Grumpy man loses his words

Feb 2nd, 2010 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Sat with the church organist this morning, picking hymns up until Easter, there was a moment of frustration.  The words of a traditional hymn had been changed, presumably to satisfy someone’s particular agenda.  The compilers of the hymnbook had not even the courage to openly admit the change in the words, instead they slipped the abbreviation ‘Altd’ in after the writer’s name.  With much the page white space, ‘Altered’ could easily have appeared in full, one can only conclude they are somewhat coy about drawing attention to their unnecessary tampering with the words.  Jesus goes from being ‘lone and dreary, faint and weary’ to being ‘self-denying, death defying’.  “‘Death defying’ makes him sounds like a circus stuntman”, I muttered.

It’s not just hymns that have been tampered with, dumbed down, sanitised; traditional songs have undergone a similar treatment.

Contemplating moving house to Kilkenny in May, the song Carrickfergus came to mind.  Carrickfergus is in Co Antrim, and Kilkenny appears in the last verse.  Not so in the version sung by Charlotte Church:

I wish I was in Carrickfergus
Where the castle looks out to sea
I would swim over the deepest ocean
For my love to be with me
But the sea is wide and I cannot swim over
Nor have I the wings to fly
I wish I had a handsome boatman
To ferry me over, my love and I

I wish I was in the land of Eire
Where the mountains reach the sea
Where flowers blossom as I do remember
Where my true love came to me
But the sea is wide, and I cannot swim over
Nor have I the wings to fly
Ah, to be back now in Carrickfergus
To be together, my love and I
To be together, my love and I

I wish I was in Carrickfergus
To be together, my love and I.

Drivel, absolute drivel.  The song is reduced to plain mush – and, anyway, no-one uses the word ‘Eire’ when speaking English.

The original has an altogether grittier feel about it.  The storyteller is facing death in exile.  He is on the road and the drink has got the better of him – not nearly as pleasant as the revised version.

I wish I was in Carrickfergus,
only for nights in Ballygran
I would swim over the deepest ocean,
the deepest ocean for my love to find
But he sea is wide and I cannot swim over
and neither have I wings to fly
If I could find me a handsome boatman
to ferry me over to my love and die

My childhood days bring back sad reflections
of happy times I spent so long ago
My boyhood friends and my own relations
have all passed on now like melting snow
But I’ll spend my days in endless roaming
soft is the grass and sure my bed is free
Ah, to be back in Carrickfergus
on that long road down to the sea

And in Kilkenny it is reported
there on marble stones as black as ink
With gold and silver I would support her,
but I’ll sing no more now till I get a drink
I’m drunk today and I’m seldom sober,
a handsome rover from town to town
Ah, but I’m sick now, my days are numbered
so come all ye young men and lay me down

Have we become altogether frightened of anything that is not ‘nice’?  Changing the words of the songs  does not change the reality of the world.

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  1. If it isn’t broke dont fix it comes to mind……..the dumbed down version is no doubt easier for the nanny state brainwashed huggy feely touchy bunch to learn, Its only Carrickfergus that has more than two syllables….!!!!!!!!(Another grumpy ole man)

  2. Les, sometimes it seems as though people really do think that you can change the world by changing the words.

  3. Bryan Ferry covered the song – as I recall with the original words. I’ll have to listen to my vinyl tomorrow and check.

  4. I don’t think Bryan Ferry ever dodged gritty stuff! I remember ‘Love is the drug’, never knew how it wasn’t banned in school.

  5. Those words are from Lead us Heavenly Father lead us – a hymn which we had at our wedding and I know many others had at their weddings. Those altered words certainly do not fit in with the wedding context. It is so lovely to sing the old words when we are faced with new words that alter the whole meaning of the hymn. Now you know why the singing sometimes sounds funny!!!!!!

  6. ‘Self denying, death defying’ definitely fails to capture any sense of Jesus’ solidarity with ordinary human experience. I tend to sing the old words for various hymns. I don’t understand how anyone can assume the right to change someone else’s work – I think Mr Altd must be a frustrated writer!

  7. How very dare they! I’ll let you into a pet secret, I can’t stand non Irish people using words like ‘auld’ and ‘ere’! I know of so many Americans . . .they throw in the ‘wee’ as well. Very annoying but slightly off topic. Just had to put it out there.

  8. You will notice Les used the English ‘ole’!

  9. Mr. Ferry doesn’t sing the middle verse – but he does what he does beautifully – made my heart beat a little faster (yes, I know he is an idiot). Charlotte Church – pah!

  10. The middle verse is usually left out – maybe it’s too maudlin.

    I have met people who would not only say the word ‘ye’, as found in the last verse, but would write it as well.

  11. Ian,Baino

    Tis said in a wearing off Somerset accent and a more Devonian accent. ( seens us ave bin yer fer nerly 20 yerrs) perhaps ‘ole’ has too many letters for my accent… should sound more like “grumee o man”…hahaha

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