The singer enlists in the British Army, but deserts because he is worked too hard. Helped by his sweetheart, he escapes, fights off his pursuers, and takes up shoemaking. Discovered and taken, he again escapes, proud of his ability to outfight the English
Daithi Sproule has a version of this ballad in which James Erwin is one of Father Murphy's Irish rebels; so also the Digital Tradition text BLFSTSHO. The latter is said to be the OLochlain version; it's similar but not identical to Sproule's. For information about this phase of Irish history, see the notes to "Boulavogie," "Father Murphy (I)," and the references cited there. - RBW
Re the Father Murphy connection: the following is from OLochlainn 25/Moylan 79. O Lochlainn has it from a broadside.
I next joined Father Murphy as you will quickly hear
And many a battle did I fight with his brave Shelmaliers.
The ballad is recorded on one of the CD's issued around the time of the bicentenial of the 1798 Irish Rebellion. See:
Franke Harte and Donal Lunny, "Bold Belfast Shoemaker" (on Franke Harte and Donal Lunny, "1798 the First Year of Liberty," Hummingbird Records HBCD0014 (1998)) - BS
The whole piece is rather peculiar in its incompleteness; one can understand an Irishman boasting of some of it, but how could someone at New Ross not admit it was a defeat, and how did the singer escape from Vinegar Hill?
Some parts make sense: There were, for instance, many Irish youths serving in the British army in 1798; with land scarce, it was hard for them to make a living otherwise. And quite a few deserted in 1798, and some did indeed serve with Father Murphy.
Lord Mountjoy was a British militia commander who had actually been popular with his Irish soldiers. But he was killed at New Ross, perrhaps while trying to reason with the Irish.
New Ross itself was not a victory for the Irish, though it should have been. The rebels fought their way into town, and seemed to have the militia defeated -- but, having fought like regular soldiers to that point, their command arrangements broke down and they ended up fleeing the town. From that point, the tide of the Wexford rebellion began to ebb.
There is also the interesting problem of what "Orangemen" were doing in Wexford. The Orangemen were a well-known Belfast group who fought against the Catholic defenders, so a man from Belfast would doubtless know them -- but there were no Orangemen in the south; the handful of Protestants were Anglican landowners.
Chapelizod was the site where the English forces in Dublin kept their artillery. There were, naturally, soldiers there, many of them Irish. The United Irishmen, after their leadership was captured, hoped to grab it. The mention of the site may be a confused recollection of this -- but it definitely seems confused. - RBW
Broadside LOCSinging sb10038a: H. De Marsan dating per _Studying Nineteenth-Century Popular Song_ by Paul Charosh in American Music, Winter 1997, Vol 15.4, Table 1, available at FindArticles site. - BS
- May 26, 1798 - Beginning of the Wexford rebellion
- May 27, 1798 - The Wexford rebels under Father John Murphy defeat the North Cork militia
- June 5, 1798 - The Wexford rebels attack the small garrison (about 1400 men, many militia) at New Ross, but are repelled
- June 21, 1798 - The rebel stronghold a Vinegar Hill is taken, and the Wexford rebellion effectively ended
- What You Will (per broadside Bodleian Firth c.14(130))
- Bodleian, 2806 c.18(24), "Belfast Shoe-maker," J. Jennings (London), 1790-1840; also 2806 c.15(252), "The Belfast Shoe-maker!"; Harding B 25(167), "Belfast Shoemaker!"; Firth c.14(130), "Bold James Irvine"
- LOCSinging, sb10038a, "The Bold Shoemaker," H. De Marsan (New York), 1859-1860; also as101350, "The Bold Shoemaker"
- Laws J15, "James Ervin"
- OLochlainn 25, "The Bold Belfast Shoemaker" (1 text, 1 tune)
- Moylan 79, "The Bold Belfast Shoemaker" (1 text, 1 tune)
- Gardner/Chickering 92, "James Ervin" (1 text)
- Eddy 116, "On the Eighth Day of November' (1 text, 1 tune) (The first stanza of this version goes with "Saint Clair's Defeat," but the last two verses come from "James Ervin")
- Creighton-NovaScotia 83, "Rambling Shoemaker" (1 text, 1 tune)
- Creighton-SNewBrunswick 93, "Bold Irvine" (1 text, 1 tune)
- DT 766, BLFSTSHO* JAMERVIN
- Roud #982
- BI, LJ15