An Spailpín Fánach

The Wandering Labour Man
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This is an 18th century song of a man who had to become a "Spailpín" because of his family's eviction. A spailpín was more...

This is an 18th century song of a man who had to become a “Spailpín” because of his family’s eviction. A spailpín was a landless individual holding nothing but the cabin he occupied and by necessity hired himself out to whomever would employ him. He survived on a system of conacre in which he had to meet the uncertain prospect of growing enough crops to pay his rent with enough left to feed his family.

A Spailpín or Spailpeen or “wandering landless labourer” was an itinerant or seasonal farmworker in Ireland from the 17th to the early 20th century.
Conditions for such workers were very harsh. They endured hard physical labour, low wages and maltreatment by landowners. According to the Encyclopedia of Irish History and Culture, “their numbers were greatest during the difficult years of the 1820s and 1830s. On the whole, the seasonal workers were people who had close ties to the land: small farmers, cottiers, agricultural laborers, and generally poor people with family responsibilities and no means of earning a living at home. Women began to participate as workers to an important degree only in the middle of the nineteenth century, in the Scottish potato fields. Although there were few women migrant workers before this time, women were nevertheless an essential part of the movement in other ways: they provided support for the men by traveling with them; they begged for food and money to keep themselves and their children alive until the men returned home, and they undertook and organized essential farm work back in Ireland, thereby maintaining the small holding of land as the family home”.

The difficult life of the landless labourer found ample echo in the arts. An example in folk tradition of exactly how harsh life for a Spailpín was can be sensed in the song; “An Spáilpín Fánach” a lament of a man who had to become a Spailpín because of his family’s eviction. To avoid this terrible life, he joined the French army to fight overseas.
Some Spailpíní found comfort and catharsis in the arts. Several were reputed scholars, musicians and poets. To reflect the misery and hardship in their everyday lives, many of their songs and poems were laments.

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I'm a lively and versatile Wandering Man
and supply me with ladies,
Where in the Spring I'd scatter the seed
twice over the white lands,
Where in the Spring I'd scatter the seed
twice over the white lands,
I'd have my hands on the plough as I follow the horses
And I'd split hills open on the slopes.

And my five hundred farewells to you, my father's district,
and to the beloved island,
And to the crowd of young men behind me
at home who'd help me in time of need,
Dublin is burnt away and Galway will be taken,
we'll have flames on bonfires,
My father will have wine and ale on his table,
such a help to the Wandering Man.

And on the first day in Ireland that I enlisted,
I was tipsy and satisfied,
And on the second day I enlisted
I was sadly tormented,
But on the third day I enlisted,
I'd have given five hundred pounds to leave,
And even if I'd given that I'd hardly
have got my pass to leave.

And one fine day I was down in Galway
and the river was flowing down,
The trout and the eel and the pack of sticks
were there and all such fine things,
The young women there were polite and gentle
and they were slender, amiable and nice,
But there wasn't a young woman that I sat with that
I didn't tell her that black was white.

And I long for the day I'd be in a house
without a sweetheart for twelve years and three months,
For I am a lively spirited young fellow
and I'd woo the gentle beauty,
And it was twelve women who were envying and contending for me,
all hoping to benefit from my spade,
It was the prayer of the old woman as I crossed the threshold,
'Now behave your self, you Wandering Man'.

Can you provide a better translation?