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Galoshans in Los Angeles and Detroit

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The follow information was received from Denise Downie in November and December 2013 in personal messages to Peter Millington, and is reproduced with her permission.

I'm writing to thank you for your folkplay.info site, which provided the origins of a rhyme my father used to recite to us when I was a very young girl in Los Angeles, California. My search led me to the Cumnock play on your site.

We knew the piece as "I Galoshans" and what we heard was this-

My name is I Galoshans, Galoshans is my name
Sword and pistol by my side I'm bound to win the game
The game sir, the game sir, is not within your power
For I'll cut you up in pieces in less than half an hour

(this last delivered with great gusto and broad slashing motions, which of course was what made my brother and I laugh, we being too young to understand death)

When I looked at some of the other plays, I found these lines, which sparked my memory -

My head is clothed in iron My body's clothed we' steel,
My buckler's made o' knuckle-bone [huckle-bone]
My sword is made o' steel.

I had forgotten these, but I'm pretty sure something like them was included at least on occasion, because I have a vague memory of turning over in my mind the iron, steel and knucklebone - pretty strange to a 4-year old in 1950s Los Angeles.

My father must have learned this from his grandfather. Our branch of the Downies emigrated from Paisley to Michigan in 1848, and this fragment of the play survived through the generations.

It's one of my treasured memories

Denise Downie

I checked to see if I could find any more information about Galoshans from Paisley. All I could find was the following tiny snippet collected in the 1940s by James Arnott, Professor of Drama at Glasgow University (Hayward, 1992):

Who am I?
I'm Keekum-Funny,
I'm the man that takes the money.

This is a variation on the more usual Johnny Funny, who comes in at the end of many Scottish and Northern Irish folk plays to request a contribution from the audience.

Peter Millington

This did not ring a bell to Denise, but she responded with the following additional information:

I talked to my brother Bruce last weekend about this - his memory is that our father sang, rather than recited, and that he used more gestures. I thought my memory was at fault - I had remembered him singing too, but thought I was remembering wrong because the melody he used was nearly the same as that of an American song about a tailor - Solomon Levi. (Singing of Solomon Levi usually preceded or followed I Galoshans.)

Gestures were as follows:

"Sword" and "pistol" - left and right hands to hips, as though grasping weapons
"The game sir, the game sir" - finger wagging
"Is not within your power" - pointing at audience on "not"
"For I'll cut you up in pieces" - broad slashing motions, beginning on "cut"

Bruce also questioned where our father learned this. I had assumed his grandfather, because they were close, but my brother told me our father was close with Great-grandpa Scoville, not Great-grandpa Downie. Bruce speculated that he may have learned it from other kids in the neighborhood, or possibly from another relative. Many Scotsmen settled in the Detroit area, so that is a reasonable possibility.

Denise Downie

Reference

  • Brian Hayward (1992) Galoshins: The Scottish Folk Play
    Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1992, ISBN 07486-0338-7, p.257

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© 2013, Denise Downie. Webmaster: (peter.millington@mastermummers.org). Last updated: 15-Dec-2013