"McAlpine's Fusiliers," written by Dominic Behan (Brendan Behan's brother), is one of the most famous songs in Ireland. It is so famous, in fact, that its title is used today to refer to its subject: the many groups of Irish laborers who migrated to Britain to find work.

These men, also known as "navigators" ("navvies" for short), were first employed during the period of canal building that accompanied the Industrial Revolution in the 1700's, and were later applied to all types of civil engineering projects, including dams, motorways, and bridges. Many generations of McAlpine's Fusiliers migrated to the UK all the way up to the early 1980's, when the Irish economy finally began to take off with the assistance of the European Union.

The song was popularized by The Dubliners on their album Finnegan Wakes.


Spoken:
'Twas in the year of 'thirty-nine when the sky was full of lead
When Hitler was heading for Poland, and Paddy for Holyhead
Come all you pincher laddies and you long-distance men
Don't ever work for McAlpine, for Wimpey, or John Laing
You'll stand behind a mixer until your skin is turned to tan
And they'll say, Good on you, Paddy, with your boat fare in your hand
Oh, the craic was good in Cricklewood and they wouldn't leave the Crown
With glasses flying and Biddys crying 'cause Paddy was going to town
Oh mother dear, I'm over here and I'm never coming back
What keeps me here is the reek o' beer, the ladies and the craic
I come from county Kerry, the land of eggs and bacon
And if you think I'll eat your fish and chips, oh dear, then you're mistaken...

Break out singing:
As down the glen came McAlpine's men
With their shovels slung behind them
It was in the pub that they drank their sub
Or down in the spike you'll find them
We sweated blood and we washed down mud
With quarts and pints of beer
But now we're on the road again with McAlpine's Fusiliers

I stripped to the skin with Darky Finn
Way down upon the Isle of Grain
With Horseface Toole I learned the rule
No money if you stop for rain
For McAlpine's god is a well filled hod
Your shoulders cut to bits and seared
And woe to he who looks for tea with McAlpine's Fusiliers

I remember the day that the Bear O'Shea
Fell into a concrete stairs
What Horseface said, when he saw him dead,
Well it wasn't what the rich call prayers
"I'm a navvy short," was his one retort
That reached unto my ears
When the going is rough, well you must be tough, with McAlpine's Fusiliers

I've worked till the sweat near had me bet
With Russian, Czech and Pole
At shuttering jams up in the Hydro Dams
or underneath the Thames in a hole
I grafted hard and I got me cards
and many a ganger's fist across me ears
If you pride your life, don't join, by Christ, with McAlpine's Fusiliers!


For more instances of the Fusiliers in Irish pop-folk music, check out "Navigator" by The Pogues, and "The Flight of the Earls" by Liam Reilly.

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