A perfect cretic floating down the O-hi-O

U 7.367-9: Ohio! The editor crowed in high treble from his uplifted scarlet face. My Ohio!

A perfect cretic! the professor said. Long, short and long.

Why does Myles Crawford, editor of Dublin’s Evening Telegraph, launch into a song about Ohio? And what is the song that he’s singing?

On the face of it, he bursts into the refrain ‘Ohio, my Ohio’ to cap his (probably garbled) story about the North Cork militia fighting under Spanish officers in Ohio (U 7.359-63). Richard Ellmann and others identify Myles Crawford in real life as Patrick John Meade, a Freeman staffer who became editor of the Evening Telegraph:

A big, stout man, with red hair and a red face, he dressed like a dandy, and was invariably clean shaven with a flower in his buttonhole, although he had usually spent most of the previous night drinking.

Richard Ellmann James Joyce (1983), p. 289

Meade and Ohio

Pat Meade had links with both Cork and Ohio. He came from Waterford and began his journalistic career on the Cork Herald, and so it would not be inappropriate for Joyce to quote him on a point of Cork history (and see also U 7.730-1: "[...] your Cork legs are running away with you.").

As for Ohio, his brother James was living there as a clerk in the early 1890s (and as a member of the Irish-American Ancient Order of Hibernians, famous for their St Patrick’s Day parades). James died in Springfield, Ohio in 1894:

Meade – March 6, 1894, at Springfield, Ohio, of Bright’s disease, James, the beloved eldest son of Hanora and the late John Meade, Lismore. RIP. The High Mass and funeral were attended by the Fourth Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, of which he was a member.’

1894 Freeman’s Journal 28 March

It would seem that Joyce associated Meade with both Cork and Ohio.

A rousing anthem

But what was the song? The rhythm helps us to identify it. We are told that ‘Ohio’ is a ‘perfect cretic’ (a poetic foot which scans long-short-long, or ‘O-hi-O’ – rather than the expected ‘o-HI-o’ of standard pronunciation).

We find the refrain ‘Ohio, my Ohio’ in various songs at the end of the nineteenth century and the start of the twentieth. None are well-known today, but each had its passing vogue.

The Midland Monthly Magazine of 1894 records a ballad about a raid by the Confederate officer John Morgan into Kentucky and Ohio:

The boys on the street are singing to the air "My Maryland":

John Morgan’s band is on thy shore

Ohio, my Ohio.

His hand is on thy stable door, –

Ohio, my Ohio. (p. 143)

There are other versions of the song sung to the same tune, and it is probably not realistic to hope that we can identify the particular version Joyce had in mind. Maybe he or his father heard one sung by the Ohio Minstrels, a popular blackface Irish group who performed regularly in Dublin between 1886 and 1891. But these songs were particularly prevalent around the time of the centenary celebrations of Columbus, Ohio, in 1912:

...A score to death he drags each day,

Ohio, my Ohio!

Thy sons by thousands see him slay;

Avenge their mothers old and gray,

Ohio, my Ohio!

And be in battle freed for aye,

Ohio, my Ohio!

Fifty girls in white flung the words of the song out over the crowded street [... to] the strain of ‘Maryland, my Maryland’.

Circle and Success Magazine (1909), p. 200

The tune "My Maryland" is the clue. "My Maryland" was poem from the days of the American Civil War, composed by James R. Randall and published in 1862. It was said by some to be based on James Mangan’s ‘Karamanian Exile’. Here is the first verse:

The despot’s heel is on thy shore,

Maryland! [My Maryland!]

His torch is at thy temple door,

Maryland! [My Maryland!]

Avenge the patriotic gore

That wept o’er gallant Baltimore,

And be the battle-queen of yore,

Maryland! My Maryland!

Southern Literary Messenger (1862) 1 January, p. 40

As the song was developed into a patriotic anthem, its militaristic and patriotic words were parodied and elaborated by other states. The Anti-Saloon publicity director Joseph Herbert Larimore of Westerville, Ohio, composed his own, less martial, version. But the crucial piece of evidence is that Maryland, my Maryland was set to the tune ‘O Tannenbaum’ (also used in the socialist anthem ‘The Red Flag’). And from that we have the "perfect cretic" of "O-hi-O, my O-hi-O".

In the 1920s and 30s several other poems were written with the title "Ohio, my Ohio" – typically as contenders for the "state song" of Ohio. But when the Ohio state legislature came to choose its official state song in 1969 it chose "Beautiful Ohio".

John Simpson

Search by keyword (within this site): Songs America Journalism Feminism Cork Emigration Music Hall American Civil War