The Ballad of the Orange Tree

from by Shaun Belcher

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about

This entire series of songs are the most personal and autobiographical I have ever written.

I have never delved so deeply into folk and personal stories as here a sign of the influence of attending a great Scottish Cultural Studies course at Edinburgh University.

In this case the family story (now more detailed thanks to other family members input) revolves around my great-great grandmother and her ‘flight’ as it turns out now from southern Ireland not Ulster as I presumed in 1995.

The story is simple she was catholic from a small village..Borrisleigh in Tipperary. It looks like her marriage to a serving British Army man Private Charles Mead precipitated the flight from Ireland (allegedly at dead of night in a fishing boat) to escape persecution by Irish Independents long before the Anglo-Irish War. He too was a catholic.

They were then sent to Ranikhet in the Himalayas which modeled on an English village in 1880s where my great-grandmother Mary was born on the 15th December 1888.
I have amended the song lyrics from what sung on tape from Bombay..to Ranikhet and my Great Nan's son Jack Everitt was wounded not killed at Arnhem but that whole other story.. and song one day...

The Ballad of Ranger Best referred to in the original recording is a poem by James Simmons which refers to the murder in 1972 of a 19 year old Irish member of the British Army (The Irish Rangers) who abducted from home when on leave from Germany and executed by the OIRA.

lyrics

BALLAD OF THE ORANGE TREE

Born in England’s low chalk hills
Where the river slides through the willows
I never knew how tangled grew the tree
Of my mother’s family history

Then one day the photograph emerged
My great-great-grandmother by the kerb
Of a backstreet somewhere in Reading
Her Irish features bold and striking

All I’d heard was rumour and hint
Of how they’d fled Ulster, her Catholic
Outcast for marrying a Protestant man
Who wore the dreaded Imperial tan

Sent to Raniket, my Great-nan’s birthplace
The army connection didn’t break
Three generations since have wed the gun
One of them was wounded at Arnhem

And now with great sadness I see
My cousin proud to be in the British Army
Luckily he's never been made to serve
On streets where she could never return

Nothing of her past now remains
Each Irish connection was sliced away
Our family grew on in a different place
Like an orange tree in a wooden crate

Staring at the photo here back home
My mother's every action seems to show
More and more of those hidden roots
As if a hybrid had produced old fruit

Four generations on here I stand
A false map of Ireland in my hand
Every time I try to trace back my tracks
Hurt and shame come hurtling back

Scraping back the soil in a barren field
I find a rusty gun stamped in with the heel
A family sown with King’s Shilling seed
But rooted in Thames Valley green

Then I read the Ballad of Ranger Best
And feel friendly fire burn at my chest
How can I avoid peeling back the skin
To taste what this bitter tree roots in

Bury the gun under the orange tree.

credits

from Black Tin Barns, released February 1, 2017

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Shaun Belcher Nottingham, UK

Nottingham, England performing songwriter,poet, designer and practicing fine artist.

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