Also known as “My Son Ted”; the Mrs. McGrath title is associated with the Irish version of the song while My Son Ted is associated with the English version, but even performers who record the various versions of the song use the titles interchangeably. The song itself is of Irish origin but quickly gained popularity within all of the British Isles. It is set during the Peninsular War and is actually a story of a Irish soldier in the British Army who returns with his legs amputated below the knees; most historians believe it was in the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro, 3 – 5 May 1811, against Napoleonic forces. It is closely associated with the also popular song “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye”, but Mrs. McGrath and My Son Ted have come to be regarded as “sailor songs”, and not without reason. In Mrs. McGrath, the first verse is often left out which leaves the remainder of the song as though a naval seaman has just been deposited with his mother. The song here has references to it existing in oral tradition in the late 1810s, but it doesn’t show up in print until about 1830. Correspondingly, another version was printed in London in that year with the title of “Teddy O’Gra”. The English version of My Son Ted is sung to a minor key, the melody being known in the late 18th century. The Irish version here of Mrs. McGrath is also a melody known in the folk tradition from the 18th century, but seemingly became particularly associated with these lyrics after written, was known in the various music halls in Great Britain and the US during the 19th century, and still sung today by various Irish groups, made more broadly famous by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Pete Seeger, The Dubliners, &c. Variations abound.
G D A D A D Bm
“Oh, Mrs. McGrath,” the sergeant said, “Would you like to make a soldier out of your son, Ted?
G D A D A D G
With a scarlet coat, and a big cocked hat, Sure, Mrs. McGrath, wouldn’t you like that?”
D Bm D A D G A D
chorus: Wish-a ring dong dah, ring-a dong-a dah. Ring dong daddy wish-a ring dong da!
Now Mrs. McGrath lived by the seashore for the space of seven long years or more;
Till she spied a ship sailing into the bay, “Here’s my son, Ted, di ye clear the way!”
“Oh, Captain, dear, where have ye been? Have you been in the Meditereen?
Will ye tell me the news of my son, Ted? Is the poor boy livin’, or is he dead?”
Ah, well up comes Ted without any legs an in their place he had two wooden pegs,
Well, she kissed him a dozen times or two, Saying “Blood, now Ted, can this be you?”
“Oh were ye drunk, or were ye blind that ye left your two fine legs behind?
Or was it walkin’ on the sea that a fish ate your legs from the knees away?”
“Well, I wasn’t drunk and I was not blind when I left my two fine legs behind.
But a cannon ball, on the fifth of May, tore my two fine legs from the knees away.”
“Oh, Teddy, me boy,” the old widow cried, “Yer two fine legs were yer mammy’s pride,
Them stumps of a tree wouldn’t do at all; why didn’t ye run from the big cannon ball?”
“Well, all foreign wars I do proclaim between Don John and the King of Spain,
I’d rather have me Teddy as he used to be than the King of France and his whole navy!”