Tune of the Day: Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye
First published in 1867, this traditional tune has remained popular in Britain, Ireland, and the United States throughout the years. Tune collector Francis O'Neill writes: “Classed as a street ballad in Halliday Sparling's Irish Minstrelsy, London 1887, the editor adds, in a note on page 366,
Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye ! This favorite old song is here for the first time given complete. It dates from the beginning of the present century (19th), when Irish regiments were so extensively raised for the East India service.
This spirited air almost forgotten in Ireland blossomed into new popularity during the American Civil War, and, after its arrangement by a master hand — Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore — it became a great favorite with military and volunteer bands. Parodies on the original song such as “When Johnny comes marching home again”, “Johnny fill up the bowl” etc., were sung to it by the Union soldiers. After the manner of the “Loobeens” and occupational songs of olden days in Ireland, additional verses were improvised, some possibly crude, yet always mirth-provoking, and well-calculated to keep up their spirits on the march, or relieve the monotony of camp life. The circumstance of its arrangement as above stated no doubt led Adair FitzGerald to refer to it in his Stories of Famous Songs in qualified words:
When Johnny comes marching home again, said to have been composed by the celebrated Patrick S. Gilmore.
The latter, a native of Dublin quite probably had memorized the tune in his youth. The original, it may be observed, included a refrain of four lines not found in the parodies.”