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McGinnis Gets a Job

from The Long Grey Line by Debra Cowan



(trad. arr. Cowan)
From the singing of Joe Hickerson

Also known as “Last Winter Was a Hard One”, this is a song about the competition for employment in the cities between two immigrant groups, the Irish and the Italians. According to Joe Hickerson, the songs seems to have appeared in the late 19th century, when “ethnic groups were exploited and pitted against each other by contractors and the like, in order to keep strikes broken and wages low”


Last winter was a hard one
Mrs. Riley did you hear?
It’s well you should have known it
It’s been for many a day
Your husband wasn’t the only one
Who sat beside the wall
My old man McGinnis
Couldn’t get a job at all

So rise up, Mrs. Riley
Don’t give away to blues
You and I will cut a shine
In bonnet and new shoes
Hear the young ones cry
Neither sigh nor sob
We’ll wait til times get better
And McGinnis gets a job

The politicians promised them
Work on the boulevard
To work with pick and shovel
Load stone on the cart
Six months ago they promised them
This work we’d surely get
I tell you my good woman
They are promisin’ it yet

Bad luck to them Eyetalians
I wish they’d stayed at home
We’ve plenty of our own kind
To eat up all our own
They come like bees in summertime
Swarmin’ here to stay
And contractors they hire them
For forty cents a day

They work upon the railways
They shovel snow and slush
There’s one thing in their favor
Eyetalians never get lush
They bring their money home at night
Take no dinner wine
That’s one thing I wish I could say
For your old man and mine

Now, springtime is a-comin’
And work we’ll surely get
My man’ll get his job again
He makes a handsome clerk
I’ll see him climb the ladder
As nimble as a fox
Yes he’s the one to handle
That old three cornered box


from The Long Grey Line, released January 23, 2001
Vocals: Debra Cowan
Guitar: Gaston Bernard
Fiddle: Hanneke Cassel
Cheap Anglo Concertina: Jim Williams


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Debra Cowan Shrewsbury, Massachusetts

Singer Debra Cowan performs a cappella and with guitar, interpreting a wide range of folk songs. Debra has two acclaimed solo recordings to her credit, and her third, “Fond Desire Farewell” was produced by former Fairport Convention drummer Dave Mattacks. A former California resident, she now resides in Massachusetts and tours all over North America and the United Kingdom. ... more

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