“They never will take our sons again”

Has a spurious anti-war stanza been added to Was “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye”?

Brad DeLong posts the lyrics to “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye,” the cruel Irish (perhaps originally Scots) ballad whose tune was converted in the more cheerful “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”

But Brad quotes it with a final stanza that I had never heard, that doesn’t appear in the version published in Padraic Colum’s 1922 collection, and that does not seem to match the rest of the song in either sentiment or prosody:

They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo

They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo

They’re rolling out the guns again

But they never will take our sons again

No they never will take our sons again

Johnny I’m swearing to ye.

Note that, unlike all the other stanzas, this one has no variation in the rhyming words, and repeats its last verse, which itself limps rather badly.

The song is about a woman whose lover has left her and their child to follow the drums, and has come home a cripple. It has no hint that he was “taken”; she says “Why did ye skedaddle from me and the child?” If the song (other than the stanza in question) has an anti-war message, it’s human, not a political: the anger is at the glory-seeking runaway, not at some amorphous “them” who have “taken our sons.”

So I suspect an addition, perhaps circa 1966. Can anyone verify or refute my suspicion? And can anyone date the original? Is “the island of Sulloon” a reference to Ceylon? Did the British ever face hard fighting on Ceylon?

Update Yes they did, says a reader, in 1795-96. Mike O’Hare provides a link to a more recent anti-war song.

Second update Yes, that last stanza was added by a buddy of Pete Seeger in the 1950s.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com