The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #67723   Message #3551299
Posted By: Jim Carroll
21-Aug-13 - 04:46 AM
Thread Name: Origins: Are You Ready for a War?/We are the Irish
Subject: RE: Origins: Are You Ready for a War?/We are the Irish
FROM CHILDREN'S GAMES THROUGHOUT THE YEAR LESLIE DAIKEN 1949
JIM CARROLL
Warlike games have always appealed to boys above a certain age, and nowhere more than in the places of Ireland near where actual battles or sieges took place. The persistence of the Martial Games has been most extraordinary. It is a subject which has received little attention from historians or folklorists, although it offers fascinating scope for those who would ordinarily try to probe the aggressive instincts of the human race. Foreign elements are more quick to respond to this behaviour than in emulating other customs of the ancient country in which they would take root. For example, it is of considerable historical interest to note that the Huguenot community in the south of Ireland formed a branch of the Irish Volunteer Corps in 1780 for their children who delighted in playing at fighting games1 among themselves.
ROMAN SOLDIERS
The Game of Conquest most widespread among English children is that known as The Roman Soldiers, in which the players divide up into two equal sides. Standing in two lines, A (the Romans) and-B (the English), they face each other a few yards apart, and begin to exchange parley in sung verses alternately. Both sides then stand still, point their left arms at each other and shout "Shoot! Bang! Fire!", and then engage in a fight. After a general scuffle, both sides form a ring and walk round, singing and going through the various actions described in the verses. The antiquity of this game is fairly evident from the text. FragĀ¬ments of the "words-of-command" appear to have crept into some of the street rhymes referred to in other chapters.

Just as the Roman Invasion of Britain is remembered in this game, so the British brought it with them to several cities. In garrison towns like Tipperary, a version has been noted in which the opening challenge runs:

Are you ready for a fight?
For we are Irish soldiers,

A nice adaptation made by the children themselves.
Of course, the same game is reflected in the pattern of Cowboys and Indians, Gangsters and G-Men and other modernisations.
That it came to Ireland by way of the English soldiery is the case contended here, and its persistence in Dublin, notably in the SLUMS, IS due to the influence of English rule. O'Casey, (I Knock at the Door) in fact, in the quotation of the game, reveals the local irishisms in the very opening line, i.e. "We are ready for to fight . . The extract reads:

"... a green sash to go across his breast; blue belt round his waist; and many coloured strips waving gaily from his cap. Then armed with a home-made wooden sword, he turned himself into a warrior, a conqueror of many, bent on battle, free from terror, ready to strike at the first enemy that came near, as he strode along streaming with coloured orders presented to him by Her Majesty Queen Victoria. Whenever a chance came he would share his treasure with a group of Catholic boys, just home from school, decorating them with minor-coloured strips, changing them into soldiers, sergeants, with an ensign carrying a many-hued paper flag, and a drummer bearing on his hip a tin, veiled in strips of yellow and blue, rallying away for dear life, while the boys sang at the top of their voices,

We are ready for to fight,
We are the Rovers;
We are all brave Parnell's men,
We are his gallant soldiers!

a song Johnny didn't like, for he was afraid that, in some way or another, it had a connection with the Fenians. . . ."

Now the vowel conversion of "We are the soldiers", or "We are the Romans" into "We are the Rovers" has a bearing on a song of this class formerly sung in the streets of Belfast by mill- doffers in a truculent mood. "Rovers" means a special type of linen workers. The version, collected by Hugh Quinn, is as follows, the last four lines offering another example of how topicality ousts traditionalism in words to an old tune. They refer to a keenly contested election between Senton, a Nationalist candidate, and Foster, a Unionist, for a seat representing West Belfast in the early nineties. Senton won by a narrow majority:

Do you want to breed a fight        
We are the Rovers,
For it's if you want to breed a fight        
Oh, we're the jolly fine Rovers,        

Senton at the head of the poll
We are the Rovers
And Foster looking up his ****
Oh, we're the jolly fine Rovers,        


All these verses preserve the ancient trochaic measure, which was the popular stress of the Roman soldier, and the literary conti-nuity of the original English Singing Game, with its metrical rhythm of tum-ti tum-ti, turn turn turn enhanced by the beat of the melody, contains all the best qualities of narrative balladry.



Have you any bread and wine?
For we are the Romans:
Have you any bread and wine?
For we are Roman soldiers.

Yes, we have some bread and wine . . .
For we are the English soldiers.

Then we will have one cup full
For we are the Roman soldiers.

No, you shan't have one cup full
For we are the English soldiers.

Then we will have two cups full
For we are the Roman soldiers.

No, you shan't have two cups full
For we are the English soldiers.

We will tell the 'Pope of you
For we are the Roman soldiers.
We don't care for the Pope or you
For we are English soldiers.

We will tell the King of you
For we are the Romans.
We don't care for the King or you
For we are the English.

We will send our cats to scratch
For we are the Romans.
We don't care for your cats or you
For we are the English.

We will send our dogs to bite . . .
For we are the English.

We don't care for your dogs or you
For we, etc.

Are you ready for a fight?
For we are the Romans.
Yes, we're ready for a fight
For we, etc.

FIGHT TAKES PLACE

Now we've only got one arm . . .
For we are the Roman/English.
Now we've only got one leg. . .
For we are, etc.

Now we've only got one eye, etc.
Now we've only got one ear, etc.

In some versions, in the sixteenth verse the two sides, instead od fighting, join hands and dance round in a ring singing as follows:

Then we'll join in a merry ring
For we are the Roman /English
Thhnen we'll joing in a merry ring
For we are Romn/English soldiers

Gomme devotes some pages to variants of an English game called 'We are the Rovers, but the above version is taken from Cecil Sharp's Collection in No. 1109 of Novello's school songs (London)