The Wild Colonial Boy is an Irish-Australian ballad that recounts the exploits of an Irish emigre to Oz (or the son of Irish emigres) who got into all sorts of bother as he resisted the colonial authorities. In the original poem, his name was John (Jack) Donohoe (Donohue), said by some to have been a Dublin man. This particular Jack Donohoe was transported to New South Wales in 1823, where he had problems adjusting to the new land. In other words, he was on the lash and didn’t give a shit what the colonial authorities thought about him.
Some stories claim that Donohoe was born in Castlemaine, a city in Victoria, whereas others claim that the Castlemaine in the ballad is in County Kerry. It’s uncertain how the Dublin element of the story was removed in later versions, but it’s understandable that confusion exists, as Australia was chaotic at that time.
Wherever he was originally from, Jack was arrested and sentenced to hang at Sydney gaol, but escaped and went on a spree, robbing where he could. The local press made a celebrity out of him to piss off the state governor and so a legend was born. As in the lyrics of the song, he was eventually cornered and died in a shoot-out. But his name, in one form or another, lives on and is sung across the globe where rebellious people gather.
Jack Duggan, as he is best known, is likened to John the Baptist, preparing the way for the Jesus of Ned Kelly. Both men were shining examples of how Irish blood refused to be shackled by the immense powers of the British Empire. Perhaps Ireland today could now do with a few Jack Duggans and Ned Kellys to shake an apathetic populace out of their social slumber.
The British Empire thrives, and is joined by the Empire of the US. Their flags are the neon signs of corporate greed, and their anthems are the jingles that entice a starved people into wanting what they do not need and buying what they cannot afford. Their most effective prisons are those of debt.
Here are a few versions of the ballad;
The lyrics used by Irish groups are slightly different from those used by performers from other nations. We can hear the changes in this next version. Jack Duggan becomes Jack Doolin. Maybe it was a tax dodge, as those feckin’ IRS are everywhere.
Amazing how an industry can emerge from a distorted tale. Kerry has claimed him, and him a Dub!
Dr Hook seem to have made up their own lyrics for this performance. It’s still a tribute to how popular this ballad is when a mainstream group like this have covered it.
This final clip is from the movie Ned Kelly, starring a very young Mick Jagger who sings the featured song.
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