*New Music* My Version of The Wolfe Tone’s “Streets of New York”

213. Streets of New York

I heard this song again on the radio recently and it struck me as odd that I’d never done a cover of it. I think this song means a lot to Irish people who have lived and worked in New York. Despite its occasional sentimentality and jingoism, it has an authenticity that rings true for many who have experienced life in New York. So, this is my version of The Wolfe Tone’s “Streets Of New York”:

Streets Of New York

I was eighteen years old when I went down to Dublin
With a fistful of money and a cartload of dreams
Take your time said me father stop rushing like hell
And remember all’s not what it seems to be.
For there’s fellas would cut ye for the coat on yer back
Or the watch that ye got from yer mother
So take care me young buck-o and mind yourself well
And will you give this wee note to me brother.

At the time Uncle Benjy was a policeman in Brooklyn
And me father the youngest, looked after the farm
When a phone call from America said send the lad over
And the oul fella said ‘sure it wouldn’t do any harm’
For I’ve spent my life working this dirty old ground
For a few pints of porter and the smell of a pound
And sure maybe there’s something you learn loyalty
And you can bring it back home
Make it easy on me.

So I landed at Kennedy and a big yellow taxi
Carried me and me bags through the streets and the rain
Well me poor heart was thumpin’ around with excitement
And I hardly even heard what the driver was saying
We came in the Shore Parkway to the Flatlands in Brooklyn
To me Uncle’s apartment on East 53rd
I was feeling so happy I was humming a song
And I sang ‘You’re as free as a bird.’

Well to shorten the story what I found out that day
Was that Benjy got shot down in an uptown foray
And while I was flying my way to New York
Poor Benjy was lying in a cold city morgue.
Well I phoned up the ould fella told him the news
I could tell he could hardly stand up in his shoes
And he wept as he told me ‘Go ahead with the plans’
And never forget be a proud Irish man.

So I went up to Nellies beside Fordham Road
And I started to learn about lifting the load
But the heaviest thing that I carried that year
Was the bittersweet thoughts of my hometown so dear
I went home that December ’cause the oul fella died
Had to borrow the money from Phil on the side
And all the bright flowers and brass couldn’t hide
The poor wasted face of me father.

I sold up the oul farmyard for what it was worth
And into my bag stuck a handful of earth
Then I boarded a train and I caught me a plane
And I found myself back in the U.S. again
It’s been twenty two years since I’ve set foot in Dublin
Me kids know to use the correct knife and fork
But I’ll never forget the green grass and rivers
As I keep law and order in the streets of New York

Words and Music: Liam Reilly


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