Bruach Loch Pontchartrain

Lakes of Pontchartrain
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The Irish language version of the song "Bruach Loch Pontchartrain" was written by the late Francie Mooney and is perform more...

The Irish language version of the song “Bruach Loch Pontchartrain” was written by the late Francie Mooney and is performed by Paul Brady. “The Lakes of Pontchartrain” is an Irish ballad about an unfortunate immigrant from Ireland who is given shelter by a beautiful Louisiana Creole woman. He falls in love with her and asks her to marry him, but she is already promised to a sailor and declines the offer. The exact origin of the song is unknown, though it is commonly held to have originated from an Irish immigrant living in the southern United States in the mid-19th century. Please note that the English version below is the original and is not a direct translation of the Irish.

The song is named for and set on the shores of the major estuarine waterbodies of the Pontchartrain Basin, including Lakes Maurepas, Pontchartrain, and Borgne. Lake Pontchartrain forms the northern boundary of New Orleans, while Lake Maurepas is west of Lake Pontchartrain and connected to Lake Pontchartrain by Pass Manchac and North Pass. Lake Borgne is east of Lake Pontchartrain and connects to Lake Pontchartrain through the GIWW/IHNC, Pass Rigolets, and Chef Menteur Pass. Lake Borgne extends into Mississippi Sound and therefore is directly connected to the Gulf of Mexico.

The exact origin of the song is unknown, though it is commonly held to have originated in the southern United States in the 19th century. In the liner notes of Déanta’s album Ready for the Storm, which includes the song, it is described as a “traditional Creole love song.” The liner notes accompanying Planxty’s version state that the tune was probably brought back by soldiers fighting for the British or French armies in Louisiana and Canada in the War of 1812. Although the tune might date to that period, the popular lyrics undoubtedly came much later, since they tell of taking a railway train from New Orleans to “Jackson Town”. This was most likely to be the railway junction town of Jackson, Tennessee (named in honor of Louisiana Governor, General Andrew Jackson). The line would have been the New Orleans, Jackson and Northern Railway—whose line, opened in the 1860s, included a pre-existing local line running north from downtown New Orleans along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. Most likely, the lyrics date to the Civil War, and the reference to “foreign money” being “no good” could refer to either U. S. or Confederate currency, depending upon who was in control of the area at the time. It should also be noted that thousands of banks, during the civil war, issued their own bank notes, which could be rejected in various towns, depending on how trusted were the issuing bank. Also, the Confederacy and Union issued their own bank notes—as did individual States—leading to a proliferation of currency (notes and coinage) that might not be acceptable in a particular region.

Among the best known versions of the song are those recorded by the Irish traditional musical group Planxty on Cold Blow and the Rainy Night in 1974 where they give Mike Waterson as their source, and by the Irish musician and songwriter (and sometime member of Planxty) Paul Brady on Welcome Here Kind Stranger in 1978. The 2002 release of a live recording of the songs from the aforementioned album, entitled The Missing Liberty Tapes, preserves a solo rendition of The Lakes of Pontchartrain from Paul’s 1978 concert at Liberty Hall in Dublin. A new recording of The Lakes of Pontchartrain appears on his 1999 album Nobody Knows: The Best of Paul Brady. Brady has also recorded an Irish-language version of the song, as “Bruach Loch Pontchartrain”, which was translated by Francie Mooney.

Other renditions include those by Jonathan Day on his 2004 album A Sky Like Me, Peter Case, the Be Good Tanyas, and Mark Knopfler performing with the Chieftains.

The band Tangerine Dream recorded a version of the song for their 2007 album Madcap’s Flaming Duty.

Shona Kipling & Damien O’Kane played it on their “Pure Chance” CD.

Bob Dylan performed the song frequently in 1988-1989.

Andy M. Stewart, former lead singer for Silly Wizard covered this version on his 1994 album Man In The Moon.

The song was included on Swedish rock artist/songwriter Svante Karlsson’s debut album “American songs” in 1999.

The Canadian all woman alt-country band, The Be Good Tanyas, recorded a popular and emphatic version on their debut album, Blue Horse.

The song has also been recorded in 2010 by the Coronas.

Trapezoid, a Flying Fish recording group, recorded a southern, jazz and Irish version on the 1980 release, Now and Then.

Film version by Ger Loughlin for the Irish feature film Where The Sea Used To Be.

Allan Ricketts performed his version of the song for the St. John’s ‘Take Away Show’ blog

An alternative verse can be found in the Digital Tradition Folk Song Search. The tune, or a slight variation of it, is to be found in the Scots tradition accompanying the Border ballad “Jock O’Hazeldean”.

When this song made its way west, cowboys changed the title to “On the Lake of the Poncho Plains.” The Creole girl became a Cree Indian and the Pontchartrain was changed to the Poncho Plains. The cowboy version is recorded in Singing Cowboy; A Book of Western Songs collected and edited by Margaret Larkin, c1931.

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It was on one bright March morning
I bid New Orleans adieu
And I took the road to Jackson town
My fortune to renew
I cursed all foreign money
No credit could I gain
Which filled my heart with longing
For the lakes of Pontcahrtrain

I stepped on board of a railroad car
Beneath the morning sun
I rode the rods till evening
And I laid me down again
All strangers there, no friends to me
Till a dark girl towards me came
And I fell in love with a Creole girl
By the lakes of Pontchartrain

I said my pretty Creole girl
My money here's no good
And if it weren't for the alligators
I'd sleep out in the wood
"You're welcome here kind stranger
Our house is very plain
But we never turned a stranger out
On the banks of Pontchartrain "

She took me into her mammy's house
And she treated me right well
The hair upon her shoulders
In jet black ringlets fell
To try to paint her beauty
I'm sure 't would be in vain
So handsome was my Creole girl
By the lakes of Pontchartrain

I asked her if she'd marry me
She said that this could never be
For she had got a lover
And he was far at sea
She said that she would wait for him
And true she would remain
Till he'd return to his Creole girl
By the Lakes of Pontchartrain

So fare thee well, my bonny own girl
I never may see you more
But I'll ne'er forget your kindness
In the cottage by the shore
And at each social gathering
A flowing glass I'll drain
And I'll drink a health to my Creole girl
By the lakes of Pontchartrain

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