Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye

An anti-war protest song against the British colonial wars in Ceylon ( Shri Lanka ) at the end of the 18th century. Sung by British opera singer Benjamin Luxon accompanied by American folk singer Bill Crofut on the banjo. e song is a monologue by an Irish woman who meets her former lover on the road to Athy, which is in County Kildare, Ireland. After their illegitimate child was born, the lover ran away and became a soldier. He was badly disfigured, losing his legs, his arms, his eyes and, in some versions, his nose, in fighting on the island of “Sulloon”, or Ceylon (now known as Sri Lank), and will have to be put in (or, in some versions, with) a bowl to beg. In spite of all this, the woman says, she is happy to see him and will keep him on as her beau.

While goin’ the road to sweet Athy, hurroo, hurroo
While goin’ the road to sweet Athy, hurroo, hurroo
While goin’ the road to sweet Athy
A stick in me hand and a tear in me eye
A doleful damsel I heard cry,
Johnny I hardly knew ye.

Chorus:

With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo
With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo
With your drums and guns and guns and drums
The enemy nearly slew ye
Oh my darling dear, Ye look so queer
Johnny I hardly knew ye.

Where are the eyes that looked so mild, hurroo, hurroo
Where are the eyes that looked so mild, hurroo, hurroo
Where are the eyes that looked so mild
When my poor heart you first beguiled
Why did ye scadaddle from me and the child
Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye.

(Chorus)

Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo
Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo
Where are your legs that used to run
When you went to carry a gun
Indeed your dancing days are done
Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye.

(Chorus)

I’m happy for to see ye home, hurroo, hurroo
I’m happy for to see ye home, hurroo, hurroo
I’m happy for to see ye home
All from the island of Ceylon
So low in the flesh, so high in the bone
Oh Johnny I hardly knew ye.

(Chorus)

Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo
Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo
Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg
Ye’re an armless, boneless, chickenless egg
Ye’ll have to be put with a bowl out to beg
Oh Johnny I hardly knew ye.

(Chorus)

They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo
They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo
They’re rolling out the guns again
But they never will take my sons again
No they’ll never take my sons again
Johnny I’m swearing to ye.

Here’s a Joan Baez version:

 

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