I’ve been listening to Christy Moore’s song Missing You (written by Jimmy McCarthy) and realise that it is – in some ways – a reworking of the traditional Irish song Carrickfergus (versions here by Van Morrison and Bryan Ferry), about the pain of exile and the impossibility of returning home. In Carrickfergus, “I’m drunk today and I’m seldom sober”, and home is simply too far away: “But the sea is wide and I cannot swim over/ And neither have I the wings to fly”.
In Missing You, the singer is a building labourer, closer to home in England, and the song captures the casual discrimination of the sites in one fine stanza:
To where you’re a Paddy, a Biddy or a Mick
Good for nothing but stacking a brick
Your best mate’s a spade and he carries a hod
Two work horses heavily shod.
The singer can’t afford the price of the flight home, but in any case. sleeping rough, “I’ll never go home now because of the shame”.
Both songs are cautionary tales about the losses of exile, but in Carrickfergus there’s still some of the delusions of the blarney (he’s still “a handsome rover from town to town”). Missing You, in contrast, is bleak; almost too bleak, in that it is a song with a rich melody which the lyric strips of hope.