Tag Archives: The Ballina Whalers

The history of shanty singing

Pete Truin of the youthful shanty singing outfit The Ballina Whalers has written a thoughtful, informative article about the history of shanty singing. Great stuff Pete!

‘During this period of history, it has been said that there was an Irishman onboard every sailing ship of every nation and there can be no doubt that the prevailing folk song and ballad tradition in Western Europe gave rise to shanties with distinct narrative verses, often warning the sailors of the perils of venereal disease or unscrupulous landlords!’

And:

‘The influence of African-American and West Indian work songs within the shantying tradition is profound, with many songs being closely related to plantation and railroad work songs in their structure, and many West Indian shantymen, such as Harry Lauder, being revered as excellent seamen and singers long after their passing. In the southern states of the USA, many European sailors rubbed shoulders and swapped songs with the dock workers loading their ships, when the hard work of screwing cotton bales down in the hold of the ships required both songs to haul the lifting tackle, and heaving songs to turn the heavy screws. Unlike the more narrative songs of the Liverpool-Irish tradition, the words of West Indian shanties were often improvised and interchangeable.’

I should add that The Ballina Whalers have a new album¬†out…