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“Irish Washerwoman”

Laura watched the dancers again. Pa was playing, ‘The Irish Washerwoman’ now. He called: ‘Doe see, ladies, doe see doe, Come down heavy on your heel and toe!’ — Little House in the Big Woods, Chapter 8, “Dance at Grandpa’s”

‘You’re the fiddlin’est fool that ever I see!’ Mr. Edwards shouted admiringly to Pa. He didn’t stop dancing, Pa didn’t stop playing. He played ‘Money Musk’ and ‘Arkansas Traveler,’ ‘Irish Washerwoman’ and the ‘Devil’s Hornpipe.’ — Little House on the Prairie, Chapter 5, “The House on the Prairie”

Irish Washerwoman is a traditional song and dance tune that appeared almost simultaneously in both Scottish and Irish publications. Published music from the 1790s identify the familiar tune by the “Irish Washerwoman” name. An 1785 publication identifies the tune as “The Wash Woman.” There don’t seem to be any original words to the tune, although “Corporal Casey” was published as early as 1791, to be sung to “Irish Washerwoman.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t mention “Irish Washerwoman” in her handwritten Pioneer Girl manuscript, but it appeared in the version sent to agent George Bye and in the shorter revised copy. The song is not found in the existing manuscript for Little House in the Big Woods, yet it appears in the published book. In the manuscript, the “Dance at Grandpa’s” chapter is very abbreviated; there is no jigging scene and no specific song titles are mentioned. Wilder wrote: “Then all the people got together on the floor and began to dance, while Pa played and called the figures. Up and down the room they danced and round and round, keeping time to the music, making pretty bows to each other, the men sometimes stamping their feet, holding hands or changing partners and all laughing and joking. All the children stood around in the corners and doorways and watched…”

(sung to the tune IRISH WASHERWOMAN)

1. When I was at home I was merry and frisky,
My dad kept a pig and my mother sold whiskey,
My uncle was rich, but never would be aisey
Till I was enlisted by Corporal Casey.
Och! rub a dum, row de dow, Corporal Casey!
My dear little Shelah, I thought would run crazy,
When I grudged away with tough Corporal Casey.

2. I marched from Kilkenny, and, as I was thinking
On Shelah, my heart in my bosom was sinking,
But soon I was forced to look fresh as a daisy,
For fear of a drubbing from Corporal Casey.
Och! rub a dub, row de dow, Corporal Casey!
The devil go with him, I ne’er could be lazy,
He stuck my shirts so, ould Corporal Casey.

3. We went into battle, I took the blows fairly
That fell on my pate, but they bothered me rarely,
And who should be first that dropped, why, and please ye,
It was my good friend, honest Corporal Casey.
Och! rub a dub, row de row, Corporal Casey!
Thinks you are quiet, and I shall be aisey,
So eight years I fought without Corporal Casey.


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Click on the above image to view a copy of undated music for “Irish Washerwoman.”    


“Irish Washerwoman” (BW 8; LHP 5)