McAlpine's Fusiliers lyrics

The High Kings

Oh, it's down the glen came McAlpine's men
With their shovels slung behind them
'Twas in the pub they drank the sup
And up in the spike you'll find them
They sweated blood and they washed down mud
With pints and quarts of beer
And now we're on the road again
With McAlpine's Fusiliers

I stripped to the skin with Darky Flynn
Down in the Isle of Grain
With Horseface Toole, sure, I knew the rule
No money if you stop for rain
McAlpine's god was a well-filled hod
Your shoulders cut to bits and seared
And woe to he went to look for tea
With McAlpine's Fusiliers

Oh - way - oh... Oh - oh
Oh - way - oh... Oh - oh

I remember the day when the Bear O'Shea
Fell into a concrete stairs
What the Horseface said when he found him dead
Well, it wasn't what the rich call prayers
"I'm a navvy short" was the one retort
That reached unto my ears
And when the going gets rough, well you must be tough
With McAlpine's Fusiliers

Oh - way - oh... Oh - oh
Oh - way - oh... Oh - oh

Oh - way - oh... Oh - oh
Oh - way - oh... Oh - oh


I worked 'till the sweat, well, it had me bet
With Russians, Czechs, and Poles
On shuddering jams, in the hydro dams
Or underneath the Thames in a hole
I grafted hard, and I got me card
And many a ganger's fist across my ears
And if you value your life, well, don't join, by Christ
With McAlpine's Fusiliers
And if you value your life, well, don't join, by Christ
With McAlpine's Fusiliers

Song Details

McAlpine's Fusiliers
McAlpine's Fusiliers

Writer: Traditional air popularized by Dominic Behan

Brief: McAlpine's Fusiliers were gangs of Irishmen who worked in the UK for a large firm called Sir Robert McAlpine Civil Engineering LTD... along with many days of hard work, there were also many nights of hard drinking!

The following is an excerpt from The Mudcat Cafe by Jon Jos in relation to the song:

The nickname "McAlpines Fusiliers" came from a regiment in the North Irish Brigade of the British Army - The Royal Irish Fusiliers. Most of the men in my platoon were from the south of Ireland and a lot of those had worked for Wimpey or McAlpine. So for a joke, I called the platoon "McAlpines Fusiliers" as compared to other platoons with a lot of English National Servicemen in them. It was 1952 and we were on a route march from Lisnally Camp thru the Glens of Co. Tyrone when the news that King George 6th had died was passed down to our platoon. A loud cheer went up, much to the rage of the Orange N.C.O's. One fella started to sing -"Down the glen came Sarsfields Men" I shouted "McAlpine's Men with their rifles slung behind them" This other fella changed it to "shovels". We had stopped for a short rest and later on I said "Now we're on the road again". That fella said, "With McAlpine's Fusiliers". And later on in the march, this particular N.C.O. kicked me up the arse for lagging behind. That fella again shouted, "If you pride ya' life don't join by Christ McAlpine's Fusiliers"... mudcat.org

After building this page I was thrilled to receive an email from Jon Jos which read:

"I am nearly 90 now and still remember the banter I had with that lad while on that route march. We were being harassed by those sergeants who called us " Low life Fenian B******s and we sang party songs to annoy them and put in a few of our own words. The Korean war was in progress and we were in training as replacements from the Irish Fusiliers to the R. Ulster rifles who had taken heavy casualties. That lad never came back from his embarkation leave, so I suppose he must have gone back to work and remembered the tune etc. and put in his own experience working on sites. As for me, I had forgotten all about that time in 1952 until I heard the song by "The Dubliners" and remembered the tune and some of the words from that time. A name Darky McClafferty has been claimed as writing the song also Dominic Behan. The discussion on Mudcat had been active for ten years before I added my post. I hope I cleared up a bit of the mystery. Thanks Again & Best Wishes. John Cuddihy (JonJos)

☘ Many thanks to John for sharing his memorable experiences with us. ☘

navvies - British term for building labourers especially those working on canals or inland waterways.
spike - Hostel or casual ward in a workhouse for men with no fixed address or the homeless. It was also a name used by Irish navvies who couldn't find or afford lodgings.
shuddering (shuttering) - a rapidly constructed wooden casing made to hold concrete while it sets
N.C.O - non-commissioned office.

Category: Irish Folk song

Covers: Paddy Reilly, The Dubliners, Patsy Watchorn, The Young Dubliners, The Clancy Brothers, The Rumjacks, Dominic Behan.

Album: Friends For Life... (September 20, 2013)

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