"The Body of an American" as written by and Shane Patrick Lysaght Macgowan....
The cadillac stood by the house
And the yanks they were within
And the tinker boys they hissed advice
'Hot-wire her with a pin'
Then we turned and shook as we had a look
In the room where the dead men lay
So big Jim Dwyer made his last trip
To the shores where his father's laid

But fifteen minutes later
We had our first taste of whiskey
There was uncles giving lectures
On ancient Irish history
The men all started telling jokes
And the women they got frisky
By five o'clock in the evening
Every bastard there was piskey

Fare thee well, going away
There's nothing left to say
Farewell to New York City boys, to Boston and PA
He took them out with a well-aimed clout
And we often heard him say
I'm a free-born man of the USA

He fought the champ in Pittsburgh
And he slashed him to the ground
He took on Tiny Tartanella
And it only went one round
He never had no time for reds
For drink or dice or whores
And he never threw a fight until the fight was right
So they sent him to the war

Fare the well, gone away
There's nothing left to say
With a slainte Joe and Erin go
My love's in Ameri-kay
The calling of the rosary
Spanish wine from far away
I'm a free born man of the USA

This morning on the harbour
When I said goodbye to you
I remember how I swore
That I'd come back to you one day
And as the sunset came to meet the evening on the hill
I told you I'd always love you
I always did and I always will

Fare thee well gone away
There's nothing left to say
'But to say adieu to your eyes as blue as the water in the bay
And to big Jim Dwyer the man of war
Who was often heard to say
I'm a free born man of the USA
I'm a free born man of the USA
I'm a free born man of the USA


Lyrics submitted by SongMeanings, edited by epiwoosh, maybeanonymous, rayliam, EpicVlad

"The Body of An American" as written by Shane Patrick Lysaght Macgowan

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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The Body of an American song meanings
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11 Comments

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  • +1
    My InterpretationI think it's about a young Irish-American who goes to Ireland for the first time to bury his relative, Jim Dwyer. Either that or he's still home getting Irish history lessons from older immigrants but I think they went to Ireland cuz of "the shores where his fathers laid" As for being "a character, getting into fights" he is clearly a boxer. i.e. (He fought the champ in Pittsburgh)(it only went one round) I'm guessing the war refers to one of the World Wars and "they sent him" means he was drafted. Great song.
    Bender is greaton November 26, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentUnlike most of the other comments, I never imagined the narrator as "Irish American". I think of him as a 12/13 year old boy who is living in and grew up in Ireland. A relative of his who left for America before he was born has died, and his body has been sent back to Ireland for the funeral.

    In the first verse, it's him and a group of other boys looking in on the coffin and Jim Dwyer's American friends who have come over for the funeral. None of them knew the man, so they're more bothered about trying to nick the fancy car without any of the "yanks" noticing.

    "Fifteen minutes later" the whole family is together and having one of those drunken family gatherings where everyone reminisces, gets drunk, then starts playing stupid games. People start talking about Jim Dwyer, and telling stories about him.

    It seems he emigrated to America. Once there, he found people were kind of dicks about immigrants, so he tried to be as "American" as possible. As part of this (or possibly due to conscription) he joins the army and "they sent him to the war", where he dies, hence causing the funeral described at the beginning.

    I'm not so sure about the last two verses, though it's possibly the narrator, who becomes enamoured with America after the funeral, leaving to go to America himself, not realising that it was not all that great and in fact the cause of Jim Dwyer's death.
    maybeanonymouson January 02, 2014   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think this song is about American-born (or raised in America at the least) Irishman Jim Dwyer whose corpse is getting sent back to Ireland to be buried with his family and ancestors. A young man is describing Jim and the procession of his funeral, saying how all the Irish uncles and relatives were recounting why he and his family left the clan and why Ireland was so great.

    The first chorus seems to be the goodbye of dead Jim Dwyer to his home, America. Although his relatives claim he's an Irishman, he always loved America and is sad to leave (metaphorically, of course; he's dead).

    In America, the narrator recounts, Jim Dwyer was a boxer who got in to many fights. (I possibly considered him being a cop too, bc that was a common profession of Irish immigrants at the time.) because he wasn't involved in drugs and trouble and the such, the IRA thought he would be a great soldier and asked him to fight the Brits in the war, where he met his untimely death. He became very patriotic for Ireland (hence "slainte joe and a Erin go") but he still knew his home was America, despite all his deep rooted traditions ("calling of the rosary"). But he'll never reach America again bc he died which is his tragedy.

    To me the last verse takes a huge turn. The narrator now leaves his homeland of Ireland to finish Jim Dwyer's Irish legacy. In the same way Jim loved America, the narrator loves Ireland and bids it goodbye. He swears that he'll come back to his homeland after he leaves, compared to how Jim Dwyer never did. He says his goodbyes to his family and to Jim, who he's going back to America for because he wants to experience the freedom of the USA that Jim Dwyer so often talked about.
    Msca22on December 27, 2015   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI Like it. To me it sounds though the father dies in first part of song, and the rest of the song is about the fathers life, until the end where the son is at dads grave (buried at sea?) saying he will always love him
    gatsby14on August 29, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentA great song! Amazed theres only one comment! I think its, obviously a sort of ode to a dead man, probably at his wake.

    The man (Jim Dwyer) is obviously an Irish immigrant or of Irish immigrant stock, the song mentioning Boston PA, a town with a famously large Irish immigrant community, and New York. He also seems to be a bit of a character, getting into fights and so on.

    Now I think the man has gone off to fight either in Ireland against the British or in the First World War (probably the first one). I can't explain why but the years around 1916 were turbulent times in Ireland what with the Easter Rising and so on - also I think this might be referenced in the line "made one last trip to the shores where his father's laid" - as his father probably died back in Ireland, the old country.

    This is given credence in the last few verses, perhaps Jim saying goodbye to a wife "my loves in amerikay", or friends - which I think is at the same time the narrator's farewell to his good friend Jim. Finally the "call of the rosary" its well known that Ireland is a strongly catholic country, so that might be further evidence.

    I could be totally wrong, but there you go!
    DCFC21on August 27, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt is clearly a eulogy for someone named Jim Dwyer, as to his actual relationship with the narrator id say probably a close friend just something about the line "his fathers" also perhaps the narrator himself is american and his friend (Jim) was an irish immigrant, just my thoughts. Also this was the song that first got me into the pogues admitedly because of the wire, brilliant show and a brilliant wake song.
    CatsCradleon April 18, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentHeres what I pulled from the song.

    Jim Dwyer was an Irishman, some rich people pulled him from Erin, brought him to the states, and made him a boxer. He fell in love with his wife, and with America. He excelled at this for many years until they asked him to throw a fight. He didn't want to do this, as he was an honorable man. This is the time period that men were being drafted to fight during WWI, and the only reason he didn't get drafted was because of his fame as a boxer. So, when he pissed off his boss, he got drafted.
    kttymttyson August 09, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General Commentin the irish belife when your dead every one is going to see each other again in the after life so the way i see it is he is dead ye but they are clerbrating because you will see him again
    Ril3yon November 24, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIn case anyone was interested, the 2 lines that are said to be "incomprehensible" are as such...

    So to big Jim Dwyer, the man of wire
    Who was often heard to say,
    I'm a free born man of the USA
    CaseyL1983on January 05, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General Comment@maybeanonymous - Yeah, ya got it close. Better than anything else on the board. Ah, where are all the Irishmen anyway ?
    anamanaithnidon May 07, 2017   Link

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