“The French Privateer”


The Irish ship goes to sea, and after four days overtakes a Spanish ship, which they defeat. They prepare to pursue the defeated ship, but a French privateer come in sight. They sink the French ship, but the Spaniard escapes


On the face of it, the fact that Sam Henry's version of this song involves battles with both French and Spanish would seem to date the piece. It doesn't; the English were at war with both on several occasions. Even if one ignores the Spanish Armada era (when France wasn't formally at war), the British faced a Franco-Spanish coalition during parts of the War of the Spanish Succession, the War of the Austrian Succession, and the Napoleonic Wars.

Huntington notes several similar songs which may be related. He seems to have missed the most famous, the Copper Family song "Warlike Seamen," which Roud lumps with this (and with others such as "The Dolphin"). Much of that piece is identical to the second half of this song, though this appears to be some sort of cross-fertilization, since they have distinct openings. It would appear that this sort of patriotic song was common, and they mixed heavily. - RBW

The Ranson ballad is only slightly different from SHenry H560. An American, rather than French, ship interferes. Eventually the American ship flees but the Spanish prize is lost.

In Cinnamond's version "our ship the _Amazon")_ is defeated but "then bespoke our captain boys, 'We'll make them mind the time Neither Yankee, French nor Spaniard could fight our Irish boys.'" SHenry ("neither French nor Spanish can fight our Irish boys") and Ranson ("neither Yankee, Dutch nor Spaniard can match our Irish play"), each with a different result for our privateer, end with the same tag line.

Cinnamond's version makes the name of the ship _Amazon_ and, as I hear it, the captain's name "Colvin." Maybe there is a real-life connection to this report of a Co Antrim wreck near Bangor by Bourke in _Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast_ v2, p. 8: "The privateer Amazon was wrecked in Ballyholme bay near Bangor on 25-2-1780. Some of her cannon were recovered and one stands at Bangor where Captain Colvill is buried. The 14 gun Amazon had fought a battle with a Spanish brig off Bangor." In this connection you can read Captain George Colvill's headstone at Bangor Abbey, Co Down, or by referring to Memorial M1231 at the National Maritime Museum (UK) site; it refers to the wreck. - BS

Cross references


  • Robert Cinnamond, "The American and Irish Privateer" (on IRRCinnamond03)


  1. SHenry H560, pp. 112-113, "The French Privateer" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Ranson, pp. 33-34, "The Spanish Privateer" (1 text)
  3. Roud #690
  4. BI, HHH560


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1934 (Sam Henry collection)
Found in: Ireland