Wednesday 17 October 2012

57: The Battle of the Boiling Water

File under "sectarian doggerel"... let's just say if you started singing this at a Scottish football match you'd probably find yourself arrested. The title, of course, parodies the Battle of the Boyne.

The tune is basically 'Brighton Camp'/'The Girl I Left Behind Me'. Jim Caroll has recalled a set of words that his father learned on the Liverpool building sites, and notes that he himself heard the song on the docks during his apprenticeship in the 1960s. The Battle of the Boiling Water also appears in Frank Shaw's 1970 book You Know Me Anty Nelly? - he published a version of these words as part of a set of skipping rhymes he got from a girl called Susan Wheatley, aged 13 at the time. Those versions are both from the Catholic/Irish Nationalist point of view, although I've seen fragments from the Orange point of view too.

As I wrote earlier when explaining the background behind The Orange and the Green, Liverpool has had its fair share of Sectarian conflict (see Frank Neal's book Sectarian Violence - The Liverpool Experience for a thorough account). But when I wrote that post I thought, rather naively, that such things were largely in the past. Events in the last week, with clashes between rival groups at an Irish community march, following on from confrontations (photographed above) during a march celebrating the life of James Larkin in July, show that if you scratch the surface, the sectarian tensions have not necessarily gone away. Worse than that, Liverpool's Irish community risks becoming a battleground for wider right wing and left wing culture wars, with far-right and other groups committed to inflaming sectarianism for their own purposes. In such a context, putting up a song like this may well come across as mere shit stirring. Nevertheless, I think the worst thing we can do is forget Liverpool's history of sectarianism and brush it under the carpet, otherwise we're doomed to revisit it. This song (relatively innocuous as these things go) is just one little reminder of a time when such sectarianism was a fabric of everyday life. A time which I hope won't be returning any day soon.

An interesting aside is that Brian Jacques, the Liverpudlian author of the Redwall series of books, was clearly familiar with the song as he has one of the characters sing a song with the same title and the same rhythm - just with completely different non-sectarian words! - in the novel Taggerung.

The Battle of the Boiling Water is #19411 in the Roud folksong index.

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