Fishkill Ridge
Community Heritage

Introduction to The Mountain Minstrel

   

Photo of the Newburgh Beacon Bridge In 1845, farmers in the Catskills struggled to free themselves from the undemocratic rule of a small group of aristocratic landlords. It took many years to overthrow serfdom and bring a better form of democracy to New York State. The farmers almost never resorted to direct violence, and when they finally won their victory, it was the result of voting.

The songs they sang were expressions of their democratic ideals and their hope for a non violent solution. One of their finest songwriters was from Middlertown, Delaware County. He signed his work only as “Forest Minstrel.” His (or perhaps “her”) true identity remains unknown.

“The Forest Minstrel “ is the title of a poem and a book of poetry by James Hogg of Scotland, published in 1810. Another poem by Hogg is titled “The Mountain Bard.” “The Mountain Bard” may have been the inspiration for the pseudonym for a modern poet associated with the Fishkill area.

Sometime during the 1990s a poet known only as “The Mountain Minstrel” surfaced in the midst of the controversy over the mining of Fishkill Ridge. As far as I‘ve been able to find out, except for a few call in readings over WABC’s talk radio shows, the poems were privately circulated and may never have been published. Although the call in readings were done by a male voice, the actual author might be a woman. This poem came into my possession some years ago and is the only one I have. I know there were others. If anyone has one and is willing to share it, we will gladly post it here.
- Anthony Henry Smith

The Minstrel’s Dream
(or “The Irish Rattlesnake“)
By The Mountain Minstrel, composed on Fishkill Ridge,1998
(Can be sung to the tune of “The Rising of the Moon” also called “The Wearing of the Green”)

I had a dream the o-ther night and this is what I saw
Saint Pat-rick had to Fish-kill come to help us keep God’s law.
“Rise up thou moun-tain min-strel & leave thy bed be-hind!”
I quick-ly rose to fol-low him whose bles-sings healed the blind.
“Then guide our steps. O min-strel just as I shall guide thy tongue
And lead us through the vil-lage to the moun-tains where you’ve sung
For our Heav’n-ly Fa-ther loves the Earth; all val-leys, seas and plains
And moun-tain heights that pierce the clouds and en-ter His Do-main.”

Then out in-to the morn-ing dark we slow-ly made our way
The Saint would not a door-way pass un-til he paused to pray.
And man-y were the sle-epers there who slept both deep and sound
And eve-ry sin-gle sle-eping soul Saint Pat-rick’s bles-sing found.
We ar-rived at Fish-kill Ridge just be-fore the break of day,
Saw the morning stars ad-vancing as the dark to light gave way.
And as we ev-er high-er went the Saint a-gain ex-claimed,
“These moun-tain heights do pierce the clouds and en-ter God’s Do-main!”

We passed up through the fog-gy mists till to the top we’d come
And saw up-on a slab of stone a rat-tler in the sun.
Saint Pat-rick went up-on his knee as if he meant to pray
The rat-tler rose up to his ear and there did gent-ly sway.
In a rage the Saint leapt to his feet and threw his mi-ter down.
Then he raised his staff a-bove him and like thun-der was the sound
Of his voice in mal-e-diction as the Saint once more pro-claimed
That every e-vil cree-ping thing should leave the Lord’s Domain!”

A mil-lion-aire came slink-ing forth from out his mon-ey hole.
And sev’ral law-yers fol-lowed him; they all were with-out soul!
Some Fish-kill pol-li-ti-cians came, their fa-ces racked with pain;
T’was clear from how they sli-thered out they’d neither soul nor brain!
Then Saint Pat-rick sent them shrie-king to the hell-fire where they burn
And from Fish-kill they were banished and shall never more re-turn.
“All these snakes are here from I-re-land,” the Saint to me did say,
“I prom-ised them a home right here and right here shall they stay!”

“To-mor-row morn-ing I’ll wake up and write this as a song;
The mil-lion-aire will wake up rich, even though he’s wrong.
His law-yers say he plans to start his min-ing en-ter-prise
And build a wall to laugh at us and cut us down to size.”
“Have faith my son, re-flect on this: all walls are built to fail.
They all come from fear and weak-ness, it is faith that shall pre-vail,
And cur-sed be the man who works to bring a moun-tain down
For moun-tain heights do pierce the clouds, God’s Blessings on your town!”

With best wishes to all
From your friend,
- The Mountain Minstrel

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