There are two songs in Ireland with the title Galway Bay. One was written by Arthur Colahan and made famous across the world through the recording by Bing Crosby. It has seen a revival in recent years after it was recorded by the Irish singer Dolores Keane. The other version, sometimes called My Own Dear Galway Bay, was written byIrish politician Frank Fahy. This article features the Colahan version.
Galway Bay is one many songs that conjure up a nostalgic, idyllic picture of Ireland.
The reason such songs were so popular was due to the number of Irish people who had to emigrate in the 19th and 20th century in order to find work and build a new life for their families.
As they adjusted to settling and working in a new country, songs like Galway Bay provided a welcome reminder of home.
Often, the people who wrote such songs were emigrants themselves. That was the case with Arthur Colahan, the man who wrote the lyrics to Galway Bay.
Colahan was born in 1884 in Fermanagh in Ireland but was brought up near Galway Bay.
The area evoked mixed feelings in him. He loved the place because of its natural beauty and because it was the place where he spent his childhood. However, his memories were also tinged with tragedy as one of his brothers had drowned in Galway Bay.
Colahan qualified as a doctor and served with the British Army Medical Corps. He suffered mustard gas poisoning while serving in India and left the army shortly afterwards.
He settled in Leicester in England and began to specialise in neurology.
Although medicine was his career, he remained passionate about music and he never forgot his roots in Ireland. He often visited Galway Bay on holidays and loved to take part in musical evenings with his brothers and their families.
He wrote Galway Bay as a way of paying tribute to his homeland.
They lyrics are unashamedly nostalgic with their rosy tinted references to winds perfumed by heather, women in the meadow making hay and bare-foot gossoons at play.
Gossoon comes from the Irish word garsun and means boy or young fellow. It probably derives from the French word for boy, garcon.
Several Irish words come from French. This is because the Norman invaders who settled in Ireland spoke French. Many of the early invaders from England also came originally from Normandy. They too spoke French and brought their language with them.
Galway Bay was a hit around the world for the American singer Bing Crosby in the late 1940s.
It spent 12 weeks in the American charts in 1949. For many people, Crosby provided the definitive version of the song. In recent years, however, it has been rediscovered by a new generation, thanks mainly to the recording by Celtic Woman featuring Chloe Agnew on vocals.
Some Irish fans of the song were disappointed when Bing Crosby changed the lyrics for his recording. In the first line of the fourth verse, Colahan had written: “For the English came and tried to teach us their ways.”
The Crosby version changed the word English to strangers. It was only one word and it’s easy to see why Crosby felt the change was necessary. To him, recording the song was a commercial enterprise and it would make no commercial sense to risk offending a large part of his potential market.
However, some people felt it watered down the song and sanitised it too much by glossing over the truth. Despite such misgivings, the Crosby version is the one now used by most performers, including Celtic Woman.