"Dear Irish Boy" is a traditional Irish song also known by many titles: An Buachaillín Bán, Green Fields of America, The Green Fields of America, Green Fields of Canada, and May Morning Dew. It was common for songwriters to appropriate well-known tunes. The fact that the title identified the song as "a new temperance song" speaks to the popularity of such ballads.
Music played an important role in recruiting support for antebellum reforms. The Hutchinson Family Singers, one of the earliest and most successful American musical groups, often sang at temperance and anti-slavery meetings. Their success inspired a host of imitators. Reform organizations published songbooks so that members could sing favorite songs at home or in local meetings.
"The Wife's Lament" touched upon a number of common themes, including the drastic change for the worse in the husband's behavior once he began to drink and the "mantle of shame" that "enshrouded" his whole family. What distinguishes it from most other temperance tunes is its explicit identification of the drunken husband as an Irish immigrant.Temperance advocates often complained that Irish and German immigrants invariably opposed the Maine Law and other anti-alcohol measures. And they often criticized the Irish as inveterate drunkards. They frequently included Irish women in their indictments as well, both as drunkards themselves and as violators of the Maine Law's criminalization of the selling of even small amounts of alcohol. Many Irish women brewed "poteen," a kind of brandy that they sold by the glass. In "The Wife's Lament," on the other hand, the wife is shown in the same light as white Protestant women whose husbands drank.
The iconography below used for the top of the song sheet reinforces this. Two cherubs unfurl a banner that reads "E Pluribus Unum," out of many, one. The image of the wife on the lower right evokes the Revolutionary Era symbols of the "Phrygian Cap," also known as the "Liberty Cap," supposedly adopted by the Sons of Liberty during the Stamp Act Crisis.The cap was commonly shown atop a "liberty pole." The cap and the wife's red, white, and blue costume situate her firmly in American temperance discourse.
Sheet Music, Archibald Scott, "The Wife's Lament" (New York: H. De Marsan, n.d.)
By ARCHIBALD SCOTT.--Air: Dear Irish Boy.
My Connor was loving, gentle and kind,
The proudest of mortals was I in his love,
While nature's sweet graces adorn'd his mind,
Bright angels seem'd smiling on us from above,
Sweetly we started, no two more light hearted,
Together cross'd over the ocean of life;
By true love united, the vows that he plighted
Were music the sweetest to his loving wife.
No husband was kinder, no father e'er cherish'd
A child with a purer or holier care,
But alas! he is chang'd, those joys are all perish'd,
Our once happy home, the abode of despair.
Swearing and tearing, his acts over-bearing,
Embitter'd for ever is my future life.
The vows that he plighted are broken and slighted,
Which leaves me to mourn a heart-broken wife.
The money he once felt so proud to bestow
On home and its comforts, in days that are fled,
For rum, in the ale house, now weekly must go,
While his children are naked and starving for bread.
Would I had died, ere his fall and dishonour
Enshrouded us all in a mantle of shame,
Ere rum, cursed rum! destroy'd my poor Connor,
And quench'd in his heart love's exquisite flame.
The poison that kills both the body and soul,
Has sunk him beneath they beasts of the plain.
His children and wife he forsakes for the bowl,
That has kill'd more than ever in battle was slain.