We May Roam thro’ This World is also known as The Daughters of Erin.
It is Thomas Moore’s lighthearted tribute to Ireland and Irish women.
The theme running through the song is that the women of Ireland inspire love and constancy in their men, even when those men are far from home.
The opening lines use the image of a child at a feast, running around trying every exciting taste but never settling on one. Moore suggests we may live our lives that way but if a loving woman is the dearest gift that heaven supplies, then there’s no reason to venture beyond Ireland because it has such women in abundance.
The chorus then invites men to remember the woman they leave behind when they have to go on their travels for whatever reason.
Irish attitudes versus English and French
Moore has a little light-hearted dig at the English and the French. He says that in England, beauty is guarded by the dragon of prudery – referring to the rather strict moral code on 19th century England.
However, this moral code was more for show than reality: or as Moore puts it, the prudish dragon slept so beauty and morality wasn’t really being guarded at all.
By contrast, the Irish take a more instinctive approach, but that doesn’t mean any lack of modesty. Irish women know how to protect their beauty without any false prudery. They are like the beautiful wild flower that is protected by a briary fence. You can look but you can’t touch. They can charm you the most at the very moment they are rejecting your advances.
Moore suggests French women have to resign themselves to knowing that their men may stray while they sail away from home, whereas the Irish colleen is able to keep her boy ever faithful.
Set to the tune of Garryowen
Moore’s lyrics were set to an old Irish melody used both in the song called Auld Bessy, and in another song called Garryowen, sometimes referred to as Garry Owen, which translates from Irish as Owen’s Garden.
It was used as a marching tune by the 5th Royal Irish Lancers from the early 1800s onwards. Irish soldiers who served with the Lancers later took it with them when they emigrated to America. It became the regimental song of the US 7th Cavalry after its famous commander, General Custer, heard it being sung by an Irish soldier.
It’s said to have been the last song played to the cavalry as Custer and his men rode into the Battle of Little Big Horn.
It became the official tune of the entire 1st Cavalry Division in 1981.