Mudcat Café message #717441 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #47889   Message #717441
Posted By: Malcolm Douglas
25-May-02 - 09:37 PM
Thread Name: Origins: Fiddler's Green
Subject: Origins: Fiddlers Green
Re. Horace Beck: any 20th century writer who uses the self-conscious archaism faery has to be pretty suspect as an authority, and his credulous acceptance of Shoals of Herring as a traditional song (presumably he believed it to be Irish, and never listened to the radio) suggests considerable ignorance, given that his book was first published in 1973.

That said, his general observation (if we ignore his irrelevant references to fairies and "pre-Christian" beliefs) seems reasonable. Roy Palmer (Oxford Book of Sea Songs, reprinted 2001 as Boxing the Compass) comments:

"Fiddler's Green was the generic term for sailortown, the district in large ports which catered for the sailor's needs by providing boarding houses, dance halls, public houses, brothels, and seamen's homes. By extension it was the sailor's ideal world, Eden, Utopia, Paradise."

Unfortunately, he doesn't give references.

Further to my earlier quote from English Dance and Song, the following letter, from Phil Barker, appeared in vol.61 no.4 (Winter 1999). I quote it, very slightly edited, without comment:

"...the place has evolved a little since ... [Locus Fidelis in Gremio]... The first extension was that there were other professions that needed a similar place, since the habits of even upright practitioners rendered them unsuitable companions for the Godly. Chief of these undesirable habits was habitual swearing, but others included excessive drinking, songs and dances of questionable taste and refusing to part from favourite animals. The people particularly singled out were working sailors, itinerant musicians (so we are all in with a chance) and cavalrymen (but not, surprisingly, other soldiers).
Back in the early '60s there was a traditional song in the United States armoured cavalry regiments which stated that Fiddler's Green was an oasis on the road to Hell (and apparently quite close since the dance hall gals from West Hell were allowed to come over on Saturday nights) which had acquired the last wet canteen in the U.S. Army when that force went officially non-alcoholic. Occasionally, some hardened hell-bent trooper would fill up his water bottle with booze and ride off down the road, but he always ran out of liquor before he got there and had to turn back.
Note that like the sailor's version in the article, this version places Fiddler's Green well inland. However, while the ideal retirement venue for an old sailor was traditionally to walk inland with an oar over his shoulder until someone asked him what it was, I feel a sailor's heaven really needs some sea so he can gaze on it and know that he never, never has to go on it again."