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Housewarming: Breakey Style

 

For our earliest knowledge of the Breakey family we are indebted to Thomas Cathcart Breakey (1834 – 1914).  Thomas spent his entire life in the old family home, Drumskelt House (built 1717), in Ballybay, Co. Monaghan, Ireland.  In 1900 he wrote down stories[1] of his family and locality, some from a manuscript[2] his father, John Breakey (1780 – 1878), had written years before.

In passing, Thomas gave us a peek at the Breakeys’ revelry.  He wrote: “ ‘As Sure As A Gun’ was a pet song of Duke Schomberg and was always sung by the Breakeys in honour of his memory at every housewarming. All hands on feet.”[3]  This leaves us asking: who was Duke Schomberg?  What is the significance of the phrase “all hands on feet”?  What was the song and why was it appropriate at a housewarming?

The first question is easily answered.  Duke Schomberg, formerly a Marshal of France, was a Huguenot refugee and in 1690 a senior officer in the army of William of Orange in Ireland.  At the Battle of the Boyne, where Schomberg was killed in action, he led his own regiment of cavalry.  It was composed of French Huguenot refugees including the two founders[4] of the Irish Breakeys.  Understandably, the family held him in high esteem forever after.

For the meaning of the phrase “all hands on feet” there are several conjectures.  Did it mean that everyone rose to their feet to sing, with Thomas using the word “hands” figuratively, as in “all hands on deck”?  Or was this a crouched position to imitate riding on horseback?  The cavalrymen of Schomberg’s French Horse must have sung many songs to wile away the hours on long marches.  Can anyone make a better suggestion?

Now to the song.  In response to a 1991 query,[5] The British Library was kind enough to provide the words and music to the only song they knew of that title.[6]  It had been sung by a certain Mrs. Wright at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in 1779.  Whether it had also been sung by those French cavalrymen a century earlier is uncertain.  Whether is was sung in jest to young Breakey couples establishing their first home, the reader may decide from the words.[7]

 

Says Colin to me I’ve a thought in my head,

I know a young damsel I’m dying to wed,

I know a young damsel I’m dying to wed;

So please you quoth I _ and whene’er it is done_

You’ll quarrel and you’ll part again_

AS SURE AS A GUN!

 

Chorus:

AS SURE AS A GUN!  AS SURE AS A GUN!

You’ll quarrel and you’ll part again_

AS SURE AS A GUN!

 

And so when you’re married (poor amorous Wight!)

You’ll bill it, and coo it from morning till night,

You’ll bill it, and coo it from morning till night;

But trust me, good Colin, you’ll find it bad Fun_

Instead of which you’ll fight and scratch_

AS SURE AS A GUN!

 

But should she prove fond of her nown dearest love,

And you be as supple and soft as her glove,

And you be as supple and soft as her glove;

Yet be she a Saint, and as chaste as a Nun_

You’re fasten’d to her Apron-strings_

AS SURE AS A GUN!

 

 Suppose it was you then, said he, with a Leer,

You wou’d not serve Me so, I’m certain my Dear,

You wou’d not serve Me so, I’m certain my Dear;

In troth I replied, I will answer for none_

But do as other Women do_

AS SURE AS A GUN!

 

 

John W. Hall, PhD

May 2000

Transcriber's note: Dr. John W. Hall is a descendant of James and Jane Breakey Hall.


 

[1] The handwritten bound volume is in the collection of the Presbyterian Historical Society, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

[2] “John’s Book” was still in existence several decades ago but its whereabouts are, at present, unknown.  Its rediscovery would be invaluable to our knowledge of Breakey family history.

Transcriber’s note: Thomas C. Breakey, in his memoirs, did not document the material taken from “John’s Book.”  This has ultimately led to confusion in reconstructing the early Breakey lineages.

[3] Breakey, Edward P. (1963) The Memoirs of Thomas C. Breakey (27th April 1834 – 2nd April 1914) of Drumskelt House, Ballybay, County Monaghan, Ireland.  Belvedere, WA. p. 85.

[4] Transcriber’s note: According to Thomas C. Breakey, in his memoirs, a third family member was present at the battle: “At the Battle of the Boyne, the unmarried brother of my ancestor fell” (p.3).

[5] Author to The Music Library of The British Library, Great Russell St., London.

[6] Malcolm Turner, Deputy Music Librarian, The British Library, to author 11 Oct. 1991.

[7] For ease of reading, the old script “f” has been transcribed as “s.”  Example: “she” in place of “fhe” as written in the songbook.