Margaret Christl and Ian Robb's recording of this song make the curious observation that, although this song is about an Irishman in America, it seems to be known only in Canada!

Several people on the Ballad-L mailing list recently attempted to trace the history of this song. Relatively little was found. There is a broadside, "Pat in America," beginning "Arragh, bidenhust my boys, Sure and that is hold your noise," with the tune listed as "Happy Land of Erin." But it cannot be dated precisely, and there is little evidence of the song in tradition in the century after that.

I also find a broadside, "The Tipperary Boys" (broadside Murray, Mu23-y1:061, "The Tipperary Boys," James Lindsay (Glasgow), 19C), which seems built on the same pattern and formula. - RBW

Cross references



  1. Fowke/MacMillan 6, "By the Hush, me Boys" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. DT, BYHUSH*
  3. Roud #2314
  4. BI, DTbyhush